Thursday, 21st September 2023

‘Eight years after Chibok, 11,536 schools closed, over 1,500 pupils abducted’

By Njadvara Musa (Maiduguri), Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi) and Waliat Musa (Lagos)
15 April 2022   |   4:15 am
Global rights group, Amnesty International, has said eight years after the abduction of 276 Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram, more than 1,500 Nigerian school children have been abducted by armed groups.

[FILE] This screengrab taken on May 12, 2014, from a video of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram obtained by AFP shows girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. / AFP PHOTO / BOKO HARAM / HO

• Amnesty Int’l, UNICEF task FG on safe learning environment
• Use your votes wisely, Oyebode-Muhammed advises Chibok parents
• Freed Chibok girls: ‘We are isolated, treated with contempt in school’
• Parents of missing Chibok girls demand action

Global rights group, Amnesty International, has said eight years after the abduction of 276 Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram, more than 1,500 Nigerian school children have been abducted by armed groups. This was disclosed in a statement yesterday, which noted that “Nigerian authorities are failing to protect school children.”

On April 14, 2014, 276 schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State. Some of the girls managed to escape, while others were released following campaign efforts and government negotiations.

Despite efforts to free all the pupils, 109 of the girls remain in captivity, and at least 16 have been killed.

Part of the statement signed by Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director, Osai Ojigho, reads: “Since then, abductions have continued. Between December 2020 and October last year, 1,436 school children – and 17 teachers – were abducted from schools in Nigeria by armed groups. The recent upsurge has triggered prolonged school shutdowns – and in turn led to a decline in school enrolment and attendance, as well as a rise in child marriage and pregnancies of school-age girls.

“Of the more than 1,500 school children who have been abducted in northern Nigeria since the Chibok attack, at least 120 students remain in captivity. They are mostly schoolgirls, and their fate remains unknown.

“Of the 102 students who were kidnapped from the Federal Government College in Birnin Yauri, nine are still being held by their captors. One of the 121 students abducted from Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna State remains in captivity.

“Five of the 19 students abducted from Greenfield University were murdered, while one of the 333 students kidnapped in Kankara was also killed. Five of the 276 students kidnapped in Dapchi were killed, while one student, Leah Sharibu, remains in captivity. And five of the 136 school children kidnapped from Salihu Tanko Islamiya School in Tegina have also been killed.”

Ojigho added: “Nigeria is failing to protect vulnerable children. By refusing to respond to alerts of impending attacks on schools across the north of the country, Nigerian authorities have failed to prevent mass abductions of thousands of school children.

“In all cases, the Nigerian authorities have remained shockingly unwilling to investigate these attacks or to ensure that the perpetrators of these callous crimes face justice.

“Every fresh attack is followed by further abductions that deprive school children of their right to liberty – and leave victims’ families with no hope of accessing justice, truth or reparations.”

ALSO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), yesterday, said no fewer than 11,536 schools have been closed by the Nigerian government due to abductions of school children by terrorists in the country. UNICEF added that the closure of the schools had truncated the education of approximately 1.3 million Nigerian children in the 2020/2021 academic year.

In a statement issued yesterday, UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, said the interruption of the children’s learning contributes to gaps in their skills and may lead to loss of $3.4 billion in their lifetime earnings.

According to Hawkins, attacks on schools and abduction of students are reprehensible, a brutal violation of the rights of the victims to education and totally unacceptable as the learners themselves become fearful of the legitimate pursuit of their education.

He said: “In Nigeria, a total of 11,536 schools have been closed since December 2020 due to abductions and security issues. These closures have impacted the education of approximately 1.3 million children in the 2020/21 academic year.” 

UNICEF, therefore, urged the Federal Government to make learning environment safe for girls to boost enrollment. “Eight years since the first known attack on a learning institution in Nigeria on April 14, 2014, in which 276 students at Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, were abducted, the spate of attacks on schools and abductions of students – sometimes resulting in their deaths – has become recurrent in the last two years, especially in the Northwest and North-Central regions.

“Girls have particularly been targeted, exacerbating the figures of out-of-school children in Nigeria, 60 per cent of whom are girls. It is a trajectory, which must be halted, and every hand must be on deck to ensure that learning in Nigeria is not a dangerous enterprise for any child, particularly for girls.”

CO-FOUNDER of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement, Aisha Oyebode-Muhammed, has urged parents of the abducted Chibok girls to vote wisely in next year’s general elections. 

In an open letter to the concerned parents to commemorate the eighth year anniversary of the abduction yesterday, Oyebode-Muhammed lamented that despite all efforts, all the girls have not been returned.

“Eight years today, about 100 of the girls are yet to get freedom with no further clue from appropriate quarters on the development. It is from this background that I want to urge all to use your votes wisely in the next elections,” she stated.

Further, she emphasised that the election period should be used “to make the search and rescue of your daughters an election event. 

“My heart breaks for you and I remain saddened that despite all our collective actions and that of the many other families affected by this brutal insurgency, your daughters remain absent at this period.

“Hopes were raised that the remaining girls might be released in 2021, but, as of today, eight years after the initial kidnapping, over 100 of the girls remain missing,” she said.

MEANWHILE, after being held captive by Boko Haram terrorists and freed years later, Chibok schoolgirls, who are now studying at the American University of Nigeria (AUN) in neighbouring Adamawa State, say they are being isolated by their colleagues because of their background.

The students bared their minds in letters written on the eighth anniversary of the infamous abduction and sent to Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education and one of the leaders of the BBOG movement. The movement had advocated the release of the Chibok girls since 2014 when the incident happened.

“We deserve to be loved and cared for like others, because we can be better with the right place, input, and access,” wrote one of the students, who pleaded anonymity and was 17 when Boko Haram abducted her and 275 others in Chibok.

But despite studying at one of the country’s private universities, she is unhappy and frustrated. “I am studying Accounting, part 1. Though that wasn’t my choice, it was their choice, the government people, and we are not happy here,” she said in the letter.

Her education and those of others released by the insurgents are being funded under a Federal Government scholarship scheme. The government had started a programme that would allow them to continue their education, but the lack of flexibility is a source of worry for the girls.

“I don’t like the school. We were thinking when the government said they will give us the best education anywhere of our choice, we will be given the right to make our choices where we will be free, not looked down upon and discriminated against, as if it was our faults that we have poor education background and even to be abducted,” she said, though thanking the government for the scholarship and the rescue.

The government’s scholarship programme takes care of tuition, accommodation, and feeding. The girls are also paid a monthly allowance of ₦25,000 (previously ₦8,000). Between 2017 and 2019, tailors took their measurements and gave them a pair of dress each per year. And that is all. The girls’ other essential needs such as books and levies charged by student associations are not covered.

She wants the group to pressure the government to rescue the remaining students still in captivity with the terrorists, and to inform parents of those who died in the terrorists’ enclave.

There is a growing concern that the discrimination reinforces the lingering trauma the former hostages faced during their captivity – the feeling of neglect and social exclusion that forces some of them to rethink schooling. 

Manasseh Allen, an activist who has worked with parents of the abducted girls, said two years ago that 10 of the girls had withdrawn from the programme at AUN due to alleged lack of progress.

ALSO, parents of the yet-to-be released Chibok girls have demanded action from the Federal Government.

Yana Galang is the mother of Rifkatu Galang, one of the abducted Chibok girls. As the leader of the Association of the Parents of the Abducted Girls from Chibok, she said: “It’s a precise bittersweet time again. Anytime we remember April 14, we are ever crying.”