It will be mildly gratifying to note that the authorities in north-west Nigeria have freed as many as 100 women and children ~ in the main mothers nursing infants ~ who had been abducted by bandits. For once, the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, has not been suspected in one of Africa’s relatively well-off regions, thanks to its oil reserves.
The group was abducted on 8 June in Zamfara state. Four people were also killed during the incident. The Zamfara state government said they were released without any ransom being paid, but gave no details. Whether or not ransom was paid is not central to the crime, fairly endemic in a swathe of Africa. It is a measure of the almost chronic menace of abductions that a spate of kidnappings has taken place in the region during recent months.
Since December 2020, more than 1,000 people have been abducted. Most have later been freed, reportedly after ransom was paid. Tragically though, some have been killed. The government has blamed the incidents on bandits, a loose term in Nigeria for kidnappers, armed robbers, cattle rustlers and other armed militia operating in the region.
The kidnappers are largely motivated by money. Since the widely-publicised abduction in 2014 of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok secondary school by Boko Haram Islamist militants in the state of Borno, more armed groups have resorted to mass abduction of students.
President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the military to flush out criminals in Zamfara and the neighbouring states of Kaduna and Katsina. Earlier this week, during a raid on a criminal gang, a Nigerian air force plane was shot down on the border of Zamfara and Kaduna. The pilot survived the attack by ejecting from the plane and fleeing to safety.
The strike on the aircraft reaffirms the calculated malevolence that has driven all or nearly most of these offensives. The reality is horrifying. Nigeria is battling an increase in armed robberies and kidnappings for ransom, mainly in north-western states, where thinly deployed security forces have struggled to contain the rise of armed gangs, commonly referred to as bandits.
While north-eastern Nigeria has faced a decade of insecurity, including attacks by Islamist militants, notably Boko Haram which is allied to Isis, the current wave of kidnappings is primarily motivated by money in an economically unequal society. Over 200 students as well as scores of others taken in kidnapping raids are still being held captive. The signal is direly ominous, specifically that a bevy of other groups of child kidnappers have emerged in addition to the malevolently Islamist Boko Haram.