CAMILLE MALPLAT & LOUISE DEWAST -
Militants in northeastern Nigeria have long outraged the world with mass abductions of schoolchildren but now armed gangs in search of income are using the same tactic in other parts of the country, sparking warnings that no school is safe.
More than 300 schoolgirls were snatched from dormitories by gunmen in the middle of the night in northwestern Zamfara state on Friday, in the third known mass kidnapping of students since December.
Until lately, such attacks were the hallmark of militants who have waged a decade-long insurgency in the northeast, and where the kidnap of 276 girls in Chibok in 2014 sparked global outrage.
But mass abductions of civilians — including schoolchildren — for ransom are now on the rise in northwest and central Nigeria.
“The easiest way to get money from the government is now to kidnap schoolchildren,” warned Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development think tank, after the abduction of 27 students last week in Kagara in the central Niger state.
“When kidnappers see they are not being sanctioned, that they are given amnesty in a grand ceremony, it becomes a good opportunity for them,” said Yan St-Pierre, consultant with the Berlin-based Modern Security Consulting Group. He referred to the case of a gang leader behind the kidnapping of more than 300 schoolboys in northwestern Katsina state in December. He gave himself up, with officials saying they had struck an amnesty deal and denying a ransom was paid.
But “whatever the government says”, St-Pierre argued, “ransoms are paid, whether it is by families of victims or the authorities”. — Reuters