The World Today for September 09, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

NIGERIA

Remember the Children

Gunmen in Nigeria freed nearly a hundred kidnapped school children recently. Families in Nigeria’s north-central Niger State raised $140,000 and handed over motorbikes to pay the gunmen’s ransom.

A relieved Hauwa’u Isa reclaimed her seven children upon their release. “I cannot find a word to express how delighted I am today,” she told CNN. “For the past 88 days, I have been praying not to die without seeing my children.”

Though joyful, the reunions of parents with their abducted children have unfortunately become increasingly common in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy. In an in-depth Al Jazeera special on the topic, local experts described a kidnapping crisis out of control. Around 1,000 children have been abducted since December. Around 200 children remain captive.

Inspired by Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram terrorists who abducted hundreds of schoolchildren – the most infamous is the 2014 Chibok kidnapping of 276 school girls – mass abductions are now “a money-spinning industry for armed gangs,” Reuters wrote. The Wall Street Journal devoted an entire podcast to the history and economics of the cottage industry.

The rise of this industry comes as Boko Haram collapses. Last month, more than 1,000 Boko Haram members and their hostages turned themselves in to the Nigerian government in what security officials and mediators called a new chapter in Nigeria’s decade-long conflict that has killed more than 35,000, displaced 2 million and left 24,000 missing, the Journal wrote. Analysts attribute this to the disarray that followed the recent death of the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, and attempts by a group of rival extremists, the Islamic State West Africa Province (Iswap), to integrate his fighters into their ranks, Confidence MacHarry, a security analyst in Lagos, told the Associated Press.

The deterioration of Boko Haram has left a vacuum that Iswap and criminal gangs – copying the militant group’s playbook – have been moving to fill in the north of the country, namely kidnappings and terror attacks.

Many of the members of the criminal gangs are reportedly part of the Fulani community, a historically nomadic and cattle-rearing ethnic group spread across West Africa, the Guardian reported. As grazing routes have turned into private land or have disappeared entirely due to desertification, the Fulani have also moved south leading to escalating conflicts with Christian farmers there, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, a militant movement has arisen among young and disaffected Fulanis, presenting Nigerian leaders in the capital of Abuja with yet another internal security crisis – and the deadliest one in the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari is also grappling with other security issues, namely an uprising in southeastern Nigeria, where the government faces criticism of using excessive violence in cracking down on dissent, including secret detentions and extrajudicial executions, according to Amnesty International. At the same time, the administration is responding to killings and violence reportedly committed by an armed group called the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the armed wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a pro-Biafra movement.

There is a sliver of hope in this chaos and violence.

Last month, as Boko Haram members surrendered, two women appeared among the hostages. They were two of the schoolgirls kidnapped at a boarding school in Chibok seven years ago. Nigerian officials are trying to negotiate with the militants to get the remaining 100 of these “lost children” released even as they are having trouble figuring out who to contact because of the militant group’s demise.

Meanwhile, parents like Yana Galang, 65, whose daughter Rifkau was also kidnapped at the school, told the AP she was thrilled by the return of the two Chibok girls. It means there is a chance she will see her daughter again.

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