Mass Abductions: The catastrophe of Nigeria’s kidnap epidemic

21st March 2024

Ten years after the Chibok schoolgirls’ abduction, Nigeria grapples with a nationwide kidnapping crisis. This epidemic has morphed from targeting schoolgirls to encompass entire villages, primary and tertiary students and highway commuters. Boko Haram’s use of school abductions as a terror tactic opened a window for other criminal groups. However, the tactic of using schools as a tool of anti-government terrorism has expanded to include non-school targets and economic motivations.

Since 2019, Nigeria has witnessed at least 735 mass abductions (defined as kidnappings of five or more people), involving over 15,398 victims. 2024 alone has seen at least 68 mass abductions, averaging over one per day, with a victim count exceeding the entire years of 2019 and 2020 combined. Kaduna leads the pack with the most incidents (132) and victims (3,969), followed closely by Zamfara, then Katsina. These states share geographic proximity and a rise in banditry.

The motivations behind kidnappings vary by region. While Boko Haram splinter groups like ISWAP still operate, their focus has shifted. ISWAP’s territorial control allows for taxation, reducing reliance on mass abductions—the Abubakar Shekau faction, however, resorts to mass abductions for survival. In the Northwest, bandit gangs are the primary culprits, targeting villages for unpaid levies and forced labour on bandit-controlled farms. Roadside abductions are also common, aiming for high ransoms from wealthier victims.

Though large-scale kidnappings are less frequent in the South, they also occur there. Highway kidnappings are more common, with occasional school bus abductions. Youth gangs sometimes blur the line between cultism and kidnapping.

The root causes of this kidnapping crisis are complex. First is economic hardship. High inflation and a struggling economy push individuals towards desperate measures like kidnapping. Second, Nigeria’s security architecture is weak. The Nigerian security apparatus suffers from internal sabotage and a lack of resources, making it difficult to combat kidnappings effectively. Third, there is the breakdown of trust. Some state officials collaborate with kidnappers, further eroding public faith in institutions.

The persistence of the kidnap epidemic underscores the failure of the state to fulfil its primary obligation of ensuring the safety and security of its citizens. Until meaningful action is taken to address the root causes of the problem, such as economic instability and institutional corruption, kidnapping will continue to plague the country.

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