New Wave of Abducted Schoolchildren Recovered from the Boko Haram Terrorist Group

Luna Valayannopoulos-Akrivou, Around School Editor

Since December of 2020, more than 600 students have been kidnapped in Nigeria, and the country’s kidnap-for-ransom crisis has not ceased. Authorities report that attacks on the schools in the Northwest of the country have been carried out by “bandits,” a term used loosely to encompass kidnappers, armed robbers, cattle rustlers, herdsmen, and armed militia driven by their desire for profit from the Boko Haram terrorist group. Nigerians blame the weak security infrastructure and governance in the state, where police have resorted to paying ransoms to the bandits who have orchestrated mass abductions.   

The problem of the kidnappings in Nigeria has been ongoing since the early 2000s, where the unfortunate victims were generally road travelers who were willing to pay between $20 and $200,000 dollars for their freedom. The current wave of abduction came with the global publicization of the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls from the Chibok Secondary School by Boko Haram Islamist militants, fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic caliphate in its place. The group has caused great havoc in African countries—most notably Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Mali—through a campaign of bombings, abductions, and attacks. 

The kidnapping of students and schoolgirls rather than road travelers guarantees publicity and government involvement; this, in turn, means million-dollar negotiations with government officials. Security expert Kemi Okenyodo argues that these abductions have been highly profitable to terrorist groups like Boko Haram and that as long as the government is willing to provide a ransom payment the cycle will never break. She urged, “The decision on payment of ransom should be reviewed. What are the best steps to take in preventing the abductions so we avoid the payment of ransom?”  Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari took to Okenyodo’s defense insinuating that state governors were fueling the kidnapping crisis. He took to Twitter to express his worry: “State governments must review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles. Such a policy has the potential to backfire with disastrous consequences,” Buhari said.

The kidnapping of students and schoolgirls rather than road travelers guarantees publicity and government involvement; this, in turn, means million-dollar negotiations with government officials.

Campaigns to secure schools have been launched despite the odds. The “Safe School Initiative” began after the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, and built fences around schools in the region. The three-year project was financially supported by the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and former United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

On March 2nd, 2021, after 4 days of captivity, gunmen in Nigeria released hundreds of girls abducted from the Government of Girls Secondary School, a boarding school in the town of Jangebe. The girls were released and marched into a nearby forest at around 1 AM. This was recorded as the second abduction in over a week in Northwest Nigeria. The exact number of girls abducted is unknown with authorities reporting 317 girls, but the state of Zamfara’s information commissioner reported 279 without an explanation for the discrepancy. 

The release of the girls makes for the third high school abduction in Nigeria over the span of two months. The first occurred in December when a total of 344 boys were taken from a school near Katsina and freed after a week. In the second kidnapping in February, 42 students were taken from a school in Niger state.   

Government officials affirmed that no ransom money was paid: “The children were recovered through dialogue,” Abutu Yaro, a Zamfara police commissioner explained, “The events and prices of the abduction are still the subjects of political inquiry.” The government of the Zamfara state ordered the deployment of military and intelligence assets to ensure the safety of schoolgirls in Northwest Nigeria and restore the state to a level of normalcy. While the authorities have won various battles against Boko Haram, they have not won peace. There are no quick fixes since institutional reforms are likely to take decades to improve popular legitimacy and adopt an approach of managing insurgence and the threats from Boko Haram. President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement on Tuesday celebrating the liberation of the girls and urging his government to bring an end to the cycle of abductions. “The military and the police will continue to go after the kidnappers,” he voiced. “They need the support of local communities in terms of human intelligence that can help nip criminal plans in the bud.”