Kidnappers Making Millions from the Government over Seized Ammunitions

Armed criminal gangs that earned money by kidnapping kids in Nigeria’s northwest woods now operate far beyond the reach of the country’s increasingly unstable government.

Secret papers and interviews with top military officials, soldiers, and independent mediators, as well as one of the gang leaders, reveal that government authorities in Africa’s most populous country have paid the gangs to restore stolen weapons and abducted people in certain cases.

Governments currently fighting ISIS in northeast Nigeria call the criminal organizations in its northwest “bandits,” a term that is used by the government there. However, troops, intelligence officials, and mediators who have been to their camps have reported finding plenty of armaments. Some of them have been obtained after the operation to repurchase an antiaircraft gun, including others.

This year, the criminals have kidnapped almost 1,000 students from their classrooms. More than a thousand schools have shuttered in a nation with a population half its age and the world’s highest number of youngsters living outside their grade levels.

To buy their children’s freedom, farmers have abandoned or sold their property, which has resulted in record-high prices for staples such as maize, rice, and beans. Fighting has left a quarter of a million people displaced and hundreds of communities abandoned.

Fulani ranchers have been battling farmers for years for access to diminishing grazing grounds, which has led to an increase in banditry among Fulani members of the ethnic group.

Kidnapping groups formed by herders have lately targeted everyone from local residents to politicians. Recently, gunmen carried off an ambush in Kaduna state north of the city, killing two troops and stealing weapons before capturing a high-ranking military commander, major at the country’s national defense school.

A group of armed criminals has taken to the airwaves to brag about their arsenal, and they’ve requested that the media be allowed to photograph it.

Bandits have been accused of kidnapping and murdering police officers over the last three months, as well as political figures and Catholic priests.

While U.S. policymakers are preoccupied with the jihadist threat in Nigeria, the bandits are a low priority, according to American officials who claim to have intercepted calls from suspected Islamist militants in the northeast who are advising bandits in the northwest on kidnapping operations and negotiations.

Last month, the Nigerian military launched a fresh assault, using jet aircraft supplied by the United States to carry out airstrikes on forest encampments. During a military assault, the government ordered the suspension of mobile service in four states, affecting tens of millions of people. Some authorities believe the military effort is succeeding.

As a result of villagers paying bandits to keep their children safe, the protection industry has grown. With no way to protect their population from outside threats, the governors of three northern states have urged their people to get guns, which has given rise to an illegal local industry that makes muskets out of scrap metal.

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