The issue is an endemic problem that is spreading like wildfire.
By Gabrielle Jones: pOLITICAL Columnist
Nearly 300 school girls were kidnapped and held as hostages in Nigeria’s Zamfara state, at the end of February.
The third mass kidnapping of school children in as many months, the news caused international outcry for the safe return of the girls. Despite public protest, the news was not necessarily a shock, as abductions have become a recurring scenario and present threat in Nigerian daily life.
The mass abduction of school children for ransom money is no doubt an act terrorism, the outrage felt domestically in Nigeria and abroad of this violation of public security has been evident. Yet, the pattern persists. Kidnapping in Nigeria has been described as having spread through the country like a wildfire, but what ignited this fire? And what continues to fan its flames?
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has insisted his government will bring an end to the abductions by bandits, gangs, and Boko Haram. However upon investigation, it is noticeable that a widespread cancer of corruption in Nigerian top government offices has created social and economic conditions that facilitate the kidnappings of Nigerian civilians.
The Kidnapping Business
Terror organisation, Boko Haram, have been leading an insurgency in Northern Nigeria since 2011. 37,500 lives have been lost so far and millions of people have been displaced from the region. Boko Haram have claimed many of the mass abductions, like the 2014 Chibok schoolgirl kidnapping which gained significant international attention with the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ movement. The terror group have been known to use the abducted children for suicide bombings, or ente into negotiations with the government for ransom payments to return the victims.
Kidnapping has become a lucrative business. In the most recent kidnapping in Zamfara state, the government have proven themselves willing to negotiate with terrorist organisations and pay out large sums of money. From kidnapping oil workers on oil rigs in the Nigerian Delta regions, abducting business men and women off of the streets in major cities, and bandits roaming Nigerian highways, kidnapping drivers and forcing families to pay up. The prospect of economic gain emboldens those that engage in kidnapping to carry on; despite it being a serious criminal offense.
Friends Paul and Spencer detail how whilst driving along a high-way on the way to Abuja, they were ambushed by bandits with heavy weaponry. forcing them out of their cars and marching them into the forest, where they were beaten and tortured until their families could pay a ransom payment. Speaking to the BBC, they tell how their story has become commonplace.
Soaring unemployment rates and income inequality are considered a major factor driving the abductions. In the first quarter of 2020, Nigeria experienced unemployment rates of 27.1% – its highest on record. One bandit arrested by State security services said how he conspired to kidnap and murder civilians for the equivalent of $25.00 per person; an expression of the severity of income equality fuelling this criminal economy.
Perplexingly, Nigeria is simultaneously Africa’s largest producer of oil, largest and fastest growing economy. Nigeria is not a poor country yet millions live in poverty. So, where is all of this wealth, if not in the population?
Nigeria’s Cancer of Corruption
Described as the ‘cancer of corruption’, for decades Nigerian government officials and elites have looted the countries’ riches with impunity. As a result, instilling a culture of impunity for public officials; local police officers and highway bandits are shown by example that illegal actions do not equal significant consequences.
Several high profile cases of oil looting scandals in 2014 and 2016 that are still under investigation suggest that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has not accounted for billions worth of oil revenue.
“Terror organisation, Boko Haram, have been leading an insurgency in Northern Nigeria since 2011“
In 2014, Former Governor of the Central bank of Nigeria Muhammad Sanusi announced that $20bn of oil was unaccounted for; Salusi was shortly fired from his position as governor following this. Since then Sanusi has advised how politicians award processing contracts to companies in which they have vested interests, or companies of friends that have no association to the oil industry.
Money that could be spent on infrastructure and employment initiatives is lining the pockets of elites that already are experiencing outrageously unequal wealth. According to Oxfam’s calculations, the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men – $29.9 billion – could end extreme poverty at a national level yet millions live below the poverty line. Between 1960 and 2005, about $20 trillion was stolen from the treasury by public office holders. This amount is larger than the GDP of the United States in 2012 (about $18 trillion).
The Nigerian Military fighting Boko Haram have felt the effects of this looting. President Buhari ordered the arrest of a former National Security Advisor in 2015 for looting up to $2 billion worth of funds and equipment intended for the military. Nigerian military personnel have told how they had to use personal funds for ammunition and fuel after facing terrorist militia, unable to use ammunition or drive their vehicles due to poorly funded resources.
Buhari’s 2019 election campaign focussed on ending corruption, but the entrenched culture of impunity combined with poor wages and lack of resources, has seen facilitated sweeping corruption in the police force. Soliciting bribes and violence against civilians are an everyday occurance, instilling a distrust in the federal police force as a presence that is meant to protect.
Buhari himself has come under fire by Amnesty International for human rights violations. In October 2020 the Nigerian military opened fire on End SARS protesters in Lekki, Lagos state. Killing at least 12 although the number is estimated to be higher. Reminiscent of the 2015 Zaria massacre, where the Nigerian army killed 348 Shia muslims carrying out religious processions, proceeded by attempted cover up by the military.
The recent End SARS protests is a testament to the demand for change among the population. Thousands of Nigerians protested on the streets against the SARS group, a government sponsored agency aimed at preventing armed robberies, but was notorious for civilian brutality. Although SARS have now been disbanded, the fact that its members have simply been deployed into other areas of the police force is symbolic of the cancer of corruption latent in society. Not tackled at its core, it will only disperse and develop elsewhere.
The Will For Change
At the centre of this are Nigerian citizens robbed of social security and an equal share of their countries’ wealth. .By 2050, Nigeria is projected to have a larger population by the US – its economic and human potential is enormous.
What makes egregious mass kidnappings a repeated occurrence are abiding political and economic factors that require real political will to change from the people that are benefiting the most from their continuation.
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