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How the Craving for Money Fuels Mass Abduction of Students by Terrorists in Northern Nigeria

Ifiok is a public affairs analyst and sociopolitical commentator passionate about good governance, justice & equity. He lives in Nigeria.

On Friday, March 12, 2021, the world was again alerted to the news of another mass abduction of students by terrorists operating in northern Nigeria. Unlike in the past incidents where they attacked high schools, this time around, the terrorists abducted female students of a tertiary institution.

The media reported that armed men, suspected to be Fulani bandits, in a daring move, invaded the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization in Mando, Kaduna State, northwest Nigeria, and abducted only female students of the institution. The institution is opposite a campus of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA).

The updated media reports indicated that the gunmen abducted 39 students, made up of 23 female and 13 male students from the institution.

Since April 15, 2014, when the first incident of mass school abduction happened in northern Nigeria, the phenomenon has at the moment become a hugely lucrative enterprise for terrorists operating in the region. That is the real reason why it has increased in frequency, regularity, and scale ever since.

This latest incident makes it the sixth within a short period since the first mass abduction happened in 2014. All six have occurred within the space of three years. It is very significant and instructive to add that every terror group operating in northern Nigeria has carried out at least one mass abduction of students.

Photos of some of the 276 girls Boko Haram abducted from a school in Chibok, Borno State, northeast Nigeria

Photos of some of the 276 girls Boko Haram abducted from a school in Chibok, Borno State, northeast Nigeria

This latest incident makes it the sixth within a short period since the first mass abduction happened in 2014. All six have occurred within the space of three years. It is very significant and instructive to add that every terror group operating in northern Nigeria has carried out at least one mass abduction of students.

Four cases of mass abductions since December 2020!

The situation becomes even more worrisome when one considers that all the five cases after the first one happened within the last seven months—from August 2020 to date! The previous two before this latest one took place within two weeks of each other.

The latest incident happened a little over a month since the last one occurred on February 2, 2021, in Zamfara State.

Between December 2020 and today, there have been four such cases. That makes it four incidents in three months!!

The mass abduction of students has become a hugely lucrative enterprise—the new goldmine—for terrorists. The reason for that is not far-fetched either.

In the first incident, Boko Haram terrorists abducted more than 300 schoolgirls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, in the wee hours of April 15, 2014. The incident generated a massive global outrage. To many people, the incident was solely an ideologically motivated one because the group's ideology opposed the spread of Western education.

But the group's motive was more than that. Amid the media frenzy that attended the abduction incident, there was a story that many people missed. It contained the finer details of happenings on the day of the abduction. To those who keenly followed the story, there was a mercantile motive to the incident as well.

Some of the abducted Chibok girls, who later regained freedom, disclosed what happened in their hostel on the night of the incident. From their narration, it was clear that the insurgents were on a mission to loot, steal and plunder the school. The abduction was an afterthought, a spur-of-the-moment decision, as it were.

The former captives narrated how that after the insurgents had emptied the school's storeroom of foodstuff; they began to debate on what to do with the student. Amid the argument that ensued among them, a few suggestions came up. Some suggested locking up the girls and setting them all ablaze. Others suggested using the girls to gain access to their parents' homes nearby to steal more food.

Then, one man said;

"Let us take them to Shekau. He will know what to do."

That sounded plausible to them all, and so they decided to abduct the girls.

An international human rights organization based in New York, Human Rights Watch, also documented this account based on its interviews with some of the 57 students who had managed to escape on the night of the incident in its report. But the media frenzy that followed the incident and the attendant deluge of stories drowned such findings and made sure no one paid attention to them.

"During the 2015 elections, they brought in thousands of foreigners into this country, armed them because it was a case of if Goodluck Jonathan doesn't surrender, there will be war. They were ready for civil war; they were not ready for peace.

"Of course, Jonathan handed over to them, and then they turned their backs on the hoodlums, and the hoodlums said, 'look, you brought us here, and we are still here."

— Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, former candidate in Nigeria's 2019 presidential elections

Money is the real motive behind the abductions

Even if the mass abduction by Boko Haram had some ideological motive to it, the subsequent cases of abductions by other terror groups have had nothing of that sort whatsoever. Instead, the intent has been purely mercantile. The Boko Haram splinter group, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), claimed responsibility for the Dapchi girl's abduction, and the armed Fulani bandits or herders, who have carried out the rest of the mass abductions, did so purely for commercial reasons.

How the Fulani bandits allegedly came into the country tells the story of mercenaries who are all out for profit at any expense, including human life.

Two weeks ago, a prominent Nigerian, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, a Christian from northern Nigeria, disclosed that certain unnamed powerful politicians brought the bandits from neighboring West African countries into Nigeria. They did that to make sure that the then president, Goodluck Jonathan, relinquished power to the winner of the 2015 Presidential Election if he lost.

Dr. Mailafia is no ordinary Nigerian! He is a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and a presidential candidate of the African Development Congress in the 2019 presidential election. Until recently, he was a directing staff of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), which is the country's think-tank institution, where leaders train.

