Nigeria and its kidnapping crisis

Following the release of the recently abducted schoolboys in Katsina State, IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI chronicles kidnap incidents that have gripped the country since former military head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, assumed office as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

When no fewer than 276 final year female students were kidnapped in the dead of night at the Government Girls secondary school in Chibok, Borno State in one of the most alarming onslaughts of the dreaded terrorists’ group, Boko Haram,  the administration of former Nigerian president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, received spirited criticisms globally.  Many human rights organisations, both local and international, cited the abduction as a testament of the ex-president’s lack of political will and expertise needed to decisively handle issues of insecurity and secure the lives and properties of Nigerians against the growing life-draining threats posed by the rampaging terrorists.

That year, the United Nations Secretary- General, Ban Ki-moon, the UN Security Council, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and even the then retired General Muhammadu Buhari condemned the abduction while concerned Nigerians took to the social media to decry what they described as ‘the government’s slow and inadequate response’ to the kidnapping of the school girls.

The news sparked global outrage and mass indignation for the Jonathan-led government as many international communities lent their voices to the call to rescue the girls. The harsh tag #BringBackOurGirls, which began in May that year and supported by US First Lady Michelle Obama and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai received over 6.1 million tweets in support.

Several online petitions were also written against the Jonathan government while protests were held in different parts of the country including at the National Assembly. Jonathan’s poitical opponents had a swell time inciting the public and international communities against that government, with General Buhari, whose party, Congress for Political Change (CPC) had fused in an alliance with Senator Bola Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), actively condemning the government of the day accusing it of incompetence and corrption.

The opposition politicians labelled Jonathan as “clueless” despite the country’s economy recording the highest boom in Africa  ahead of South Africa at the time and profited massively from the ensuing political unrest by winning the 2015 elections.

According to political observers, Jonathan’s inability to rescue the kidnapped girls and the series of carnage and suicide bombings of the dreadful Islamic sect, which eclipsed the positives of his administration, tore his 2015 re-election bid into shreds, necessitating the need for the country to shop for  a leader with security technicalities and competence.

Hence, President Buhari, a former military head of state, was seen as the best man for the job. He also stated as much in his pre-electioneering statements and during the campaigns when his party made security and economy their major focus.

As of the time the former Nigerian military leader took over, research indicated that most territories had been recovered from Boko Haram which enabled elections in those areas, particularly Borno State. What many  Nigerians expected the APC administration to do chiefly was to build on the gains of the previous government by routing the terrorists from the country.

Indeed, to much acclaim, the Buhari administration succeeded in  freeing 80 of the abducted Chibok girls. About 112 of the girls are still with their abductors.

But the nation’s security situation has since changed for the worst under the former military head of state. Virtually every geopolitical zone in the country is battling with one form of criminality or the other.

And in less than three years into his administration, the dreaded Islamic sect carried out another terrific abduction as they whisked away no fewer than 110 schoolgirls aged 11–19 years old at the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State on February 19, 2018.

The then governor of the state, Ibrahim Gaidam, blamed the military for removing their checkpoints which he claimed made the terrorist group to feast on the town.

But about five of the kidnapped girls died on the day they were abducted while the rest of them except the lone Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, were reportedly released. Even though the government later denied it, the United Nation stated that a huge ransom was paid again to secure the release of the kidnapped girls.

Despite the release of the girls, what enraged Nigerians about the Dapchi incident was that the attack and the events that followed it mirrored the Chibok’s wanton kidnapping.  The public backlash from Nigerians especially on the social media grabbed the world’s attention and elicited promises from the Buhari-led APC administration that the vicious incident would never happen again.

But in less than three months afterwards, no fewer than 120 people were again kidnapped along Birnin Gwari-Kaduna road which harbours a thick forest known to be delicate abode for bandits and criminals.

One of the escapees of the kidnap, Surajo Usman, a National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) member in the state confirmed the incident, noting that about 45 people had died in an attack on the village.

In April of the same year, UNICEF reported that Boko Haram had abducted more than 1,000 children since 2013 and that the group is also believed to have abducted several hundred people over the past five years in attacks on villages in north-east Nigeria, and in neighbouring countries such as Niger and Cameroon.

But between May 2016 and May 2017, about 630 people were reportedly abducted according to William Assanvo, ENACT Regional Organized Crime Observatory Coordinator for West Africa.

According to a security report by the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think-thank which tracks insecurity across Nigeria using information from newspapers and families of victims of various violent attacks, between July 18 and 24, no fewer than 142 people were killed while about 44 others were kidnapped in different violent attacks in the Northern part of the country with Kaduna and Katsina, where President Buhari hails from, the most hit of all the states in the region.

