In the wee hours of yesterday, terrorists abducted more than 50 students from Government Science College, Kagara in Niger State, just two months after the kidnap of at least 300 students from a similar school in Kankara, Katsina state. Between January 2020 and February 2021, at least 301 people were killed in 73 various violent incidents in the state.
On 2 February, terrorists sacked 10 villages in Gurmana, Kurebe and Kwaki in Shiroro LGA of Niger state, killing 25 people and abducting 40. The assailants attacked the said villages because they refused to attend a meeting where negotiations were opened between the terrorists and community leaders on the amount to be paid to allow farmers in the area harvest crops from their farms without attacks. Shiroro, which houses one of Nigeria’s most important electric dams has seen the worst attacks, as well as Bosso, Mariga, Mashegu and Rafi LGAs. Kagara, where the abduction took place, is very close to the volatile Birnin Gwari LGA of Kaduna State in the North-West, a region that has seen no fewer than 8,000 deaths from violent incidents between 2011 and 2020, displacing nearly 300,000 people.
The insecurity was at first concentrated on Rafi and Shiroro LGAs, but the Nigerian security forces’ inability to confine the violence to these two local governments owing to poor intelligence as well as having to fight the insurgents (some of whom are affiliated with Boko Haram) over a large territorial expanse (a reality which led it to carrying sporadic air raids) have given the terrorists the leeway to spread their activities to areas in close proximity to Minna, the state capital.
Niger State is by no means an outlier. The Kagara school abduction is the latest addition to a growing list of school abductions in Northern Nigeria carried out by terror groups and organised armed militias for both economic and ideological reasons. The abduction of female students in Chibok, Borno State (April 2014) as well as Dapchi, Yobe State (February 2018) has provided inspiration for subsequent heists in a region grappling with a record number of out of school children in the world.
Some nonviolent, non-state led moves have been made. In January, prominent Islamic cleric Sheikh Ahmad Gumi initiated a peace deal with some of the armed groups operating in Kaduna and Zamfara. The downside of this approach as this incident in Niger State shows, is that it remains unclear if the group responsible for the heist would make territorial or financial demands, or a combination of concessions from both the Niger State and federal governments. Kankara has, unfortunately, provided a useful template to non-state actors across this country, meaning that it could be open season on civilian lives and the authorities have little leverage, a pile of cash and worn-out platitudes to offer. Large scale school abductions, it regrettably appears, have come to stay, and an overwhelmed and stretched security architecture faces the prospect of a tidal wave of violence it is ill-equipped to handle.