Nigeria: Child Abduction - the Enabling Circumstances

18 October 2019

The case of the nine children abducted in Kano; trafficked and sold off in Onitsha where they were converted to Christianity; renamed and had their ethnocultural identity and looks changed is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Though given the prevailing security situation in Nigeria, no one is invulnerable to abduction except, of course, a few thousand among the elite who enjoy virtually invincible state-provided security protection, yet the vulnerability of children in many states in the northern part of the country is particularly alarming.

This, however, doesn't mean that children in other parts of the country enjoy any better state-provided security protection; after all, insecurity is pervasive in the whole country. Instead, children in those northern states are particularly vulnerable to abduction due to some deep-rooted socio-cultural misconceptions and practices that provide the enabling environment for the crime to be perpetrated with relative ease compared to other states in the country.

Like other aspects of the socio-cultural value system of the people in those states, parental attitude towards children is hugely influenced by those misconceptions. Accordingly, parents aren't supposed to openly show affection and care to their children, for it's widely believed that doing so spoils a child and undermines his ability to be a responsible, self-reliant and resilient person when he comes of age.

Besides, parents doing so expose themselves to social disapproval, which is manifested in the form of gossiping, innuendoes or criticisms, depending on the parents' likelihood to tolerate meddling in their parenting style. Equally, by doing so, the parents inadvertently expose their innocent child to the risk of being disliked in the community, as it's believed that a child attracts love from other people according to the extent he is denied it by his own parents. "Kaqi naka, duniya ta so shi" is a popular Hausa adage promoting this misconception.

Typical parenting in those states, therefore, is characterized by a lack of appropriate parental affection and care that amount to gross negligence. Also, while the tradition of sending children away to Almajirci represents the worst manifestation of this misconception, the society is replete with many other similar manifestations.

Parents in a typical local community in those states hardly bother to check on their children, including crawling babies and toddlers, provided they are believed to be with, say, a corner shop attendant, a neighbour or anybody in the community for that matter; or provided they are believed to be with the gateman or driver, in gated homes. A typical mother in that community would entrust or send away her toddler to a neighbourhood maikanti or any idle neighbour out there supposedly to keep the child "entertained" while she enjoys some respite from his supposed pestering.

By the way, children are in many, if not most, cases sexually abused and/or bullied that way with the perpetrators getting away with it. The few cases occasionally exposed represent just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyway, malnourished, unbathed and dirty-clothed kids, some as young as two with mucus-stained faces roam the alleyways of the community unattended playing by the gutters and with the sewage for that matter.

Parents also send their kids as young as five or less, unaccompanied, to school or on an errand. Though the ideal age at which a child could be sent on an errand or school unaccompanied depends on various factors, I, for one, believe that in an environment like Nigeria, even a ten-year-old boy is too young to be sent unaccompanied to school or an errand beyond his vicinity.

The picture as highlighted above explains why the region, in particular, attracts child abductors who find it quite easy to commit their crimes there more than any other region in the country. After all, in the aftermath of a typical case of child disappearance, the case is never handled with the amount of seriousness and diligence it requires. Usually, after reporting the incident to mai unguwa and the Police, the parents of the missing child announce it in the media, blame it on ritual killers then attribute it to "Qaddara" and effectively let go of the incident.

Now, the Kano State government, civil society groups, public figures and the general public should demand that the security agencies handle this incident with utmost diligence. They should trace the other missing children, both whose names were released and others who haven't been duly documented as missing children; and reunite them with their respective families.

Equally, the security intelligence agencies should embark on in-depth investigation into the incident, because it bears the hallmark of a conspiracy. The "powerful investigation committee" Governor Ganduje has promised to come up with may not be of any relevance, after all. Because handling a case of this nature requires appropriate resources and specialized expertise in intelligence investigations, which a committee composed of politicians, technocrats and emirs lacks.

Instead of this committee, therefore, Governor Ganduje along with all political officeholders from Kano at the national level, especially senators and the House of Assembly members should do whatever it takes to secure President Buhari's particular interest in the matter, which he hasn't demonstrated so far, because, without it, the investigations would probably be somehow undermined and frustrated to end up grossly inconclusive.

Yet, it should be noted that without addressing those socio-cultural misconceptions and practices in those northern Nigerian cities, towns and villages, as highlighted above, children out there would remain particularly vulnerable to abduction by child abduction syndicates.

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