For many, school is safe heaven that provides education, security, and a sense of optimism to anyone attending. It is the basis that helps generations unleash their potentials while securing a better future. However, for the past months in Nigeria, armed forces have been tearing down the safety of school walls and abducting vulnerable students.
As the occurrences continue to increase, experts believe that they are a part of a large growing “kidnapping” industry. Though the recent student kidnappings have now caught the eye of international headlines, they are by no means a phenomenon. According to Bulama Bukarti, an analyst with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, kidnapping occurs on a daily basis in Nigeria’s villages, roads, and schools. Criminals have concluded that not only is there no consequence for their actions, but that they are also quite profitable. Thus, once the abduction occurs, family members are obliged to do whatever it takes to pay off the ransoms.
“Family members are forced to sell off their properties, farms, houses to pay off criminal gangs or terrorists. But also, governments have been reported to have paid to get abducted individuals released. A case in point is the Chibok girls who have become household names in the U.S. when they were taken in 2014. There are credible reports saying the Nigerian government paid at least $3 million to their abductors to release about a hundred or three of them in 2017 and 2018. And finally, Nigeria’s security agencies are very weak. In some cases, you have over a hundred villages being covered by just three police officers” said Bukarti.
Furthermore, according to SB Morgen, Nigerian kidnappers received at least $11m between January 2016 and March 2020.
Targeting school children
Though targeting school children can be overlooked as a cruel way to take advantage of kids’ vulnerability, there are more substantial reasons behind this action. Not only are poor school-children an easy target, but they also attract a lot of media attention. Thus, the abduction increases the diplomatic and media pressure on the government. The pressure will then lead the leaders to give in to the criminals’ demands.
Another reason for targeting these schools is their easy accessibility. Since most Nigerian boarding schools are often located on the outskirts of town in the bush, they are very exposed to outsiders.
However, the latest attack proved that there is no limit to these bandits’ greed. Though they usually target younger students, they are now starting to change their mode of operation and targeting colleges.
An educational crisis
In a place where education is already under threat, the current abductions are creating an educational crisis. After such attacks take place, schools are forced to shut down for obvious safety measures. Due to March’s abductions, at least five states in northern Nigeria closed all their public schools. This means these attacks have disrupted the education of hundreds of thousands of students. However, the schools’ reopening doesn’t guarantee that all students will return to their students. Many students, especially young girls, will no longer have the approval of rejoining education centers out of fear for their safety.
“As we speak, there are 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school. And with every attack, this number continues to swell. I mean, by and large, Nigerian children are, unfortunately – and their parents – being forced to choose between their lives and their education. This poses the risk of creating a lost generation of Nigerians that will affect not only the future of those children but also that of the whole country,” added Bukarti.
Breaking the cycle
To break the cycle, the governments must take on serious actions, which include the disarmament of the bandits. Security expert Rabiu Adamu said that we must “Use maximum force to fight them. I’m talking of maximum force with modern equipment. That’s the best way to put it”.
Furthermore, the government must establish community-based programs to support the care, rehabilitation, and reintegration of rescues students. “These programs should include psychosocial support and counseling, including to families”, the UN-appointed independent experts said in their report, which followed a 2014 attack by the extremist group Boko Haram – whose name is usually translated as “western education is forbidden”. Back then, the militia group took 276 girls from their school in Chibok, in northeast Nigeria.
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