“When I close my eyes, I am haunted by flashbacks of the incident like it happened yesterday,” Jennifer Peter, one of the kidnapped victims from Federal College of Forestry and Mechanisation, Afaka in Kaduna, Northwest Nigeria, told HumAngle.
Mass kidnappings in the Northwest and North-central Nigeria have become endemic without a practical solution. The problem has gained the attention of professionals such as nouna therapists (clinical psychologists), social psychologists, security experts and economists who research its cause and consequences.
Data has shown that in the first six months of 2021, states in the Northwest Nigeria had 1,405recorded cases of kidnapping, followed by the North-central region (942), then Northeast (211), Southwest (169), South-south (140), and Southeast (77).
Recently, terrorists shifted targets from farmers to students in a bid to weaken the educational sector. This has created a ripple effect that has obstructed education, led to early marriage, cultism, peer pressure, early pregnancy, drug abuse, stigma associated with sexual violence, and children born as a result of rape.
Currently, many schools in Northwest Nigeria remain shut for fear of kidnappers. Ruth, a 100 level student of biotechnology from Greenfield University in Kaduna, said since her release from captivity she has stayed away from school.
“The incident also affected my school. There are some reconstructions going on and it will take a while before I go back because I question my safety in that school,” she explained. “Being there for so long shows how our educational sector is in a deep mess. No intervention from the government. The educational sector is supposed to be the biggest responsibility of the government, but they failed and they keep failing.”
Healing takes time or never
Kidnapped victims are likely to take years before they heal from the psychological wounds inflicted upon them. And some never completely recover. Trouble sleeping is one of the most commonly reported psychological effects of kidnapping, as victims experience fear of being abducted, psychologists said.
“I was a deep sleeper before I was kidnapped, but since I came back from the bandits’ den, a little noise wakes me up. My first week at home was tough for me. Sometimes I had to stay awake to convince myself that everything is fine,” Ruth told HumAngle.
Families and relatives of victims are not left out of the pain and anxiety from pre-psychological and post-psychological trauma.
“When she talks about the incident, she suffers trauma. Also, her sleeping method changed and it took time for her to adjust. The first night she came home, she was looking so unhealthy and she didn’t even sleep because we had lots of questions to ask her,” a victim’s elder sister said. “Since I noticed she doesn’t like talking about it, we don’t grant interviews. But she is recovering fast.”
Dr Obabire Yemi, a psychologist, told HumAngle that kidnapping is a stressful event that can cause psychological imbalance and what a victim needs is psychological, social, and physical support.
“There is no ‘one-size-fit-all’ for kidnapped victims. Our approach is to individualise and be holistic. We don’t apply one solution to everybody. We look at each person’s individual circumstance,” he said.
Relatives suffer trauma too
But there is a problem, he continued: “As frequent as kidnapping is in the country, we hardly see those who suffer from it present themselves to psychologists. In my own opinion, we are not paying enough attention to that.”
Dr Yemi further disclosed that he has spoken to some people who have relatives or friends who have been kidnapped and learned that it also has a great effect on these groups of persons.
In a statement released by The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the organisation expressed concern over growing numbers of students being kidnapped since Dec. 2020. The statement highlighted negligence on the part of government and school authorities who do not take actions to tighten up security around school premises.
“These incidents appear to be increasing in frequency, raising fears for the safety and well-being of the region’s children,” UNICEF stated.
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