Nigeria’s latest mass kidnapping 'symptomatic of inadequacies built up over years'

·3-min read

The mass kidnapping of 344 schoolboys in Nigeria’s north-eastern Katsina State and their subsequent release this week is indicative of the continuing security challenges President Muhammadu Buhari faces in northern Nigeria and the country as a whole, a top Nigeria expert has told RFI.

"The capacity of the state to deal with these problems is questionable sometimes, the military, police and other security agencies are really now overstretched by the scale of the problems,” Nnamdi Obasi of the International Crisis Group told this week’s Africa Calling podcast.

“They're not able to respond as vigorously and as effectively as the situation demands," added Obasi, a senior advisor on Nigeria for the Brussels-based thinktank.

The kidnapping of the 344 boys on 11 December from a secondary school in the town of Kankara hit headlines and reminded many in Nigeria of the 2014 mass kidnapping by Boko Haram militants of 270 schoolgirls in the north-eastern town of Chibok.

The Chibok incident sparked international outcry and led to the creation of the #BringBackOurGirls pressure group.

Katsina state governor, Aminu Bello Masari, said 344 boys were released after a six-day ordeal, with Nigerian authorities establishing indirect contact with the kidnappers, securing their release without any shots fired.

Hardline Islamist sect Boko Haram claimed this latest kidnapping. But conflicting reports suggested that Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, recruited local gangs to carry out the abduction.

A range of challenges

Northern Nigeria’s Islamist insurgency is just one of the security challenges Buhari faces, including inter-communal violence as well as more general banditry and criminality.

Climate change, poverty, unemployment, demographic pressures, porous borders with Sahelian countries, as well as the traffic and flow of illegal arms and people, are all factors contributing to the root causes of insecurity, according to Obasi.

“All the ingredients of conflict and insecurity are very much there across northern Nigeria and indeed much of Nigeria,” said Obasi.

Dealing with Boko Haram was a key tenet of Buhari’s election campaign in 2015 and he vowed to solve the security challenges, a particularly poignant promise given his military background and the role the shock of the Chibok kidnappings played in election campaigning.

Nevertheless, Nigeria’s security forces remain undermanned, lack equipment, do not have adequate intelligence and fail in cooperating with communities impacted by the violence, said Obasi.

"It's a whole range of deficiencies that have built up over the years and unfortunately there has not been an adequate response to them," the analyst added.

Beefing up security forces

Earlier this year, Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum, told local media that some 100,000 additional soldiers were needed to defeat Boko Haram.

And Buhari on 30 November promised more resources for security forces to “prosecute the war against terrorism”. Yet some senior Nigerian military figures have warned that Nigeria’s security challenges could continue for decades.

“There is a general misunderstanding of what insurgency and terrorism entail,” said Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai. “There is the likelihood of terrorism persisting in Nigeria for another 20 years,” he said, as reported by Nigerian media, just days after Boko Haram killed a number of rice farmers in Borno State.

Obasi said the security challenges in Nigeria are not just limited to funding. The government needs to focus on the training, welfare and motivation of personnel, as well as accountability, respect for human rights, civil-military cooperation and oversight.

"I think the government thinks of reform in terms of just adding some more money, buying some more equipment and so on - those are necessary, critical, but they're not the whole range of actions that need to be taken,” said Obasi, who worked at Nigeria’s National Defence College.

Boko Haram’s insurgency began in 2009 with fighting and attacks resulting in thousands of deaths, according to human rights groups.