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Atleast 200 students still remain abducted in Nigeria, more than 1,000 children kidnapped this year

Schools in north of country have become prime targets for ‘bandits’ with 1,000 students taken this year.

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 More than 200 school children are still being held hostage by armed “criminal” gangs in northern Nigeria, among more than a thousand students taken in this year as schools in northern Nigeria become major victims.

The shocking lack of security and - according to many communities - the unwillingness to engage in armed conflict has quickly transformed much of northern Nigeria into a haven for kidnappings and hell for thousands of families. Most of the victims are school children, where more people have been abducted this year, the mirror also ends the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok by Boko Haram in 2014.

For many Nigerians, disappointed with what some have described as a “kidnapping epidemic”, the security crisis is accompanied by many government failures. This problem threatens to disrupt school attendance in a region where high levels of child education and child marriages have been prominent.

In May, Danboye Bege's 16-year-old daughter, Louise, was among 128 abducted students as they prepared to take their exams on July 5 at Bethel Baptist School in Kaduna, northern Nigeria.

Last week, Louise and 27 other students were released after being paid by nurses, known as "criminals". Six students fled the attack and 87 - some 11 years old - were still in custody.

"My daughter is recovering now, strong and in good spirits," he said, after being held for 22 days in a forest camp. But in order to get her back, she had lost everything, she said.

“I sold all my possessions. I sold our house permanently. The plot I got, I had to sell it to get my daughter released, ”said Bege. Many relatives of the captives are still struggling to find the ransom, citing the experiences of thousands this year alone who have been intimidated by armed groups.

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Gangs, estimated at more than 3,000 in the entire region, have put ordinary life into a state of permanent terror. Massive attacks on towns and villages by bandits, heavily armed men have flourished, and a gang operating from the forest floor through central and northwestern Nigeria to Niger.

Most of the criminals are thought to be Fulanis, a national group with a history centered on nomadic life and cattle farming in West Africa. As grazing routes have become private or reduced altogether as a result of climate change, conflicts with farmers have intensified.

The escalation of the war against thousands of young and untouched Fulanis has emerged as the deadliest security issue in Nigeria, with mass disputes and mass casualties that have claimed lives in recent years as a jihadist insurgency in the northeast.

As the economy suffers, and poorly paid local security does not seem to be responding, the kidnappings have become a lucrative crime. The liberation by criminal gangs has caused a great deal of frustration in Nigeria, with many blaming the government of President Muhammadu Buhari for failing to rectify the situation.

As criminal gangs thrive, a mix of anti-government and anti-government practices has failed, according to Nigerian security expert Murtala Abdullahi. "The north-west security intervention shows a critical political approach in responding to national security issues," he said. “It is responsive and very dependent on the military. We also saw a variety of approaches, negotiations [armed groups] and negotiations, if there was no framework or strategy. ”

Armed exemptions, controversial "peace agreements" and even direct payments have all been used by government officials. Repeated military operations to combat deforestation have also been introduced, including airstrikes. Last month, an air force plane was shot down in Zamfara, in northwestern Nigeria, a Nigerian airline said, and the pilot survived the crash. The incident has raised concerns about the growing power of armed groups in the region, with some fearing the possibility of forming alliances with jihadists.

The Kaduna provincial government, like a growing number of local authorities, has refused to pay ransom or to negotiate with the robbers. In April, the governor, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, stated: “I mean to say it and I will say it here again. Even if my son is kidnapped, I will just pray for him to make heaven instead, because I will not pay any ransom. ”

However, in poor, exposed communities, facing health threats and compensation payments, the government's position has provoked outrage. According to a Nigerian statistics agency, 40% of its adults live on less than $ 1 a day.

Ahmad Idris' nephew, Hamza Nasiru, 25, was among 23 students and abducted staff at Greenfield University in Kaduna, on April 20. The criminals began their demands for 800m naira (£ 1,400,000) to be released. "How many relationships get 50,000 naira (£ 87) [per month]?" he said. “You can imagine the pain we are going through. How can you get that money without having to worry about losing it? ”

In addition to the frequent outbreaks, which have caused a great deal of stress is the freedom that the kidnappers have taken action, not to hide the identity of the victims, to call families registered, to call radio stations where children have been placed in solitary confinement, and to work from forest camps known to security officials.

In the days following the abduction in Greenfield, the criminals began contacting the families of the students and introducing themselves to them.

"His name is Baleri, he is the leader of the party," Idris said. “She was the one who used to call and say if we wanted the children alive, we had to pay. This team leader is still using the same number! And his number is with the security authorities and everyone. Whenever you call him you will talk to him, ”he said.

Increasingly, courage has become commonplace, and criminals have become involved in crime, even appearing on the radio. In May, Baleri, a gang leader, and Hamza, Idris's nephew, appeared on the Voice of America Hausa radio station. A discussion clip was shared with the families of the captives and the Kaduna community.

"The reporter asked Baleri where the children were, in the same conversation, they were made to hear about some of the children, and it was Hamza," Idris said.

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“A journalist asked him how he was doing in the [forest] forest. Hamza told a reporter that they killed five students in front of them. The bodies, along with that of one of the staff members killed by the robbers, were taken to a wagon and taken to the school grounds.

On May 29, students and staff were repatriated after paying 100m naira, Idris said. However it remains a source of pain for the relatives of the abductees that the attackers have not been tracked down.

“Or have they been released and followed them? Did they go to their camp in the woods? So what is the reason you are not paying the ransom and even if we have raised money to pay, you are not doing anything? ”Said Idris.

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