Boko Haram kidnapping in Nigeria surges

In early March, Islamic militants abducted at least 100 people, mostly girls and some boys, in northeast Nigeria near Babban Sansani IDP, a camp for internally displaced people.

There are about 2 million internally displaced people in Borno and neighbouring Adamawa and Yobe states. When the IDPs are forced to flee their homes because of militant violence, they try to resettle as close as possible to government military camps for protection. The presence of so many IDPs is cultivating a humanitarian crisis, as well as creating a tremendous community vulnerable to terrorist groups.

The government has laid blame for the kidnapping on Islamic State — West Africa Province, while some terrorism experts believe the culprits were Boko Haram, specifically the JAS faction. Since the two groups split in 2016, ISWAP and Boko Haram (JAS) have been rivals, leading to violent clashes between them.


Boko Haram is a Nigeria-based terrorist group that originated in the late 1990s. It seeks to overthrow the Nigerian Government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law.

The group is also called Jama‘atu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Da‘awati wal-Jihad (JASDJ), which translates to "Group of the Sunni People for the Calling and Jihad," and it is sometimes referred to as the "Nigerian Taliban." The name "Boko Haram" means "Western education is forbidden."

In July 2009, Boko Haram suffered severe losses, including the killing of its leader, Muhammad Yusuf. The group's second-in-command, Abubakar Shekau, released a statement professing to be the new leader and expressing support for al-Qa‘ida while threatening the United States.

During 2014 and 2015, the group was extremely active, launching attacks against Christians nearly every day. Boko Haram later expressed solidarity with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and publicly referred to itself as "ISIL-West Africa Province."

The families of the recent abductees are calling for justice, accusing the government of silencing them, and the international community of ignoring them. Estimates of the number of children taken vary widely, suggesting that the government is not listening to parents. Community leaders and the United Nations put the number at more than 200, whereas the official government number is about half that.

In a separate incident, about 100 children were abducted on the same day in Kaduna State, about 500 miles away. Once again, there are discrepancies regarding the number of victims, with the head teacher saying that 287 students were taken.

In 2014, Boko Haram dominated international headlines when they kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok. The Chibok girls, as they had become known in the international press. According to Amnesty International, an estimated 98 of the Chibok girls remain in captivity, while 64 others, who were among 780 abducted in 2021, are still being held.

Amnesty is extremely critical of the Nigerian government, alleging that until today, no significant investigation into the Chibok abductions has been undertaken. Families of the Chibok girls still in captivity say that the government is no longer communicating with them.


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Additionally, the problem persists, with abductions occurring regularly. Not only schools, but homes and other areas like the edge of the forest where children help their families by gathering firewood have been targets for the kidnappers, and the government has failed to protect civilians from militants.

Some of the victims were ransomed back to their families, while others went missing without a trace. Last year alone, 3,500 people were abducted by Islamist groups, while a total of 23,000 are registered missing.


Over the years, some Chibok girls have escaped, a few as recently as this year. The girls, now women, are facing numerous problems with their reintegration.

During their time in captivity, they were offered two choices: they could become Boko Haram wives or slaves. As slaves, they would labour, have no rights, and have to service the fighters sexually. So, many chose to become brides, which necessitated converting to Islam.

Some of the women had to leave their children in order to escape. For those whose children and Boko Haram husbands went with them, their husbands were often arrested, leaving the mother and children alone. There is a certain stigmatisation as people refer to the escapees as “children of Boko Haram.”

Another problem is the religion. There is an assumption that the girls were forced to convert to Islam and would be glad to return to Christianity once free. But whether they were brainwashed or truly believe, some do not want to convert back, which has made it difficult to reunite with their parents.

The surge in Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria highlights a dire humanitarian crisis exacerbated by government ineffectiveness and a growing threat of Islamist extremism. The failure to protect citizens has left communities feeling abandoned and vulnerable, while the government's reluctance to engage with victims' families further compounds the sense of despair.

With the escalating number of internally displaced persons fleeing their homes, urgent action is needed to bolster security measures, engage in meaningful dialogue with affected communities, and foster regional and international cooperation to address the crisis comprehensively. This includes delivering food and supplies to the IDPs while providing for their security. Failure to act decisively risks perpetuating a cycle of suffering and instability with far-reaching consequences for Nigeria and the wider region.

What can be done to stop these kidnappings? Comment below.  

Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China-MBA MBA, is a China economic analyst teaching economics at the American University in Mongolia. He has spent 20 years in Asia and is the author of six books about China. His writing has appeared in The Diplomat, South China Morning Post, Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Penthouse, Shanghai Institute of American Studies, Epoch Times, War on the Rocks, Just the News, and Black Belt Magazine.

Image credit: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu/Pexels


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