Early Monday morning (5), 140 students were kidnapped from a boarding school in Chikun, Nigeria, in the latest attack on schools and the tenth in just over seven months in the country’s northwest.
With the episode, the number of kidnapped in educational institutions since December 2020 has reached nearly a thousand, and 150 of them are still missing. The practice has become common in Nigeria, and experts point to an industry in which criminals profit from collecting ransoms.
“The pandemic has contributed to the increase [dos sequestros], because people are unemployed, there are high levels of poverty in the country, as well as challenges related to terrorism, ”says Hadiza Usman, of the Rule of Law Empowerment Initiative, an NGO specializing in the administration of Security.
Nigeria last year saw its unemployment rate hit 9.1%, a jump from 2015, when the rate was 4.31%, according to the World Bank. In addition to the lack of work, the impossibility of guaranteeing adequate qualifications and the integration of young people into the labor market has stimulated this type of activity, according to Carolina Galdino, specialist in international security.
Usman recalls that, in the case of the 276 students of Chibok taken by the terrorist group Boko Haram in 2014, criminals followed the various negotiations to recover the girls and began to see the practice as a business. So what was once a tactic to impose an ideology – Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language – has become an industry, says Confidence MacHarry, security analyst at Nigerian consultancy SBM Intelligence.
“The ideological motivation quickly faded, and even Boko Haram targets aid workers and Christians more for rescue than necessarily for religious reasons.
A study by the consulting firm analyzed the payment of ransoms between June 2011 and March 2020 and pointed out that, during the research period, the kidnappings generated at least US $ 18.34 million (US $ 95.5 million). R $).
Most of this amount, just under US $ 11 million (R $ 57.3 million), was paid between January 2016 and March 2020. The concentration shows that the spread of the practice has reduced the value of redemptions. In 2020, even amid the pandemic, there were at least 413 kidnappings, according to the Nigeria Security Monitor, an investigation prepared by the US think tank Council on Foreign Relations.
The figure is more than double that of 2018 (146) and 2021 is on track to surpass the most recent number, as 301 cases have already occurred in the first six months of this year.
In a little over ten years, these kidnappings total around 1,600 episodes, with more than 9,000 victims – a number which may be even higher, since in many cases the exact number of those abducted is not specified. The cases are more common in the north of the country, but they have also increased in the southern region, where the attacks have more defined targets, says MacHarry of SBM.
With the kidnappings exploding, there are records of high ransom demands. In Chikun, just over two months ago, 22 students and three staff were pulled from Greenfield University, and the requested amount was 800 million Nigerian naira (R $ 10.1 million). After murdering five students, the kidnappers threatened to kill 17 more if the government did not send 100 million Nigerian naira (R $ 1.3 million), in addition to 55 million Nigerian naira (700,000 R $) already paid by parents.
The case lasted 40 days and the students who remained in detention were released, without the conditions for doing so being clear. The government usually does not pay the ransoms, but local leaders often find themselves under pressure from the population and end up giving in to demands, Usman explains.
In a publication at the end of February, the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, said governors should review the policy of “rewarding crooks with money and vehicles”. “Such a policy has the potential to have the opposite effect, with dire consequences.”
There are also cases, like that of the University of Greenfield, where parents come together to increase the amount. In Kaduna, which has seen at least 168 incidents since 2011, the highest rate among Nigerian states, Governor Nasir Ahmad El Rufai has adopted a tough policy and threatened to impose fines on anyone who makes payments. “There’s a macro effort from the federal government, but it has to deal with local governments, which often end up taking advantage of these groups,” says Galdino.
In addition to generating an emotional impact to pressure the payment of ransoms, schools are also sought-after targets because they have little security infrastructure, underlines the SBM researcher. While the agents responsible for the protection of establishments do not have weapons, criminals arrive with heavy weapons and can easily enter the premises.
Private schools, on the other hand, because they have more funds, have invested in security companies, but there are areas where schools have been closed because the government is unable to guarantee the protection of pupils.
The situation is becoming increasingly serious, and 80% of those polled in a Nigerian Defense and Security Corps survey said they found the country’s schools to be dangerous. Fear of going to class then becomes another factor in the country’s already complicated educational context. In 2018, 27.6% of children between 4 and 11 years old were out of school, a rate that rose to 32.6% in secondary education (16 to 18 years old), according to UNICEF (Fonds des Nations United Nations for Children).
Gideon Olanrewaju, who heads the non-profit Initiative to Aid Access in Rural Education (Areai), also highlights the difficulty of physical access to schools, caused by different factors such as poverty, location, inequality of income and, of course. , insecurity.
“We had several schools closed because of the Covid-19 in March 2020. In October, they reopened, and the kidnappings continued”, explains the activist. “When this happened, many states adopted a total school lockdown in northern Nigeria in response. “
He draws attention to the need to invest in distance education alternatives, as, in addition to the virus, many parents do not want their students to return to schools already under attack, which could further increase dropout school. On the other hand, internet access in Nigeria is expensive, and the connection is unstable.
Education budgets, however, have fallen to the equivalent of 5.8 percent of the national budget this year, up from an average of 7 percent over the past five years. “What can a vulnerable government do? The basic idea would be to invest in education, but the results are not immediate, ”explains Galdino. “The government would ideally evoke a scenario of increased reliability to attract investments, including foreign ones, to integrate the population into the labor market.”
But for MacHarry, the security crisis has exceeded what the country can handle. He advocates economic reform to stimulate development, as well as greater autonomy for states to manage their internal problems. The SBM study warns against the need to treat the crisis as a national emergency, because the situation “undermines the legitimacy of the democratic concerns of the country”.