It is significant that a recent mass abduction case in the country has drawn attention to the negative effects of kidnapping on the mental health of victims. The parents of the victims of the Afaka kidnapping have complained about “the psychological damage inflicted on the children during their 56-day encounter with terror.”
On March 11, 39 students were abducted from Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State. Two of them escaped from their abductors, and 10 were released in two batches of five each on April 5 and 7. The remaining 27 abductees were released on May 5 “following unquantifiable efforts by their parents, who suffered excruciating hardships and trauma, resulting in the death of a parent,” the chairman of the parents’ group, Abdullahi Usman, said in a statement.
According to the parents, since their release more than a month ago, most of the students “have been exhibiting some abnormal psychological behaviours due to lack of proper medical checkup and trauma counselling necessary for their rehabilitation.” Most of them “have not been living their normal lives since their release,” the parents said.
The details of their abduction experience are unclear, but it was clearly disruptive and potentially harmful psychologically. For instance, although the parents said none of the abductees was sexually abused, they mentioned a connected incident that amounted to psychological abuse.
“According to the testimony of all the released students,” they said, “one bandit lost his life on the mere mention of the desire to sexually molest a student.” The students were made to “take his corpse and deposit it in a nearby bush” because their abductors said “he was not worthy of a proper burial.” This kind of experience can have negative psychological effects.
It is unclear what particular psychological problems the students are manifesting. There is a range of emotional trauma symptoms that may result from their experience in captivity. These include: Anxiety and panic attacks, fear, anger, irritability, obsessions and compulsions, shock and disbelief, emotional numbing and detachment, and depression.
The students were abducted from a federal educational institution located in a particular state, which should make federal and state authorities concerned about their wellbeing. It is noteworthy that they were released based on the efforts of their parents following the refusal of the Kaduna State government to negotiate with their abductors. It is worrying that the students have been left without psychological interventions since their release, perhaps on the assumption that their apparent physical wellbeing is enough proof that all is well with them.
After the students were freed, the authorities were expected to ensure that they were physically and psychologically well, and not leave the parents to bear the consequences of the kidnapping. It is unacceptable that the authorities have acted as if they had no responsibility towards the students.
Importantly, the parents are demanding “immediate compensation.” “We will go to every extent, using every legal instrument available to us… to get what we believe our children deserve to facilitate their return to normal life,” they said.
The authorities should not have allowed the matter to get to this point. Prompt intervention after the students were released could have prevented this development. The authorities need to demonstrate that they care about the welfare of the students.
The Afaka kidnapping has shown that the physical act of abduction can have serious psychological consequences for victims. The victims of the kidnapping deserve necessary health interventions to enable them return to their normal lives.
This case raises questions about the mental health of several other freed kidnap victims since kidnapping for ransom escalated in the country in the last four years or so. There is no doubt that released kidnap victims need to be treated for likely trauma. As the authorities make efforts to tackle kidnapping, they should also demonstrate a sense of responsibility by caring for kidnap victims.
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