In northwestern Nigeria, schools have in recent months become lucrative targets for criminal groups, which have multiplied kidnappings of students, posing a growing threat to access to education in this region, where few children go to school.
On Friday, gunmen abducted 317 teenagers from their boarding school in Zamfara state.
Three months earlier, 334 young people had already been kidnapped by criminal groups in the neighboring state of Katsina, in Kankara.
Meanwhile, at least two other schools have been attacked by “bandits,” the name given to these criminals, who increasingly kidnap villagers and travelers for ransom in the northern and central states of Nigeria.
Until now, mass kidnappings of students have been more the hallmark of jihadist groups that proliferate hundreds of kilometers in northeast Nigeria. The most remembered was that of Chibok in 2014, when Boko Haram abducted 276 high school girls, causing a global commotion.
But since December, we’ve seen “an increase in mass kidnappings in the Northwest,” said Yan Saint-Pierre, who runs the Modern Security Consulting Group’s security analysis center.
These criminal groups act primarily for profit and not for ideological reasons, although some have been linked to jihadist groups in the Northeast.
In any case, the investigator maintains that the authorities’ management in the Kankara kidnapping last December could explain this new interest in schools.
The criminal groups, who had acted on behalf of Boko Haram, released the 344 children a week later after negotiating with the authorities, who said they had not paid any ransom.
This same Saturday, 42 people – including 27 students – victims of another kidnapping ten days ago in a school in central-western Nigeria were also released by their captors.
“No matter what the government says, there are ransoms that are paid and these kidnappings have become lucrative,” says Saint-Pierre.
– Avoid a new Chibok –
Military operations to free hundreds of children are too risky and the government wants to “do everything possible to prevent a new Chibok”, so “the options are limited”, according to Saint-Pierre.
“But the government shoots itself in the foot when it grants amnesties to those responsible for these kidnappings,” he says.
Indeed, in early February, Awwalun Daudawa, who was responsible for Kankara’s kidnapping, surrendered to the authorities in exchange for an amnesty agreement, during a public ceremony in the presence of a group of journalists.
“This example can only incite gangs and criminal groups to commit such crimes because there is a total absence of punishment,” the expert denounces.
Idayat Hassan, director of the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, shares Saint-Pierre’s view.
For these criminal groups, “currently the easiest way to get money from the government is by kidnapping schoolchildren,” Hassan told AFP after the kidnapping of the 42 people, finally released this Saturday.
“The government must urgently secure schools, otherwise the Chibok and Kankara kidnappings will encourage others to act worse,” he added.
– Drop out of school –
On Friday, Senate President Ahmad Lawan condemned the kidnapping of 317 teenagers in Zamfara and urged the government to do everything possible “to secure the schools”, which are now “seen as easy targets by these criminals.”
“No school (in Zamfara state) is safe,” Murtala Rufai, a professor at Gusau University, the capital of Zamfara, told AFP.
“No security will stop these groups. It will continue because the authorities are paying ransoms,” said the father of six children.
“More and more students are dropping out of school out of fear,” says Rufai.
These abductions in these regions plagued by extreme poverty are particularly damaging, as northern Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the country, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.
These attacks further discourage some parents who often sacrifice savings for their children’s education.
“They give them a new reason to take their sons out of school, marry off their daughters and put their sons to work.”
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