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Is Education Under Attack In Northern Nigeria?

Thousands of students have been abducted, maimed or killed in a series of attacks on schools across Northern Nigeria.

Schools have increasingly become terrorists’ attack targets in Nigeria’s Northern region, raising the question of whether students are merely victims of circumstances or the objective of the armed groups is to cripple the region’s formal education system.

More than 700 students were abducted, injured or killed in a series of coordinated attacks on schools in the region between Dec. 2020 and March 2021.

Blessing Tarfa, an educator and Programme Officer with Riplington Education Initiative, observes in an interview with HumAngle, that what the country is experiencing is one of the highest frequencies of attacks on learning facilities, learners, and teachers, within a short time frame.

On Tuesday, insurgents burnt a primary school in Katarko community area in Gujba Local Government Area of Yobe State, Northeast Nigeria. The previous day, primary school pupils were able to escape when a group of terrorists stormed their school located in the volatile Birnin Gwari Area of Kaduna State, Northwest Nigeria. The incident came on the heels of a failed attempt to kidnap students at a Government Science Secondary School in the Ikara area of the state.

Again, between March 11 and 12, at least 39 tertiary students were unlucky when a terror group around midnight raided the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Afaka, Kaduna. A video was subsequently released showing the traumatised students with a number of their abductors moving around with AK pattern assault rifles. 

Schools have become targets of religious and non-religious terror groups terrorising communities and commuters in Northern Nigeria.

The Dean, Faculty of Education, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Prof. Yahaya Korau Kajuru, told Daily Trust the abduction of school children was a ploy to stop children in Northern Nigeria from going to school and one with obvious implications.

Following the abduction and release of 279 schoolgirls from Jangebe, Zamfara State, in February, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) called on the country’s government to prevent repeated incidents.

The non-profit’s director, Idayat Hassan said, “It is not tenable that Nigerians, especially young people seeking an education, can no longer do so in a secure, peaceful, and conducive atmosphere.”

Director of Amnesty International Nigeria Osai Ojigho similarly noted in a statement in February that education was under attack in northern Nigeria.

“Schools should be places of safety, and no child should have to choose between their education and their life. Other children have had to abandon their education after being displaced by frequent violent attacks on their communities, and many teachers have been forced to flee to other states,” she said.

She called on the Nigerian authorities to act immediately to prevent attacks on schools, to protect children’s lives and their right to education.

The recent spike in school abduction and attacks is coming almost seven years after Boko Haram on April 14, 2014, swooped on the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in Borno State, Northeast Nigeria.

Boko Haram, whose name in Hausa, the dominant language in Northern Nigeria, means “Western education is forbidden,” abducted 276 schoolgirls from the school dormitory. One hundred and seven (107) of the girls have so far been released or escaped, and many others are still unaccounted for.

Domestic and international community outrage followed the Chibok Girls’ abduction, with calls for the Nigerian Government to improve the protection of schools and students.

Four years after Chibok, the country was shocked to hear of another mass abduction, after the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter faction of Boko Haram, abducted 110 girls and one boy from Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State.

Five girls were believed to have been trampled to death during the abduction while the remaining were released on March 21, 2018, after negotiations with the Nigerian government. However, one of the students, Leah Sharibu, is still being held by the group.

Boko Haram factions have attacked many schools, killing and abducting students as well as destroying infrastructure in the course of their 11-year bloody campaign of terror. 

In the early hours of Feb. 24, 2014, Boko Haram invaded Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, about 60km from Damaturu, killing 59 male students and abducting an unknown number of female students.

During the terrorist invasion of Damasak, about 200km Northwest of Maiduguri, near the border with Niger Republic, in Nov. 2014, an estimated 300 young students of Zanna Mobarti Primary School were abducted. None of the children has so far been accounted for.

Also, in Nov. 2014, at least 46 students were killed when a suicide bomber dressed as a student detonated an explosive device during morning assembly at Government Science Technical School in Potiskum, Yobe State.

A study published by the United Nations Children’s Fund in 2017 shows that over 2,295 teachers have been killed and 19,000 displaced in the Northeast since the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2009.

The study also shows that an estimated 1,400 schools have been destroyed with the majority unable to open because of extensive damage or because they are in unsafe areas. No fewer than 618 schools have already remained closed in six northern states over the fear of attack and abduction of pupils and members of staff, according to a tally by ThisDay newspaper.

Schools have remained unsafe in spite of the Safe School initiative launched in May 2014 following the abduction of the Chibok girls by Boko Haram to make schools safer for learning.

“A temporary shut down of schools sets us back 10 per cent in the re-enrollment of learners when schools re-open. Are there plans to mitigate  this?” asked Tarfa.

She told HumAngle it was important to have emergency response plans to ensure education continues.

“The emergency response plans should go beyond raising security alarms for safe evaluation of learners or the arrest of the terrorists,” she suggested. “They should factor plans for continuity of learning in the event of school closure, and re-integration of learners in the event that they were abducted, considering the psychological effects of surviving these types of eventualities.”


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Murtala Abdullahi

Abdullahi Murtala is a researcher and reporter. His expertise is in conflict reporting, climate and environmental justice, and charting the security trends in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. He founded the Goro Initiative and contributes to dialogues, publications and think-tanks that report on climate change and human security. He tweets via @murtalaibin

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