The 2014 mass kidnapping of 276 Chibok would have passed as a fantasy horror movie if not for its confirmation as accurate. And because it was then a rare occurrence in global terrorism strategies, the world was shocked to a trance. Canada, China, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States condemned the act and supported the search and rescue efforts. To date, more than a hundred of those girls are still missing. There was pronounced anger around the inability of the government at the time to rescue these girls. The same public bitterness partially contributed to Goodluck’s failure in the 2015 presidential election. The people of the Northeast geopolitical zone considered the failure of the security forces to intervene and save the girls as deliberate neglect of their travails by the government in power. Substantial sympathy with the Northeast also swelled around entire northern Nigeria, the playground of terrorism and bandits. The result was that they massively voted against the incumbent President Jonathan.
The wounds of the mass kidnapping of Chibok girls are yet to heal. The hearts of parents and relatives of those yet to be found still bleed. No one is sure whether those kids are dead or alive. And if graciously they are still alive, their conditions. Whatever the case, it remains one big signpost of the inability of our government to protect our school children effectively. Again, the unfortunate Chibok girls kidnapping event seems to have eventually opened the doorway for terrorists and their kindred human devils to access and capture children into hell easily. Since January this year, there have been approximately seven cases of large-scale kidnapping of students. In a sense, this marks the seeming entrenchment of this vile pattern of terrorist dehumanization. Can this trend be stopped at this point, or should we accept it as another evil culture that has come to stay?
This year alone, these terrorists have kidnapped approximately 650 school pupils in different heists. The popular ones include the kidnap of twenty-seven students from Government Science School in Kagara, Niger State, the kidnap of 317 female students at Government Girls’ Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State, the kidnap of 140 students at the Bethel Baptist School, Kaduna state, and the kidnap of thirty students from several schools including the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Kaduna State. Although most of the mass kidnappings of students currently occur in the northern parts of the country, it is instructive to note that criminal elements in the country’s southern regions are fast learning. It would not be surprising if there were accelerated adoption of this strategy by a growing number of ethnic militias and other secessionist agitators in the southeast and southwest. The Niger Delta militants utilized a kidnapping-for-ransom approach to finance their operations successfully. Their success subsequently laid the foundation for several dangerously albeit now considered small-scale hostage-taking witnessed in the last decade.
Apart from the case of the Chibok girls, where the length of abduction runs into several years, students’ victims of most of the recent mass abductions spend between four days and five months. A shorter stay in custody depends on the speed of response of those interested in freeing the kidnap victims. These include the government, its proxies, or a coalition of parents and guardians of the kidnap victims. Ransom paid seemingly hinge on several factors, such as the responding agent and kidnappers’ perception of the student’s socioeconomic status and so on. So far, the ransom paid is between N500,000.00 per person to approximately N10 million per person, depending on the mentioned determinants. One immediate implication of this only trend is the rapid collapse of the boarding school system. But it is not only the boarding school system that is affected. These criminal perpetrators possess sufficient latitude to execute such heists even during the day when non-boarders are present. The threat level in many schools is so high that some parents cannot help but discourage their wards from going to school. With such actions, this ugly trend naturally causes further relapse in the enrollment level and heightens the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. According to UNICEF, more than 10.5 million people aged between five and fourteen are out of school before this rising trend of mass school kids kidnapping.
Islamic insurgents competing against Western education appear to have won, except a stepping up of urgent and decisive counteractions from the security institutions. In many respects, the famous proverb that ascribes more importance to the pen than the sword is still elegantly authentic. Education is the surest way to freedom in all its respects; economic, social, political, etc. Nothing can be more condemnable than our government not doing enough to prevent the rising threats to our children’s ability to access this all-important route to freedom. More frustrating is that when these kids lose the opportunity to receive an excellent quality education, they become vulnerable and eligible to join the ranks of future terrorists. With more children frustrated out of school on account of this rising trend, we can only expect some explosive growth in the membership of these terrorist organizations as we advance.
