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Nigeria's Kidnappings Grow More Brazen After 2014 Boko Haram Attack

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Gunmen kidnapped children and teachers from an elementary school in northwestern Nigeria on Monday. It's the latest in a series of attacks on educational institutions. And they have grown more brazen since 2014 when a group of schoolgirls were abducted by the militant group Boko Haram. Joe Parkinson is Africa bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. He described how another group of students, this time college-aged, were taken this past weekend. But first, note that some listeners may find the details disturbing.

JOE PARKINSON: They were seized by armed men in the early hours of Friday night. And within just a few hours on Saturday morning, what's now become a very familiar choreography played out. The kidnappers released a video with the schoolchildren in a forest, somewhere very difficult to determine. But we know it's somewhere in Nigeria's northwest. And the children themselves were asking the government to pay a ransom - in this case, 500 million naira. It's about $1.2 million. The video then went in a very dark direction where the masked men with Kalashnikovs who were walking around the children started to beat them with bullwhips. And they were shrieking out by the end of the video, just do what these men ask. So this has become all too familiar a choreography for Nigerians. We've seen more than 800 schoolchildren kidnapped in four separate attacks in recent months.

MARTINEZ: Wow. What's motivating all these kidnappings that keep happening? I mean, who's behind them?

PARKINSON: Well, kidnapping in Nigeria is not a new phenomenon. But it's got worse. And it's moved much more in the direction of poor people and schoolchildren. So the northwest of Nigeria is an impoverished part of the country. And actually, it's suffering from a real sort of degradation of the state. Nigeria is fighting numerous insurgencies on different fronts, particularly in the northeast, against Boko Haram. And the security services there just don't have the capacity. And so into that power vacuum these groups, these criminal groups, have moved. And they're exploiting it. There's something which is behind this as well, which is longer term, which is ethnic clashes between different groups in the northwest.

Many of the people who are part of these criminal groups are from the Fulani ethnic group, who are traditionally nomadic herders. And they've been clashing with Hausa community farmers, sedentary farmers. And these clashes have become more and more deadly, more and more murderous. Both sides have armed themselves. And the Fulani groups especially have become much more sophisticated and have gotten really into the kidnapping business in recent times. But the school kidnapping, the mass kidnapping of schoolchildren, is really something that's just started happening in the last six months.

MARTINEZ: And how has the government responded?

PARKINSON: Well, the government over the last few days has just really started to move and pledged a huge deployment of troops to the northwest. Some 6,000 soldiers are going to be moving in there. But a lot of people are saying it's too little, too late. These groups have really, really grown in capacity. They've been buying a lot of weapons from the countries that border Nigeria, which are suffering from their own insecurity - Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and even guns coming down from Libya. What's remarkable is 800 students have been kidnapped. And not one minister, not one governor, not one senior official has apologized or has resigned. And so it's kind of difficult to sort of stocktake just the enormity of this. It's - you can't really imagine much more of a metric for state failure than the mass kidnapping of children in a place where they should be safe.

MARTINEZ: Joe Parkinson, co-author of the book "Bring Back Our Girls" and The Wall Street Journal's Africa bureau chief. Joe, thanks a lot.

PARKINSON: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "MEMORY PALACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.