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Boko Haram, the danger of kidnapping students & the fate of education in northern Nigeria

By Victor Ekwukoma

  • The prevalence and implications of mass adoption of students in Nigeria

Introduction

The Nigerian educational system has recently come under a serious threat by the new wave of incessant mass kidnapping of students. Since the outbreak of Boko Haram (which means western education is a sin) terrorist group in 2009, both insurgents and bandits have attacked many educational institutions and several teachers and learners killed.

 

According to a recent report by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), over 2,295 teachers have been killed and 19,000 displaced and 1,400 schools destroyed with majority unable to open due to ceaseless violence in the northeastern Nigeria.

Female students are the worst victims as many of them were abducted. This menace of mass abduction of students has escalated beyond the northeastern Nigeria.

It has sadly held its grip on the entire northern part of Nigeria (North-East, North-West and North-Central). This article examined the trend of mass abduction of students in Nigeria and the implications on educational and economic development.

The Concept of Kidnapping

Kidnapping is derived from the root word ‘kidnap’ which, according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (9th Edition), means to take somebody or a group of people away illegally and keeping them as prisoners, especially in order to get money or something else for releasing them.

Simply put, kidnapping is the act of taking people hostage for ransom payment.

Some persons have defined kidnapping in various ways such as the forcible seizure, taking away and unlawful detention of a person against his/her will; the forceful or fraudulent abduction of an individual or a group of individuals for economic, political, religious reasons and so on.

The interest of this article is not on conceptual clarification, but on the inherent danger of this fast escalating national problem that has not spared any region in Nigeria.  It has eaten very deeply into the fabric of the Nigerian society.

However, this social scourge is ostensibly flourishing more in the northern part of Nigeria due to terrorism, banditry and other forms of violent crimes that have become the order of the day in this part of the country.

Reported Cases of School Abductions

The first major school abduction in the history of Nigeria was the case of over 200 Chibok girls who were abducted on the 14th of April 2014. Earlier, about fifty-nine male students were killed in Boys Technical College in Yobe State.

It was reported that Boko Haram fighters cold-bloodedly slit their throats.  Another horrific abduction of female students was the case of the Dapchi girls, who were kidnapped on the 19th of February, 2018.

During that sad incident, 113 female students – including Leah Sharibu who reportedly refused to renounce her Christian faith in exchange of her freedom – were kidnapped from the school.

Two years after Dapchi incident, Nigeria witnessed another devastating blow from the abduction of male students from Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Kastina State on the 11th of December, 2020.

It was reported that a gang of gunmen on motorcycles attacked the school where more than 800 students reside for over an hour uninterrupted and abducted 344 students.

Three days after the Kankara school abduction which sent shivers down the spines of Nigerians, Kastina State Government announced that the abductors had contacted them and negotiations were ongoing for the release of the students.

While the nation was still immersed in a rude shock over the Kankara ugly incident that could best be described as an international embarrassment, there was another reported case of abduction of 80 female students from Hizburrahim Islamiyah School, Mahuta, Kastina State on the 20th of December, 2020.

The students were said to have been kidnapped on their way home from a Maulud occasion.

According to the spokesman of the Kastina State Police command, SP Gambo Isah, the girls on a procession met the bandits who had already kidnapped four persons and rustled 12 cows from Danbaure village of Funtua Local Government Area of Kastina State and were trying to escape into the forest.

The police image maker further added that through the efforts of the police and vigilante personnel, who engaged the bandits in a gun duel, the kidnapped students were rescued.

The dust raised by this incident had not settled when the news of the abduction of 27 students, 3 staff and 12 of their relatives from Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State broke out.

The students and staff of the college were kidnapped by a sophisticatedly armed gang of abductors, who stormed the school at around 2 a.m. on the 17th of February, 2021.  A boy was reportedly killed during the raid.

After more than ten days in captivity, the 27 boys and their teachers were reportedly released together with the relatives of the staff who were part of the unfortunate incident.

Another heartbreaking incident of school abduction is the recent case of the students of Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State.

The female students – about 317 in number – were abducted from a boarding school in Jangebe during a raid by armed bandits. The incident was the second school kidnapping in February 2021.

