• Kagara students
    A screenshot from a video released by the student’s kidnappers.

    Since December 2020, 800 students abducted

By Funmi Ajumobi

Attacks on schools and kidnapping of students are taking a huge toll in the North as no less than 5, 330, 631 students in states in that part of Nigeria have had their education disrupted, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

This has further compounded the out-of-school situation in the country as parents withdraw their children from school to evade attacks and kidnapping. Since 2014 when the first mass abduction of 276 schoolchildren by Boko Haram elements took place in Chibok, Borno State, there have been six other similar incidents in the country. 310 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Dapchi, Yobe State in February 2018.

Although most of the captives were later released, one of them, said to have been kept back by their captors on account of her refusal to renounce Christianity in favor of Islam, Leah Sharibu, is still in captivity. Media reports say the school has been shut and students there sent to schools in urban centres in Yobe. In December 2020, 300 students were taken away from a school in Kankara, Katsina State while in February this year, 27 students and staff members of a school in Kagara, Niger State were kidnapped by gunmen believed to be bandits. The next incident happened in Jangebe, Zamfara State. 317 schoolgirls were victims in that attack and it took several days of negotiation with the abductors before they were freed.

Only last Friday, more than 200 students were abducted at the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Kaduna by gunmen believed to be bandits. At press time, only 180 of the victims had been freed.

Same day, troops reportedly foiled another attack by gunmen on Turkish International Secondary School also in Kaduna.  It is worrisome that since December 2020, about 800 students have been abducted in four states in the North, Katsina, Niger, Zamfara and Kaduna. The effect of the serial mass kidnappings, UNICEF said, is that schools were closed in the geopolitical zones where they happened. Worst hit are schools in the North-East where Boko Haram insurgency is raging and North-West where banditry and kidnapping have become almost a daily occurrence. For instance, although mass kidnapping of schoolchildren was yet to be recorded in Sokoto State, North-West, the state government has reportedly ordered the schools in rural areas of the state and students there merged with those in urban centres to curb bandits’ attacks on schools.

Governor Nasir el-Rufai spoke in the same vein when, speaking after Friday abductions in Kaduna, he said pupils in schools in remote areas of the state would be relocated to schools in urban centres. According to him, schoools in remote areas were prone to bandits attacks and students abduction.

“Consequently, a total of 5, 330, 631 students immediately had their schooling disrupted”, Azuka Menkiti, UNICEF Education Specialist, told Sunday Vanguard. Saying education is the right of every child, Menkiti added: “Thus while efforts were heightened to ensure full return of all children to school after about six months school closure (post-Covid-19 lockdown), the (recent) attacks brought another disruption in schooling and loss of learning time”. Excerpts of interview:

Is UNICEF satisfied about the state of education as it concerns children in Nigeria today?

Nigeria is currently going through a learning crisis. UNICEF is very concerned about the struggles in getting Nigerian children access their right to quality learning. UNICEF is appalled by attacks on schools in Nigeria, which are a gross violation of children’s rights and the right to education. The attacks affect children’s mental health and well-being and can have long-lasting impacts on their lives.

UNICEF has often spoken out about out-of-school children. What is the situation today? How really challenged is the country in this regard and how are the challenges being addressed?

The issue of out-of-school children has been a great source of worry. What is more worrisome is also the low learning outcomes due to poor quality of learning in schools. There has been improvement in the enrolment of children in school even though there is still a huge number that are still out of school, some are dropping out, some are not transiting and some may never enroll in school. More girls are out of school especially in Northern Nigeria.

How bad is the issue of out-of-school children in each of Nigeria six regions?

World Bank, in a report, said that one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. There are significant disparities across different groups including gender, geographic regions, urban and rural areas and socio-economic groups. Girls are more likely to be out of school than boys in northern Nigeria. Children from the poorest wealth quintile in rural communities are more affected. Direct and indirect costs of education constitute a huge barrier to children’s enrollment, retention and transition in school. While efforts were beginning to yield results in bringing more children to schools, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic school closure, the current series of attacks and abductions of school children is likely to make parents afraid of the safety of their children in school.

Who are UNICEF main partners in addressing the out-of-school challenges?

UNICEF partners different stakeholders at different levels. Our main partners are government agencies and institutions at different levels of governance. We partner community structures including traditional and religious institutions, civil society organizations.

Tell us the challenges of the girl-child in Nigeria in getting educated.

The girl-child in Nigeria is faced with multiple challenges. The poor and rural girls are more affected. Several factors affecting them could be categorized into demand and supply barriers. These include the cost of schooling. Cost of education has been a major constraint to accessing quality learning in Nigeria especially in the rural communities. The rural poor adolescent girls are doubly disadvantaged due to their wealth quintiles and the location of residence. Where resources are lean, decisions are taken in favour of boys. In some cases, girls are put into child labour to raise money for their education. Direct, indirect and opportunity costs of schooling for the girl-child is a huge challenge.

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Social Norms: Traditional practices, social values and expectations constitute a huge barrier to the enrollment, retention, transition and completion of education for the adolescent girl in rural Nigerian communities. Traditional practices including early marriages and gender expectations and stereotypes also limit access to education for the girl in Nigeria. And there are concerns about gender-based violence and safety of girls. In addition to cases of conflict and direct attacks on girls’ education, too many girls still face sexual abuse and exploitation in and around schools in Nigeria.

UNICEF is apparently worried about mass kidnapping of school children in the North. What does this portend for children education in Nigeria?

UNICEF is appalled by attacks on schools in Nigeria, which are a gross violation of children’s rights and the right to education. They affect children’s mental health and well-being and can have long-lasting impacts on their lives. The abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014 in north-east Nigeria set off a series of school abductions that leaves one with no choice but to arrive at the conclusion that schools have become a target of attack in Nigeria. The reason these attacks happen is not an easy one to answer, and there are likely a combination of factors at play. In the case of the north-east, non-state armed groups that claim responsibility for such attacks and kidnappings often say they are opposed to western education. Often the security situation in the locations where attacks on schools and abductions of schoolchildren happen is challenging. The attackers seem to meet little or no resistance in accessing schools and executing their plans. Clearly, security needs to be stepped up, including sharing of intelligence, so that such attacks can be prevented from happening in the first place.

What are the consequences of the spate of kidnappings on children education in Nigeria?

A total of 5, 330, 631 students whose schooling were disrupted are affected by recent series of attacks on schools. Since December 2020, about 800 schoolchildren have been abducted from schools in north-west and north-central Nigeria. The abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014 in north-east Nigeria set off a series of school abductions and attacks on schools. The abductions resulted in immediate closure of all schools in the respective states. Consequently, a total of 5, 330, 631 students immediately had their schooling disrupted.

The abduction of school children and subsequent closure of schools is coming soon after the reopening of schools after the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Thus while efforts were heightened to ensure full return of all children to school after about six months school closure, the attacks brought another disruption in schooling and loss of learning time.

Apart from the loss of learning period, the attacks affect the psychosocial well being and mental health of the children. They also affect the confidence of parents on the safety of their children while in school. Education is a right of every Nigerian child and schools are expected to provide safety and security to ensure that every child can access his or her right to education. Attacks do not give parents reassurance of the safety of their children while learning. Parents are likely to be afraid to send their children to school.

The recent kidnappings would definitely leave the abducted schoolchildren traumatized, scared and parents may lose confidence in schools being able to provide adequate safety for their children. This is affecting boarding schools more than day schools. Meanwhile all boarding schools in the affected states do not have any hope of resumption. Students in boarding schools have been requested to register with day schools within their communities. Nigeria is already suffering from learning crisis and the recent abductions will unlikely improve the situation.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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