AFRICA/NIGERIA - Mass kidnappings widespread: a criminal and political phenomenon rather than “religious”

Tuesday, 12 March 2024 kidnappings   jihadists   banditry  

Abuja (Agenzia Fides) - The Safe Schools Initiative, a Nigerian organization founded after the kidnapping of 276 students from a secondary school in Chibok in 2014 (the fate of 100 of them is still unknown) and is committed to protecting schools from terrorist attacks, announces the mass kidnappings of students in 14 states in Nigeria.
The alarming statistics were released following the abduction of 287 students in Kuriga, Chikun local government area, Kaduna State (see Fides, 7/3/2024), and another 15 students in the village of Gidan Bakuso, Sokoto State, while also about 300 internally displaced people (mostly women) are missing after the attack by jihadists from the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) on the Babba Sansani camp near Lake Chad in Borno State. The warning applies to Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Benue, Yobe, Katsina, Abuja, Kebbi, Sokoto, Plateau and Zamfara states, the federal capital area of Abuja and three other unspecified states.
The interpretation of this wave of mass kidnappings varies. Some see this as a "religious" attempt by jihadist groups to terrorize the local population in order to drive the jihadist wave towards the coast and thus take up an old project of the Sokoto Caliphate to expand to the Atlantic. The fact that both Christians and Muslims are being kidnapped suggests a more political interpretation, namely the interest of political and criminal power groups in weakening the government of President Bola Tinubu, who took office in May 2023. In addition, the kidnappings are committed by different groups, which speaks more to a political and sometimes purely criminal interpretation (the desire to receive large sums from the ransoms for hundreds of people) than to a religious interpretation. In the case of the kidnapping of the Kuriga school students, the main suspect is said to be a group of armed Fulani herdsmen acting on behalf of Dogo Gide, a notorious kidnapping criminal who was already involved in the kidnapping of 126 Students at Bethel Baptist Secondary School in Maraban, Kaduna State, in July 2021.
The figure of Dogo Gide is paradigmatic for understanding the links between jihadism and banditry in northern Nigeria. As the Nigerian press reported, he escaped death in early December after the group he led fell victim to a joint attack by jihadists from ISWAP and ANSARU (an al-Qaeda affiliate). Gide had previously sought a tactical agreement with ANSARU to counter ISWAP's dominance in its strongholds in Niger State. The later failed agreement aimed to promote an alliance with ANSARU in Zamfara State in northwestern Nigeria. The presence of various armed actors, jihadists, Fulani herdsmen and criminal gangs allied and competing with each other is increasing insecurity across north-central Nigeria. Those who suffer are the families of the hostages, who have to pay ransoms by selling their property and businesses in order to buy their relatives' freedom. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 12/3/2024)