Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in Africa, according to its Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba. 

There are various reasons why Nigeria has so many children who are not getting any formal education, but in the last year there have been two leading causes: the COVID-19 pandemic and one of Nigeria’s longest-running problems — insecurity. 

Since the infamous kidnapping of 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Borno state, in 2014 by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram, school attacks and kidnapping have steadily increased.

And in the last six months, incidences have risen sharply. 

On December 11, 2020, armed men kidnapped 300 boys from Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina state. They spent six nights with their abductors before they were released.

Barely a month later, on February 17, 2021, 27 students were taken from the Government Science Secondary School in Kagara, Niger state. They were released 10 days later. 

Less than a month after that, hundreds of schoolgirls were abducted from Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state, on February 27. 279 of the school girls were released after four days. 

Two different schools were attacked in Kaduna state in March, including the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization where 30 students were taken. 

There are many things at play in this war against insecurity which Nigeria has been struggling with for the better part of the last decade. Global Citizen has done a deep dive into the issue, the people who are most affected, how it impacts access to education in the country, and everything in between.

4 Facts You Should Know About School Kidnappings in Nigeria

How many people are affected by school kidnappings in Nigeria? 

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many people are affected by these terrible events but we can safely say they number in the hundreds, if not thousands, based on publicly available information. 

In December 2020, Yasmine Sherif, director at UN-backed fund Education Cannot Wait (ECW), said: “There are still approximately 1 million children, including 583,000 girls, and 18,000 education personnel that are in rapid need of support to either resume or sustain education in northeast Nigeria.”

ECW is a United Nations global fund working to ensure that every child affected by armed conflicts and crises has access to a safe, free, and quality education by 2030.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are 10.5 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who are out of school in Nigeria and Nwajuiba said in March 2021 that that number had increased by more than three million. It is unclear how many children are directly impacted by kidnappings. 

What impact is it having on people’s lives?  

Amnesty International reports that there have been sharp increases in child marriage and teenage pregnancies as the insecurity in Northern Nigeria disproportionately affects girls

“Since many of my friends were kidnapped in school, my parents decided to give me out in marriage for my own safety,” one 16-year old girl told Amnesty International. 

Some northern states of Nigeria like Zamfara, Katsina, Borno, Kaduna and Niger have been especially vulnerable to these school kidnappings due to a proliferation of these armed gangs. 

“The Nigerian authorities’ failure to protect schoolchildren from recent attacks clearly shows that no lessons have been learned from the Chibok tragedy. The authorities’ only response to schoolchildren being targeted by insurgents and gunmen is to close schools, which is increasingly putting the right to education at risk,” Osai Ojigho, Nigeria Country Director for Amnesty International, said in April 2021

What are the main causes of school kidnappings in Nigeria?

Schools are generally referred to by experts as “soft targets” because they usually have few or no fences, weak security, and security guards tend to be few and poorly trained, according to Crisis Group

Furthermore, mass abductions of school children attract a lot of attention. They usually generate more public outrage and “tend to attract more national and international attention,” the group says

The media attention also guarantees government involvement in negotiations which could mean thousands of dollars in ransom payments. And experts say most of these mass kidnappings have been motivated by ransom money and other rewards often offered to “repentant” gang members by government officials. 

In July 2020, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara state promised criminal gang members two cows for every AK-47 gun they surrendered and this year, he hosted the gang leader behind the abduction of more than 300 students in Katsina state in December 2020 (and his gang members) at the Zamfara State House after they “repented” and handed over their guns to the government.

But President Muhammadu Buhari has said that state governors could be fueling the kidnapping-for-ransom crisis and limiting the headways security forces can make. 

In a tweet posted on February 26, 2021, he said: “State Governments must review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles. Such a policy has the potential to backfire with disastrous consequences. States and Local Governments must also play their part by being proactive in improving security in & around schools.”

How does school kidnappings in Nigeria impact on the mission to end extreme poverty and access to quality education?

School kidnappings pose a serious threat to education in northern Nigeria. The region already has the worst statistics for educational performance in the country and persistent attacks on schools have forced six states to close most or all schools, until security is restored. 

It could also affect school enrollment rates which are already low to begin with due to cultural animosity against “western education” in the North. Furthermore, these kidnappings could encourage teachers and other school staff to quit and seek employment elsewhere, thus limiting more children from accessing quality education. 

The United Nations’ Global Goal 4 calls for quality education for all and this goal cannot be achieved if school attacks remain a hurdle between children and their right to education, and continue to put children’s lives at significant risk.

Who are the key players in tackling school kidnappings in Nigeria? 

Nigeria launched the “Safe Schools Initiative” during the administration of former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan and immediately after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 school girls in Chibok in 2014. 

A $20 million commitment was made by the Nigerian government and its partners to improve security in schools in north-eastern Nigeria by building fences around them but the abduction of 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi in Yobe state in 2018 has called the effectiveness of the programme into question. 

The Nigerian army has also built guard posts close to some schools but the number of schools in the region (and the ongoing fight with Boko Haram and similar groups) mean the army is stretched thin and many other educational institutions are left unguarded. 

Other multilateral institutions such as UNICEF and World Economic Forum (WEF), and advocacy organisations like Amnesty International have also been contributing in various ways in the fight to put an end to these kidnappings. 

For example, ECW announced over $20 million in investment grants to speed up response to the crisis in December 2020. The initial programme will run for three years and aim to raise additional funding from national and global partners, the private sector and philanthropic foundations to reach almost three million children and youth.

What action can we all take against it?

A good place to start is to join Global Citizen to call on the Nigerian government and other world leaders to commit new funds to Education Cannot Wait to deliver and sustain learning opportunities for a generation of vulnerable children in Nigeria and around the world. 

ECW needs $400 million over the next three years to achieve this and with your support we can make this happen together.

You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.

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What’s Behind the Spate of School Kidnappings in Nigeria?

By Akindare Lewis