Nigerian politician arrested for condemning the kidnap of schoolchildren

Families displaced by Boko Haram attacks in Adamawa and Borno states, Nigeria. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnap of 300 school boys in December 2020. Photo by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Salihu Tanko Yakasai, who until recently was the social media aide to the governor of north western Nigeria's Kano State, was arrested on February 26 by the Department of State Services (DSS) for criticizing the country's deplorable security situation

Yakasai’s father told the online newspaper CableNG that his son was arrested by the DSS on his way to the barber's, adding, “But I cannot confirm to you whether he is here in Kano or somewhere else.’

Yakasai has spoken out against President Muhammadu Buhari's government — of which he is a member — for doing very little to address the country's lack of security and the resulting incidents of kidnapping. In a series of tweets made on the day of his arrest, he suggested that the administration had failed the people: 

Bemoaning that the kidnapping of schoolchildren has become a tragic norm in northern Nigeria, Yakasai said that even though citizens “lament, condemn, [and] create hashtag[s]”, there are “no concrete steps to prevent reoccurrence [sic], and then we repeat the process”.

He went even further, tweeting:

By February 27, Yakasi had been fired by Abdullahi Ganduje, the governor of Kano, for his “unguarded comments and utterances” which was deemed at odds with the position of the “the (APC) government which he is serving.” 

Meanwhile, Nigerian netizens are already calling for Yakasi's release, with the hashtag #FreeDawisu trending on Twitter, and journalist Omoyele Sowore stating that the DSS is “happy to pounce on Nigerians critical of the failing regime”:

Writer Demola Olarewaju added that some “political parties”, a veiled reference to the APC, “operate like a cult”:

One Twitter user found Yakasi's arrest reminiscent of the modus operandi of Nazi Germany's secret police:

Another didn't fail to notice the brokenness of the system:

Yakasi’s tweets came after the February 26 kidnapping of more than 300 schoolgirls at the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Jangebe, located in north-western Nigeria's Zamfara state.

It was an attack that came on the heels of the kidnapping — nine days prior — of about 42 people, including 27 school boys, at the Government Science College in Kagara, located in Niger State in the country's north-west. The armed gunmen in that incident released their captives ten days later, on February 27. 

No one has yet claimed responsibility for these two incidents. However, in December 2020, the Islamic jihadist group Boko Haram did claim responsibility for the abduction of about 300 schoolboys from the Kankara Government Science Secondary School, in the north-western state of Katsina. The boys were released after a few days in captivity.

The kidnapping of schoolchildren in Nigeria has seen an alarming spike, according to security analyst Bulama Bukart, for very specific reasons. Not only does the abduction of minors boost the public profile of groups like Boko Haram, which feeds off of the publicity, it also results in political pressure being put on the government, making it easier for kidnappers to demand ransoms.

As at the time of publication, there has been no further word on Yakasai's release.

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