Schools in northwest Nigeria have become, within a few months, targets for earning money for gangs that have intensified kidnapping of students, which further threatens the educational process in this region where only few children can learn.
On Friday, dozens of gunmen stormed a school in Zamfara state and kidnapped 317 students from the dormitories, 10 days after a gang kidnapped 42 people from a school in the neighboring state of Niger, and the local authorities announced today their release.
Last December, more than 300 boys were kidnapped from a school in Kankara, neighboring Katsina state, and later released.
This incident is the third incident of the kidnapping of students in less than 3 months by "bandits", according to the authorities' description of these gangs that have intensified kidnapping operations in order to obtain ransom payments from villagers or travelers in states in northern and central Nigeria.
The mass kidnappings of students that have occurred thus far have been attributed to jihadist groups operating hundreds of kilometers away in the northeast.
The most prominent of these incidents was the kidnapping of 276 female students from a high school in Chibok (east of the country) by "Boko Haram" militants in 2014, which shocked the world.
The director of the modern security advisory group, Jan Saint-Pierre, said that since last December, "mass kidnappings have increased in the northwest."
The mothers of girls abducted in the Chibok region (Reuters Archive)
These criminal gangs operate out of greed rather than ideology, but some have forged strong links with jihadist groups in the northeast.
Jan San Pierre believes that the authorities ’management of the Kankara kidnapping last December may explain this new interest in schools.
A week later, the gangs, which observers say, acted on behalf of Boko Haram, released 344 boys after negotiations with the authorities, who confirmed that they had not paid any ransom.
"Whatever the government says, a ransom has been paid and these kidnappings are profitable," Saint-Pierre said.
Avoid new Chipoks
Military operations to free hundreds of children are fraught with dangers, and the government wants to "do everything to avoid a new Chipok," so "options are limited," according to Saint-Pierre.
"But the government is wrong to grant amnesty to those responsible for these kidnappings," he says.
Ualun Dudawa, responsible for the kidnapping of Kankara, surrendered to the authorities in early February in exchange for a pardon, during a public celebration in the presence of the media.
He believed that "this example would encourage gangs and criminal groups to commit such crimes, because there is a complete absence of penalties."
This view is shared by Hidayat Hassan, director of the Center for Democracy and Development Research in Abuja, who said after the kidnapping of 42 people - including 27 students - in a school in Niger State for these criminal gangs, "The simplest way now to get money from the government is to kidnap students."
"The government must secure schools urgently. Otherwise, the kidnappings in Chibok and Kankara will encourage others to do worse," she added.
Girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram before their liberation in the Chibok region (Reuters - Archive)
For his part, President of the Senate Ahmed Lawan condemned the kidnapping of 317 girls in Zamfara, and urged the government to do everything in its power to "secure schools that these criminals have come to view as easy targets."
“There is no safe school” in Zamfara State, said Mortala Rufai, a professor at the University of Gosau.
This father of six children added, "Securing schools will not hinder these groups. It will continue because the authorities pay a ransom," stressing that "the number of students who leave school is increasing because of fear."
These areas, which are already suffering from extreme poverty, are particularly affected by kidnappings, as northern Nigeria records the largest number of children out of school in the country, according to the International Crisis Group report.
The group warned that these attacks discourage parents, who often sacrifice their savings for their children's education.
And she considered that this "prompts them to take their children out of school, marry off their daughters and employ their boys."