No one can separate me from education – Habiba Musa
After almost four years in captivity, Habiba Musa was one of the Chibok girls released by Boko Haram, in 2017 in the North East. The 22-year-old is back in school, where she is studying to become a journalist.
Habiba Musa (not real name) was one of the 276 schoolgirls that were abducted by Non-State Armed Groups (NSAG) at the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014.
Though 15 years at the time, Habiba recalled the events of that day vividly as armed men broke into the dormitories, and burnt down the laboratory and other facilities in her school.
“We were in the middle of our National Examination Council Senior School Certificate Examination (NECOSCE), and we had just finished writing the Government examination that day. Most of us were up that night studying for the next day’s paper,’’ said Habiba.
None of the girls in the school eventually finished the NECOSSCE examination. By daybreak, the NSAG had succeeded in hauling 276 girls into multiple trucks, abducting them from the safety of their schools and from the path of their dreams.
“They drove for three days into the forest. They offered us soft drinks and biscuits, but we refused. We were beaten and moved from location to location. At one point we were in Gwoza Town for months. They told us education was forbidden.
“I felt downcast throughout. My family was on my mind, especially my father. He used to be a teacher in Damboa, a neighbouring town. But he was involved in an accident, where he injured his spinal cord. So, he had to stop teaching. When I was abducted, I thought of him a lot. I wondered if he would survive the ordeal. I also missed choir practices in my church. I was a choir member in Chibok. Many of us cried for days whenever we remembered our lives in Chibok. We felt hopeless,’’ said Habiba.
The Case For Safe Schools
HOPE came on crutches in 2017, when Habiba and 82 other schoolgirls were released through negotiations with the Federal Government and other stakeholders. They were the second set of girls to taste freedom, after the first batch of 21 girls that were released.
“We all thought it was a lie. I mean, we had already spent over three years as captives and freedom seemed impossible. We did not believe it until the morning of our release. It was a bittersweet moment. I was so glad that I was going to see my family again, but I was sad because I was leaving over 100 of my sisters behind in captivity. Some of them got married to the abductors,’’ said Habiba.
While Habiba and 102 other girls have since been released, a total of 173 schoolgirls are still unaccounted for.
The abduction of 276 schoolgirls at the school in Chibok was perhaps the first high-profile school attack in Nigeria. Eight years after, attacks on schools continue to increase, including last week’s attack at Damboa town in Borno, where NSAG burnt down a health facility, and classrooms at the Technical Girls College, in the early hours of the day.
In 2021 alone, 1, 440 children were abducted in 25 school attacks across Nigeria, including classrooms and a UNICEF-supported Temporary Learning Space at the Katarko Primary School in Gujba Local Government, Yobe State.
According to the Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum, over 900 schools have been destroyed with 176 teachers killed in the protracted conflict ravaging the North East. But attacks on schools know no borders. In June last year, over 100 children and five teachers were abducted from the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State. While many of the children have been released, 14 are reportedly still with their captors.
School attacks have a direct link to the achievement of national and sustainable development goals. The enrollment, retention in school and transition of children to higher schools have an impact on critical aspects of socio-economic development, including child malnutrition and human capital development, among others.
For the Safe School Initiative to work in Nigeria, the UNICEF Chief of Maiduguri Field Office, Phuong T. Nguyen, said stakeholders, including Government, must take their commitments seriously and honour them.
“These commitments include having a critical focus on girls and children with special needs, investment in community-based protective measures, strengthening the capacity of education personnel to enhance school safety and security, involvement of child protection actors as part of all military operations, and deterring the use of schools by military and non-state actors for non-education purposes,’’ she said.
Nguyen added that sustained attacks on the education of adolescents, especially girls, could hamper gains in child survival and development.
“Nations and families benefit when girls enrol in schools, stay in schools and complete their education. Girls’ education deters early marriage and empowers families because girls earn higher income with each year of additional education. Children born to educated girls are healthier and less likely to be malnourished.
“This is why we must be firm about protecting schools and children from attacks. Girls and boys deserve the lifeline that only education offers. Children should never be at the mercy of abductors, neither should girls have to endure abduction and the indignity of marriage to captors. Leaders must live up to their responsibilities and follow through on their commitments to protect children and schools from attacks.
“As the world marks the eight-year abduction of the 276 Chibok girls, we must focus on the implementation of the Safe School Initiative. We must operationalise our commitments and tackle the challenges wherever they exist. We must seek greater involvement of relevant stakeholders, including communities and security personnel to keep schools from attack,’’ said Nguyen.
The UNICEF chief is right. Abductions are a violation of children’s rights and expose them to multiple cases of abuse, including torture, early marriage, rape and psychological trauma.
According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, more than 34 per cent of secondary school age adolescents are out of school. Similarly, 43 per cent of girls in Nigeria get married before they turn 18.
How UNICEF Supports Safe
Schools Initiative In Nigeria
THROUGH conflict and disaster prevention training, construction of classrooms with fences and ramps for children living with disability and building the capacity of school communities, UNICEF, with funding from donors, including the European Union, Global Partnership for Education, the German government and the United Kingdom government, has been supporting governments in the North East to keep schools and children safe from attacks and other emergencies.
In the North East, UNICEF has recently completed the construction of classrooms and fences in 160 schools, among other interventions.
Last week, UNICEF in partnership with governments in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, launched the Education Resilience Manual to guide the implementation of continuous education for children in emergency situations.
UNICEF has also empowered more than 20, 000 youths across the North East with skills to become self-reliant and demand educations services. More than 1, 000 members of the School-based Management Committees (SBMCs) have also been trained to identify and address threats to school safety, including the safe evacuation of children during threats.
– Adebayo is a communication officer
with UNICEF Nigeria