INTERNATIONAL Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors are planning to initiate investigations into the abduction of school pupils across Nigeria in response to a petition it received from the Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project (Serap).
Of late, kidnapping has become a thriving business across Nigeria and increasingly, schools are being targeted with pupils abducted for huge ransom fees. Nigerian human rights groups Serap, subsequently wrote to the ICC on September 4 urging its prosecutor, Karim Khan, to push for those suspected to be responsible and complicit in the commission of these serious crimes, to be invited and tried by the ICC.
Acknowledging the petition, the ICC said it is set to seek authorisation from the pre-trial chamber of the court to open an investigation into cases of abduction of schoolchildren in several parts of northern Nigeria. Lawyers will also look at the closure of schools and the persistent failure of Nigerian authorities at both the federal and state levels to end the abductions.
Kolawole Oluwadare, Serap deputy director, said: “By this decision, the ICC prosecutor has taken a significant step toward ensuring that those suspected to be responsible for grave crimes against Nigerian schoolchildren are exposed, and held to account. The victims of these crimes deserve justice, so impartial justice and reparation will deal a decisive blow to impunity of perpetrators and improve access of Nigerian children to education.
Serap’s petition to the ICC prosecutor, read in part: “Senior government officials know well or ought to know that their failure to prevent these crimes will violate the children’s human rights and dignity. The absence of any tangible and relevant investigation or prosecution in Nigeria suggests that the authorities are unwilling or unable to carry out genuine investigation or prosecution of those suspected to be responsible for and complicit in the abduction of students.”
“The consequences of persistent abductions of students, closure of schools and the failure to provide safe and enabling learning environments despite federal and state authorities yearly budgeting some N241.2bn of public funds as security votes, are similar to those of the offences. More than 10,000 schools have been reportedly closed in at least seven northern states over the fear of attack and abduction of pupils and members of staff in Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger and Yobe states.”
“Among the string of abductions in Zamfara was the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in the town of Jangebe in February. The latest abduction comes after widespread reports of abduction of students and closure of schools in many states of Nigeria, including in north-central Niger State where some 91 schoolchildren were abducted.
“An estimated 1.3m Nigerian children have been affected by frequent raids on schools by suspected terrorists. Some 13 million Nigerian children are out of school nationwide. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), more than 1,000 students have been abducted from schools in northern Nigeria since December 2020.
“Families and parents have reportedly resulted to paying the terrorists thousands of dollars as ransom to secure the release of their children. An estimated $18.34m was reportedly paid in ransoms between June 2011 and the end of March 2020.”
Responding, the ICC prosecutor confirmed to Serap that the criteria for opening an investigation into a string of abductions and closure of schools in some parts of Nigeria have been met. Signed on the prosecutor’s behalf by Mark Dillon, the head of the ICC’s information and evidence unit, the letter read in part: “On behalf of the prosecutor, I thank you for your communication received on 13/09/2021, as well as any subsequent related information.”
“The preliminary examination of the petition is considered complete. Under Article 53 of the Rome Statute, the next step in the judicial process is for the Prosecutor’s Office to prepare and submit a request to the Pre-Trial Chamber for authorisation to open an investigation on Nigeria.
“Once submitted, the request will be made publicly available on the Court’s website: www.icccpi.int. Your communication will be forwarded to the relevant team to be analysed, together with other related communications and other available information, in the context of any future investigations.”