Before this latest disclosure, Dr. Mailafia had previously made similar damning revelations about security challenges in northern Nigeria sometime in August 2020 that made him a subject of investigations by the country's secret police, the Department of State Services (DSS). He had disclosed then, among many other things, that helicopters crisscrossed the nation's airspace to deliver arms and ammunition and other supplies to Boko Haram camps during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The DSS quizzed him on more than two occasions for the statement and pressured him to recant them publicly. But a few weeks ago, the federal government declared Zamfara State in northwest Nigeria a no-fly zone because, according to it, helicopters were supplying arms ammunition to bandits. That action vindicated Dr. Mailafia.

On the presence and activities of armed Fulani bandits in the country, the former CBN deputy governor had this to say:

"During the 2015 elections, they brought in thousands of foreigners into this country, armed them because it was a case of if Goodluck Jonathan doesn't surrender, there will be war. They were ready for civil war; they were not ready for peace.

"Of course, Jonathan handed over to them, and then they turned their backs on the hoodlums, and the hoodlums said, 'look, you brought us here, and we are still here."

Mailafia also said that these individuals are collaborating with some countries that are seeking to destroy Nigeria. He cited two instances when a large cache of dangerous weapons, which allegedly originated from Turkey and Iran, were found, and in both cases, the government failed to probe the incidents any further but 'swept the matter under the carpet.'

The speed with which the terrorists release their abducted victims to the government after negotiation says a lot about their mercantile motives. In all the other subsequent cases of abductions, after the Chibok incident, the abductors promptly return all of the victims in a matter of days following negotiations with the government.

The release of these victims usually comes at a very high cost, in monetary terms, to the government and the Nigerian state.

The authorities would usually deny paying any ransom to the terrorists for the student's release.

But if there were no motivation for the terrorists to carry out fresh mass abductions, as the Nigerian authorities would have us believe, it would not be so attractive and frequent. In the recent Jangebe girls' case, the Zamfara State government admitted negotiating with the abductors through some so-called repentant terrorists. Media reports in recent times have suggested that the governments of Zamfara, Kaduna, and Katsina states, all in northwest Nigeria, have paid large amounts of money to bandits in the past few years.

Michelle Obama shows solidarity with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign that followed the Chibok girl's abduction

Michelle Obama shows solidarity with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign that followed the Chibok girl's abduction

"What happened is a lesson for us. That Boko Haram sees girls or women as value targets. What they did in Chibok earned them some funds because negotiations held somehow, and they got a lot of money."

— Ahmed Lawan, Nigeria's Senate President

Government pays large sums as ransoms to terrorists

On August 16, 2018, a Nigerian online news medium, Premium Times, quoted a United Nations (UN) report which stated that the Nigerian government paid large ransoms for the release of the terrorists in both cases.

The UN report, which the news medium quoted, read in part:

"In Nigeria, 111 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi were kidnapped on February 18, 2018, and released by ISWAP on March 21, 2018, in exchange for a large ransom payment."

The story also said that the current Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, who was then the Senate Leader, admitted during a debate in the Senate that the government paid a ransom to the terrorists to secure the Chibok girls' release.

Mr. Lawan had said then;

"What happened is a lesson for us. That Boko Haram sees girls or women as value targets. What they did in Chibok earned them some funds because negotiations held somehow, and they got a lot of money."

In addition to the ransom money, the terrorists enjoy the added incentives of massive global media coverage of their heinous crimes. Terrorists are naturally attention seekers. They crave publicity. That is why they would stop at nothing to grab headlines to stimulate shock and awe.

Publicity helps them strike fear into the heart of people. And mass abductions guarantee them cheap publicity. Although the attention from the widespread media coverage of abduction cases is supposed to sensitize the public to the plight of the victims, it also inadvertently benefit the terrorists by bringing them prominence and notoriety and, in most cases, an exaggerated sense of power and importance. These work in the terrorist's favor during negotiations.

For instance, the gender slant that characterized the global media coverage of the Chibok girl's abduction and made it appear like an attack on girls' education attracted so much media attention, and with it came free publicity for the insurgents.

It is worth mentioning that just a few weeks before the Chibok incident, Boko Haram had invaded a school in Burni Yadi in the north-east, where it slaughtered about 40 boys in their sleep while it let the female students escape.

That incident attracted little media attention until after the Chibok incident.

The global media's insistence on viewing the Chibok incident through the lens of gender violence unwittingly helped Boko Haram build its global brand.

That global attention brought to bear on the incident and the accompanying outrage, which the media coverage generated, must have given the terrorists the idea that it is far more profitable to abduct female students than their male counterparts. And it is the reason why there have been more cases of the former than the latter.

katsina State Governor, Aminu Maigari, poses with a bandits for the cameras during negotiations

katsina State Governor, Aminu Maigari, poses with a bandits for the cameras during negotiations

A monster celebrity was born!

Before the Chibok girl's incident, many Nigerians hardly knew the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, beyond seeing him occasionally on television.

But after the incident, the world media's obsession with the broadcast and rebroadcast of Shekau's every remark made him an instant celebrity monster. The insurgent's leader expertly exploited the situation and ensured that the media never lacked materials to broadcast about him by regularly churning out videos to full effect.

That is how the craving for money fuels the mass abduction of students by these terrorists.

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