West Africa Begins Using Drones to Help Stop Kidnapping

In West Africa, lies the continent’s most populous country, Nigeria. An estimated 211 million people live in the 356,669 sq mile span of Nigeria that is made up of 36 semi-autonomous states. Unfortunately, the country has become infamous for being the base of operations for the terrorist group Boko Haram. In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped and held hostage 276 girls, ages 16-18, from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno. Some of the girls were able to escape, others were confirmed dead, but as of 2021, there are still 100 girls missing.

The kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigerian states has become increasingly common for several reasons. It is a way for smaller terrorist groups, referred to as bandits by the Nigerian government, to gain attention and notoriety. It provides an easy source of income as people are quick to pay ransoms for children. Over the last decade, the Nigerian government has paid out nearly $18 million in ransom. And as children are involved, the government tends to act with restraint to eliminate the possibility of fatalities. In response to a recent incident in Zamfara, government officials have vowed to step up actions against bandits with the help of drone technology.

Since December 2020, Nigerian bandits have been stepping up their attacks on schools, starting with the abduction of 344 schoolboys in Katsina. On February 17, 2021, 1 student was killed while 27 others were abducted from a school in Kagara. Less than 2 weeks later, on February 26, 279 girls were abducted from the Government Girls Science Secondary School, a boarding school in Zamfara. On March 2, the bandits released the girls, though it is unclear as to what type of negotiation methods were used for the safe return of the students. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the bandits and said that he would “not succumb to blackmail by bandits who target innocent school students in the expectations of huge ransom payments.” Zamfara State Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle later announced that the girls had been released without a ransom payment.

Governor Matawalle is determined to see banditry come to an end in Zamfara, and hopefully the rest of Nigeria. However, he knows this is not something that can be done without investor intervention. After returning from a 2 week trip with other government officials to the United Kingdom and Turkey, Governor Matawalle has announced his plans to combat Zamfara’s bandits. “The trip was to seek assistance in the matters of security, job creation, and invitation of foreign investors for socio-economic growth,” Governor Matawalle said. “Zamfara State has become the colony of banditry not only in the northern states but in Nigeria as a whole, and the state has suffered from the destruction of socio-economic growth. Now, the state government has it in mind to purchase armed drones to access bandit hideouts and strengthen intelligence gathering to battle the banditry and other criminalities in the state.”

The girls abducted from Zamfara were taken to the nearby Dangulbi forest, a well known base of operation for many bandit groups. With access to fresh water and food, the forest provides the bandits with an enclave to orchestrate and hold prisoners. Patrolling the forest is too dangerous for police on the ground. But with the help of drones equipped with HD, thermal imaging cameras, police have a chance to gather the intelligence needed to put a stop to what President Buhari called the “inhumane and totally unacceptable” abduction of schoolchildren.

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