At least, 300 secondary students in Nigeria were kidnapped in the first and second quarters of 2021, findings by HumAngle revealed.
On Saturday, Feb. 27, terrorists abducted 279 schoolgirls in Zamfara, Northwest Nigeria. A week earlier, an armed group had seized 42 persons, including 27 students from an all-boys boarding school in Niger State, North-central Nigeria.
In recent months, kidnapping for ransom and school attacks by suspected terrorists have been on the increase. The continuous attacks in Northwest and North-centre states, along with the decade-long insurgency in the Northeast will contribute to Nigeria’s school enrollment challenges.
Currently, Nigeria has over 10.5 million out of school children.
Despite military operations, Boko Haram and other terror groups, especially those locally regarded as ‘bandits,’ have continued to coordinate attacks. The groups have killed hundreds of people over the last year.
In Dec. 2020, over 300 schoolboys were kidnapped in Katsina, the home state of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari while he was on a visit. They were freed after six days but the government denied a ransom was paid.
Insecurity and the North
Nigeria’s Northeast has witnessed Boko Haram insurgency from 2009 till date, leading to a declaration of a ‘State of Emergency’ in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states in 2013 by the then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Thousands of Nigerians were killed, and many have been forced to flee their homes. For many of these attacks, schools were the primary targets.
As a result of increased attacks on education, all schools in Borno State were closed from March 14, 2014. Since 2014, insecurity and kidnappings increased the perception of schools as ‘danger zones’ which has hindered high enrollment in the North.
The ‘Safe Schools Initiative’
To ensure schools are safe, in 2014, the Safe Schools Initiative was launched at the World Economic Forum on Africa, in Nigeria. It was set up in response to the growing number of attacks on the right of Nigerian children to education.
Former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, committed about $10 million in government funding to match the $10 million provided by Nigerian business leaders, making $20 million for the Safe Schools Initiative.
The safe school components included reinforced school infrastructure. As recommended by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, “this may involve the use of boundary walls and/or the installation of barbed wire as basic and cost-effective mechanisms, armed guard(s), training staff as school safety officers, school counsellor visits.”
It also includes a school security plan: “in line with the guidance provided by local authorities, each school should have a safety plan so that all students know what to do in the case of an emergency.”
Despite the promise of security, HumAngle checks on public schools in the Northeast and Northwest shows there is no perimeter fencing to secure the schools.
Gbolahan Olojede, a public analyst, said schools are good targets because, “they generate maximum news value, emotional issues and therefore attract attention for the purpose of ransom payment.”
Olajede said kidnapping students is a tested product because it’s easy to execute and very profitable.
He lamented that enrolment will continue to drop in Northern Nigeria and “if the banditry/abductions are allowed to extend to other parts of Nigeria then school enrolment will drop nationwide.”
Hassan Soweto, the National Coordinator of Education Rights Campaign, said schools are affected by insecurity because society has become unsafe.
“There is no doubt that elected officials and civil servants have totally vacated my local governments in the Northeast for fear of Boko Haram,” Soweto lamented.
“Under this situation, schools cannot but be unsafe for school children. In other parts of the North like the Northwest where schools have been attacked by bandits and kidnapping militias, the situation is not so different.”
“With no jobs and little or no other outlet for legitimate employment, they turn to kidnap for ransom,” he said.
According to Soweto, while the fight to end insecurity and terrorism goes on, one of the measures that can be used to address the crisis of enrollment and school attendance in conflict-prone areas is to deploy technology to ensure that school children can learn in the safety of their home.
“Unfortunately, under the neo-colonial and profit-oriented capitalism, this simple step is already failing, going by the report we have heard from students of public tertiary institutions who have been learning virtually since the end of the lockdown last year,” he said.
He added that the government and school managements have simply pushed students and their parents into a new depth of expenses and misery in the name of virtual learning.
“This is why the ERC is demanding as a first step drastic reduction in the cost of data, airtime, phones and electronic devices in order to aid virtual learning and ensure students from poor and working-class homes are not cut off from education due to inability to afford data and devices,” Soweto said.
“Regular training and retraining of students and academic staff in the use of the virtual method of instruction and learning and nationalisation of the telecom and power sectors under the democratic control and management of workers and consumers.”
Corroborating what the ERC coordinator said, Olojede said while the Federal Government of Nigeria finds a solution to the kidnappings, there may be the need to design online/virtual schools and the infrastructure required. “This may help to get the education to children and parents desirous of education but scared of the kidnaps.”
“Poor enrollment for girl-child is significantly driven by poverty. Thus, empowerment of the mothers to support the children through school is particularly important,” he added.
Insurgency crippled development
Ben Okezie, a security analyst, said politicians are not being proactive to understand what the motive of the bandits and Boko Haram is.
He said it is important for the government to stop their motive and not allow them to force their ideology on the country, “one of the cardinal beliefs of Boko Haram is to stop children of the North from going to school.”
“They have achieved in a way by not allowing parents to send their children to school.
What this will amount to is that there will be more free combats into some of these bad groups.
It will affect so many things. including the economy; we will face a situation where so many agricultural products will no more be in the market. It will affect so many things,” he said.
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