In August, 2020, gunmen suspected to members of the deadly Islamic sect, Boko Haram, also kidnapped no fewer than seven students and a female teacher from a secondary school in Damba-Kasaya, one of the villages in Kaduna.

The gun men reportedly came in 20 motorcycles and raided homes, stealing money and personal effects while the residents fled into cornfields. They broke into a church and vandalized musical instruments before men of the Nigerian Army were able to arrive at the scene. But unknown to the military, the worst nightmare lay ahead.

In November of this same year, BBC’s Hausa language service, which covers northern Nigeria, reported a remarkable story of 12 Nigerian police officers being kidnapped along the Katsina-Zamfara expressway in the same region.

Reacting to the incident and several others that has happened along the dreaded Abuja-Kaduna highway, the Coalition of Northern Elders for Peace and Development (CNEPD) said the litany of kidnapping was indicative of the worsening state of insecurity across the region.

They said the security situation in the North has reached a level where incidents of deaths, kidnapping, armed banditry and other violent crimes against the people, occur on daily basis, with many of such going unreported.

They attributed the festering state of insecurity especially kidnapping to the increase in foodstuffs alongside a consistent surge in inflation rate.

But in less than two weeks after making the deafening public outcry over the unsafe state of their region, the home state of the President was invaded in what many have described as the worst kidnap operation in the history of the state.

As the sun set on 11th December 2020, some gunmen abducted over 500 boarding students from Government Science Secondary School in the town of Kankara, Katsina state. On 13th December, Nigerian authorities claimed that 333 students are still missing but a day later; Boko Haram issued a video claiming responsibility for the abduction.

Hundreds of the school students fled into the woods after the attackers had whisked away their colleagues on motorbikes. Men of the Nigerian security forces reportedly searched for the missing boys all weekend while their parents took to streets to protest their maleficent disappearance. “But so far we are yet to account for 333 pupils,” the state’s governor, Aminu Masari, told reporters Sunday, December 13.

In its reaction, Amnesty International described the Katsina school boys’ kidnap as a gross violation international human right law, insisting it is a clear indication that education is drastically under attack in the North.

In a statement he issued, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said: “We condemn this appalling attack, which is the latest in a string of grave human rights abuses by Boko Haram. Since 2012 hundreds of teachers, schoolchildren and students have been killed or wounded by Boko Haram, and thousands of children have been abducted. Attacks on schools and abductions of children are war crimes. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for several attacks on schools in the past and must be brought to justice for these and other human rights abuses.”

“The attack on Government Science Secondary School Kankara is a serious violation of international humanitarian law, and it undermines the right to education for thousands of children in northern Nigeria. The abduction of students and the destruction of school property by Boko Haram can severely reduce the availability of and access to education for many children in northern Nigeria where violent attacks are escalating.”

“Education is under attack in northern Nigeria. Schools should be places of safety, and no child should have to choose between their education and their life. Other children have had to abandon their education after being displaced by frequent violent attacks on their communities, and many teachers have been forced to flee to other states. The Nigerian authorities must act immediately to prevent attacks on schools, to protect children’s lives and their right to education,” it stated.

Meanwhile, there have been insinuations by political observers that the boldness of the bandits to carry out the kidnapping on the day President Buhari arrived the state on a private visit means there are lapses in the country’s security architecture.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad publicly attested to this recently, but in the wee hours of Thursday, December 17, BBC Hausa reported that no fewer than 344 students kidnapped in Katsina state have been freed by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram.

Even though the state governor, Aminu Bello Masari, noted that the boys were released unconditionally, there are whispers in some quarters within the country that the Islamic sect has again collected a fat ransom from the Buhari-led government before freeing the boys.

While the news of the boys’ release appeared to have calmed frenzied nerves in the interim, political watchers believe that the Katsina kidnap incident and its varied precedents put President Buhari’s security record in shoddy light.

Some are even of the opinion that for pecuniary benefits, some top echelons among the country’s security operatives obviously don’t want the decaying embers of insecurity to end while a security expert who pleaded anonymity noted that the recent mass kidnapping was indicative of the expansion the lethal sect had garnered in recent times despite the consistent claim of the country’s military that they have been technically defeated.

But amid the pervasive security threats, the question on the lips of many is whether the perceived security experience of President Buhari has effectively provided adequate security for an average Nigerian or aggravated their security nightmare. The answer to this obviously lies in the belly of time.


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