An Epidemic of Kidnapping: Interpreting School Abductions and Insecurity in Nigeria


  • Aly Verjee
  • Chris M.A. Kwaja


Attacks on Nigerian school students from December 2020 to August 2021 saw hundreds of children abducted and prompted a national outcry at the state’s seeming inability to prevent such events. This recent wave of abductions follows other notorious incidents of mass abduction and murder of students, most prominently the cases of the Chibok and Dapchi girls. In assessing the more recent abductions, the authorities and some analysts have made a distinction between contemporary and earlier episodes on the basis of the perceived identity of the perpetrators. While Boko Haram was responsible for the Chibok and Dapchi abductions, “bandits” are held responsible for the attacks in 2020-21. This focus on the perpetrators, however, does not explain how attacks on schools fit into the broader political economy of violence and insecurity of contemporary Nigeria, and why kidnapping has become a fast growing industry. Moreover, the ensuing reaction of largely treating abductions as security problems requiring a greater military and police response, accompanied by the physical fortification of schools, treats the symptoms rather than the cause. As these same security actors implicated in corruption, violence, and the systemic abuse of civilians are not credible providers of security, in the name of safeguarding and rescuing students Nigeria risks becoming ever more militarized and repressive.