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Abduction Of School Children Backtracks Decades Of Enrollment Efforts In Northwest Nigeria

Terrorists have turned the abduction of school children in Northwest Nigeria into a sport. At the same time, the government appears powerless and unable to do anything other than yield to the terrorists’ demands.

Since Dec. 11, 2020, when over 300 students were abducted from a boarding school in Kankara, Katsina State, Northwest Nigeria, there has hardly been a three-month gap before another mass abduction from one state to the other within the region. These include Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Zamfara, and Kebbi states.  

These abductions continue to persist despite ‘efforts’ by states and the federal government to contain the situation. Some states have closed schools in rural areas for fear of these abductions, but this has only made the terrorists move to local government headquarters to abduct students.

The overlords

As the terrorists increase in number, their violent acts continue to spread while the government loses territorial control over hundreds of communities. In many areas, people rely on terrorists for protection against other terror groups. 

Farmers, artisanal miners, and traders in Zamfara pay taxes and levies to armed groups to farm or protect their farm produce. The federal and state governments seem to have abdicated this responsibility to non-state actors in the region, encouraging them further to expand their sphere of influence.

Students  as bait for negotiations

On Feb. 26, 2021, Na-Sanda Maidab-baba, a young terror leader, led a group of over 50 motorcades, each with three men holding AK47 and RPGs. They whisked 279 girls into the forest north of Jangebe until millions were paid in ransom.

According to a ‘bandit’ close to Maidababa who spoke to this reporter, “these girls were victims of circumstance because we had a dialogue with the government. But we had a problem with a rival group leader stopping our men from marrying from his area. We went into his space, took the women and matched them to our men.”

“We also rustled his animals and ransacked his area. The government supported him by deploying the military to stop us from moving with those animals until we returned them to him. We became angry because it was our business with him and not the government.”

“Following those incidents, we had to look for a way to recover what we lost while rustling from him. We handed over five AK47 to the government to allow us to pass, but they didn’t allow us. We went into different communities to abduct people to make the government do our bidding. Still, they didn’t respond. We then decided to seize the Jangebe lawmaker, but when we came close to the town, he unknowingly left. We decided to take those girls and made sure we negotiated the sum we lost.” 

Married off for fear of terrorists

The Jangebe school was renovated at the tail end of the Abdulaziz Yari administration (2011-2019) and a lot of advocacy was done in the urban and rural areas for parents to enrol girls against early marriage.

“That singular incident reversed everything we had achieved with the enrolments. Many parents are no longer willing to take children to school. Many of Jangebe victims are getting married. In some families, even male children no longer go to boarding schools,’’ a traditional leader in Anka said.

On Aug. 15, 16 school children were abducted from the College of Agriculture in Bakura LGA, Zamfara. The abductors subsequently released a video of the students via the Facebook page of one of the students. The attack was led by Halilu Kachalla, another terror leader protesting the current air operations against terrorists by the Nigerian Air Force.

According to sources, the abducted staff and students will likely be used to negotiate a way out of the recent Air Force efforts to bombard terrorist strongholds. So far, current operations have brought safety on the Sokoto-Gusau highway.

“The man who took the boys is angry with the government over recent airstrikes despite striking a deal with him. But security sources told me that the strikes are following a trail of a new bandit group which just migrated and settled in the area terrorising the maradun and Bakura areas,” he said. 

Multiple sources within the terror groups suggest the recent mass abductions are happening due to terrorists realising that the government has lost power in those areas. 

“No bandit will allow his men or relatives to get arrested by the government. They will find a vulnerable school or travellers to abduct and negotiate the release of their members with the government,” a source revealed.

In June, students of Federal Government College Yauri in Kebbi State were attacked. The attack was later claimed by an armed group who, according to close watchers, is linked to Jihadists. 

The Jihadists and other armed groups are in unison in perpetuating violence, they only disagree over the conduct of the violence, leading to clashes. The jihadi groups refer to other armed groups operating in the same region, like the Nigerian military, as “Thaghut” (unbeliever); charging the non-religious inclined terrorists of unislamic practices like rustling, smoking, not praying, and rape etc.

According to audio obtained, Gide, the leader, distanced himself from banditry, adding that he works for Allah while claiming the kidnap of the students. “Unless our people in government custody are released, the government will have to pay outrageous amounts.”

“I am the government of the forest. I am not a bandit or a rustler. I do not attack the military. I am holding the students because God instructed me. I will not take a hundred million from the parents, but I will only take money from the government or I will likely train the males and marry off the girls to live a just life here. We took them because they are properties of the government,” Dogo Gide said. He also mentioned his interest in kidnapping foreigners in the region. 

Multiple groups in the region are taking advantage of the security gaps to ensure the safety of their members and relatives, using school children as baits for negotiation and not only financial benefits.

Education as the biggest casualty of war

Insufficient investment in education in the region precipitated the levels of violence seen over the decade. And as the already weak educational institutions come under attack, these violent crimes may only worsen by the day.

The failure to protect schools, students and teachers from being targeted by terrorists is no doubt, according to many analysts, “a sign of weakness” on the part of the state. 

School closure as a measure adopted by some states to protect students from abduction means that not only does the government have no strategy, it is also allowing internally displaced persons to turn school premises and classrooms into shelters.

HumAngle has learned that many wealthy persons in the region have moved their families to Abuja and other safer cities to enrol their children in school, leaving behind the wards of the poor – back in flashpoints – at the mercy of the terrorists.

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