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Nigeria’s mass kidnap and growing insecurity Updated for 2021

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Updated: February 25, 2021

Last Friday, December 11th, the consequences of national insecurity played out in a vulnerable northern Nigerian town where hundreds of children are still missing. Gunmen attacked a secondary school in the country’s northwestern Katsina state, armed with AK-47s overrunning the all-boys Government Science Secondary School.

The story, picking up throughout international headlines, is a blaring reminder of the multiple security challenges Nigeria faces across the country, layered in economic, political, religious, and personal issues that complicate and block solutions.

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Nigeria’s national insecurity is not isolated to Boko Haram or ISIS in the northeast. It includes the Niger Delta Militants in the south, kidnappers, bandits, and gangs operating in smaller pockets across the country, and pirates near the ports and at sea.

Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Vice President (1999-2007), says it’s time for better strategies to secure Nigeria. “While I urge our nation’s law enforcement agencies to immediately swing to action and rescue the missing students, I am nevertheless conscious of the fact that we cannot continue to be reactionary in our response to the growing insecurity in Nigeria. Something has to give. I, therefore, call on the Federal Government to immediately declare a state of emergency in states bedeviled by banditry and terrorism, for an offensive and decisive war on terror and insecurity.”

John Campbell, a Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., published the Nigeria Security Tracker “Weekly Update: December 5–11,” outlining the scale and scope of Nigeria’s insecurity. The data provides a snapshot of recent terror events and gives insights into the Buhari Administration’s effort to respond.  

Some of the security issues outlined in the report, just in the past week, include the kidnapping of foreign-nationals and aid workers. Kidnapping for ransom is more common than it should be in Nigeria, reinforced by ransom payments from private companies and family members. 

The issues go beyond Nigeria’s citizens being targeted, making the country dangerous for foreigners coming in to work, provide skills and aid, or even to visit. However, mixed into Campbell’s report, the killing of four Boko Haram militants in Magumeri, Borno on December 6th and the killing of two bandits in Nasarawa, Nasarawa by Nigerian troops show federal movement on the issue of terror. 

Some say the Buhari Administration has done too little too late because, in the face of what’s happening, they hear that children are kidnapped and don’t understand why it’s taking so long to return them. These issues have layers of complexity that don’t start and end with a single order from the president, requiring accountability from a nation of leaders at every post and throughout multiple government offices from the most populated cities to the least populated towns. Human rights and citizen security are the nation’s task, a nation of people entrusted with leadership positions. 

As for the current situation, Garba Shehu, the president’s spokesman, told BBC on December 14th, there was a “massive deployment” of troops to rescue the abducted children, and the president was being briefed hourly on the situation.

“No sacrifice is too great to make, to return law and order to the affected communities, and that must be the singular focus of the Federal Government until this menace is eradicated,” says Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Vice President. The federal government must do more, parallel to the nation’s state leaders in an honest and vigilant effort to share the country’s successes and failures.

The key to solving these issues starts with communication between the states, requires political cooperation, and places the most vulnerable populations, especially children and elderly, as a protected priority. According to John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations,

“The government is centralized but weak, while true political power is decentralized in government and non-governmental entities.”

One approach to balancing stability in the country is fostering cooperation amongst the country’s powers to agree where they’ll draw the line on tolerating terrorism amongst citizens and foreigners who work peacefully toward Nigeria’s economic goals and well-being. 

Salish Masi, parent of two kidnapped boys, told The Associated Press Monday, “I am worried that after three days, I have no news about my children … I have been waiting for the authorities to tell me what happened, but till now, they have said nothing.” 

As parents anxiously await the safe return of their children, and negotiations with kidnappers continue in other parts of the country, the consequences of Nigeria’s national insecurity is a reality for its citizens, an issue the world is watching with growing intolerance. 

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Kristi Pelzel
Kristi Pelzel
Kristi Pelzel is a Senior International Correspondent at Today News Africa, working across U.S. and African markets, based in Washington, D.C. Her expertise spans broadcast, digital, and social media communication, nested with policy research, analysis, and writing. A member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Kristi holds a B.A. from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California, and an M.A. from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

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