Without a doubt, it is incredibly challenging to stop this trend because many of the Islamic insurgents involved in these mass kidnaps have an ideological disdain for Western education. Therefore, considerably threatening large numbers of those involved in it through their abduction will naturally slow down the willingness to access it. As already mentioned, it also provides a lever to push out more idle capacities that are easily mobilizable into terrorist employment. That is already the situation in many northern states. But beyond that, kidnapping for ransom has always been a veritable source of terrorist financing worldwide. In the case of the Niger Delta militants, its success against the federal government stood on its combination of incessant hostage-taking with the destruction of government crude oil assets, which got the state to buckle and grant them amnesty. The ransoming process for mass kidnapping is that each victim has a price tag that those interested in liberating them must pay. Consequently, consistent with the business notion of large volume, it is more entrepreneurially lucrative to capture and criminally detain a substantial number of schoolchildren as that yields even more revenue.
Worse still, the state governors where these mass students kidnapping are rampant have little or no control over the security architecture in their jurisdiction. They must depend on the federal government-controlled police and other security agencies to act. In most instances, the typical time lag between reporting and the top command echelon’s response can be frustratingly lengthy. Even state police chiefs must wait for directives from their bosses in the federal capital territory before acting. The frustration and the pressure from the parents and relatives of the kidnapped children often compel state governments to negotiate and pay a ransom to these terrorists. That became the juiciest part of the evolving ransoming deal pattern. The financial participation of state governments raises the profitability of these heists. It is much easier and involves less forth-and-back negotiations for a state government to get financially involved. Most state governments cannot help getting involved as they are in a severe dilemma over managing kidnapped children’s rescue. On the one hand, many of the parents cannot meet the financial demands of the terrorists. On the other hand, security agencies appear to foot drag in intervening, further endangering these kids’ lives.
The mass kidnapping of kids has equally been the terrorists’ most effective way of publicizing their capacity to wreak havoc. The wholesale hurting of children always immediately attracts widespread attention locally and internationally. Secondly, more people are affected by the numerical scale of the victims. Thirdly, it facilitates the sending of a message of their heartlessness. Those who find it easy to hurt children will not find any challenge in doing worse things to adults. Planting significant fear in the public minds softens the grounds for their future territorial conquests.
In contrast, however, the government provides them with greater leverage to perpetrate these heinous crimes and still walk away free. Many so-called repented kidnappers, mass murderers, and terrorists have received state pardons for most of the atrocities they committed without even visiting any court of law. This extravagantly immoral exercise of the state prerogative of mercy further encourages more people to commit these crimes, knowing full well that any time they feel like quitting, they will receive the anointing of forgiveness. It has also become the unfortunate norm that the more ferocious and dreadful a criminal is, the higher the state’s chances of declaring that they should go and sin no more.
It is also easier for terrorists to use kidnapped children to negotiate with the Nigerian government to release their members in their correctional custody. Like the strategy of bending governments to pay ransom to free abducted children, this tactic also seems to be working. The success of this game is indeed one of the reasons why the trend is gaining momentum. But it can only be so when our security architecture has proven that it is acutely incapable of dislodging these hoodlums and getting them to face the full wrath of the law.
One of the most powerful solutions to this problem is strengthening the safe schools’ initiatives started in 2014 in response to the mass kidnapping of the Chibok secondary school girls. The scheme proposes a realistic model for enhancing the safety of schools in northern Nigeria. Accordingly, it offers to build a community of security groups that will facilitate safe zones for education. The community will comprise teachers, parents, police, community leaders, and the students themselves. Over time, the initiative will require school guards and police to work in partnership with government authorities to build the capacity of the school workforce as safety officers. It would also facilitate the provision of counselling to schools against the risks of terrorist attacks. With the explosive growth of this heinous crime, it has become necessary that funding for the initiative should substantially expand. A reasonable fraction of the education tax should fully fund the goals while enlisting financial and other support from the corporate community has become necessary. Many analysts also suggested that the government and its security agencies conduct a comprehensive threat assessment of all the schools in the country, particularly in the northern region. Such assessments are necessary for prioritizing resource allocation in providing security protection support to schools in the country. Appropriate coordination will also guide the effective sequencing of the implementation of the safe schools’ initiative.