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“Bring back our girls” campaigners protesting in Abuja on 22 August 2014. Mac John Akende/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Hundreds of Nigerian children are being kidnapped – the government must change its security strategy

School abductions have been a trend in Nigeria. The latest took place in Kaduna and Sokoto states, both in the north-west region, when over 300 children were abducted at different times in March 2024.

Previous prominent cases have included the Chibok, Dapchi and Kankara abductions, which insurgents claimed to have perpetrated.

As a security scholar and analyst who has researched and written extensively on aspects of Nigeria’s security challenges, including kidnapping and allied crimes, I see school abductions as a symptom of government neglect of territorial and human security.

Territorial security refers to keeping the country’s geographical spaces (land, borders, seas, airspace, cyberspace) safe from any internal or external threats.

Human security means protecting the country’s people from all kinds of dangers, be they social, economic, political, ecological or technological.

I argue that there is a need for Nigeria to change the way it attends to territorial and human security.

The government must guard what it is responsible for, and exercise proper control over ungoverned, under-governed and contested spaces. Non-state actors have taken over some of these spaces and violence can flourish there.

Locations occupied by any form of criminal non-state actors need to be reclaimed. The way to do this is through a consolidated, coordinated, multi-tiered security arrangement that enlists local participation and indigenous knowledge.

The national security system needs reform. Options to explore include state policing, community policing and alternative policing based on local people’s know-how.

This should happen within a framework of constitutionally mediated reform. The idea would be to give the regional and sub-regional authorities some constitutional powers to use in security matters.


Read more: What Nigeria must do to deal with its ransom-driven kidnapping crisis


Reclaiming lost territory

Hundreds of millions of Nigerians live in grossly undergoverned or contested territories in a dysfunctional state. They are left to live under little or no governmental presence and care.

More than 60% of Nigeria’s over 200 million people live in rural or semi-rural areas. There, the influence of the state is hardly felt at all.

Where there are vulnerable human targets and neglected needs and there’s no competent and credible guardian, crime is bound to happen and to go unpunished.

School abductions will happen again.

Mobilising Nigerians

Even in places where the government has a presence, the concept of national security in Nigeria has over the years meant the security of the governing regime.

Successive political administrations have invested in security priorities that look after their own interests.

The state security forces have been equipped and deployed to crush anti-state elements that might rise against the vested interests of the incumbent regime.

Insurgents, rebels, militants, bandits and separatists are seen as dangerous only when they pose a direct threat to the regime and its structures.

Until that point, these anti-state forces are allowed to thrive and maintain spheres of control and governance within the country.

In some instances, government even negotiates with these criminal elements, offering kidnap ransoms and granting amnesty.

Instead, society can be creatively harnessed and mobilised in a manner that profits national growth and development.

The material conditions that drive unrest and criminality, such as inequality, unemployment and poverty, should be addressed through deliberate social welfare programming that targets the youth, the marginalised and vulnerable groups.


Read more: Who's at risk of being kidnapped in Nigeria?


Conclusion

Lastly, the government needs to demonstrate that it has capacity to prevent and fight crime and to enable criminal justice. The cost of committing a crime must be made a lot higher than the benefit.

Perpetrators of school abductions and their collaborators must be promptly arrested, prosecuted and punished.

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