from Africa in Transition

Inconsistent Reports of More Women and Children Kidnapped in Northeastern Nigeria

June 24, 2014

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The Nigerian media is reporting a new mass kidnapping in northeastern Nigeria. This time, victims include adolescent males and small children as well as women and girls. The estimated number of those kidnapped ranges from sixty to nearly one hundred.

Local reporting is inconsistent on whether these numbers refer to multiple episodes from multiple sites during the first half of June, or to a single, mass kidnapping event like that in Chibok when the school girls were taken. The security services are denying any knowledge of the alleged kidnapping, but local media quotes eyewitnesses who successfully fled from the kidnappers.

The reports of the kidnappings are leaking out now as internally displaced persons arrive in Maiduguri—Borno state’s capital—or arrive in Adamawa state, which is adjacent. The villages afflicted with the kidnappings are in Damboa local government, which is remote. Very few external journalists travel there.

No group has claimed public responsibility for the kidnappings, though the assumption is that it is Boko Haram.

Western media is picking up the story from the Nigerian media and linking it to the Nigerian government’s inability to find the approximately three hundred school girls who were kidnapped in Chibok. This inability continues despite outside assistance. If the story of the latest round of kidnapping has legs, it is likely to reenergize domestic and international concern about the Jonathan administration’s response to the Boko Haram challenge.

It appears likely that a large scale kidnapping episode did take place, though whether over several days in several villages or at a single place on a single date remains unclear. Kidnapping is proving a highly successful tactic for Boko Haram. Episodes generate local and international media attention, discredit the Abuja government, and may generate ransom payments. Presuming that this latest round of kidnappings was perpetrated by Boko Haram, it highlights again the movement’s ability to hold, feed, and lodge large numbers of victims, apparently indefinitely. The increasing number of mouths to feed may account for the kidnappers now routinely stealing food and domestic animals as part of their operations.