On the 2nd of March, 2021, about 279 of the students were reportedly released in a melodramatic circumstance.

The Jangebe unfortunate incident was followed by the abduction of 39 students from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Mando, Kaduna State on the 12th of March, 2021. About 39 students were reportedly abducted from the school on the fateful day by armed bandits.

According to the Commissioner for Kaduna State Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwa, the kidnappers were engaged by troops of the Nigerian Army who successfully rescued 180 persons: 42 female students, eight staff and 130 male students; about 30 students,  comprising males and females, were yet to be accounted for.

However, some of the students told a different story.

Sadly, two weeks after their abduction, the students of the co-education Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, a higher education institution located in Afaka, a forest community close to Nigerian Defence Academy barracks, have not been released.

In fact, on the 25th of March, 2021, their relatives were seen on national television stations protesting their continued hostage.

The latest case of mass abduction of students is the one that occurred on the 15th of March, 2021 at Universal Basic Education (UBE) Primary School, Rama village, Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

The incident reportedly occurred while the pupils were trooping into the school around 9 a. m. on Monday. The gunmen came on about 12 motorcycles and abducted about three teachers and some pupils.

This worsening incidence of abduction of school children has a lot of retrogressive implications some of which this article highlighted.

Implications of School Abductions

The prevalence of abduction of school children in northern Nigeria has a lot of devastating effects on education, economy and the victims both within the northern region and the entire country.

One of the implications on education is that this scourge of school kidnapping, if not checked, will create school apathy in children and parents. Many children and parents especially in the northern part of Nigeria may lose interest completely in western education.

This will be a clear actualization of the goal of the Boko Haram terrorists whose mantra is that western education is a sin. The loss of interest in schooling will apparently worsen the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria, which UNICEF put at 10.5 million.

Another adverse effect of school kidnapping is disruption of academic activities.  As has been observed, and often the case, the immediate impact of any case of kidnapping in any school is the distortion of academic activities in the affected schools.

For instance, some states in the north recently announced closure of schools because of the fear of further attacks. Throughout the period that the schools will remain closed, teaching and learning will be grounded.

This development will further disrupt the school system which is just recovering from the heavy setback it suffered due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdowns in the country.

Additionally, the implication of the rising wave of school abductions is the wrong signals it sends to the international community.

Mass kidnapping of students and all forms of kidnapping create negative headline news in local and international media which dents the image of Nigeria globally and thus discourages investors. This unarguably leads to economic paralysis.

Furthermore, the growing incidence of school abductions could lead to increase in crime among children whose education has been abruptly halted due to the closure of schools because of fear of further attacks.

It is common knowledge that when children are not in school, some of them become idle, and an idle mind, they say, is the devil’s playground.

Some of the children could embrace anti-social behavior and criminal activities as a result of the idleness forced on them by these criminals. Moreover, this could also make some of these children vulnerable for recruitment by these insurgents.

Apart from death and serious physical and psychological injuries some of the kidnapped students suffer in hands of their captors, the prevalence of school kidnapping also discourages investment in education.

Many families who were eking out a living in several northern states and were investing in the educational development of their children have had to relocate to parts of the country with less threat of school abduction and the consequent closure.

Some proprietors have also had to shut their schools permanently, while some investors who had the intension of establishing educational investments in such states are discouraged.

This has obviously stifled educational and economic development in the northern part of Nigeria. This development becomes more worrisome when one recalls how educationally disadvantaged the northern Nigeria is.

For instance, the northeast region of Nigeria has the worst development indicators for children in the areas of health and education, with the population being among the poorest in the country.

This of course will jeopardize frantic efforts to educate the high proportion of out-of-school children in the northern Nigeria by the government and International Development Partners who have focused most of their interventions [such as Northern Education Initiative Plus (NEI+), Addressing Education in Northeast Nigeria (AENN), Reading and Numeracy Activity (RANA), Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) programme and others] in the north

In summary, the prevalence of school kidnapping portends grave danger on educational and economic development in the northern region and the entire Nigeria because whatever affects any part of the country, affects all parts.

In view of this, the government must take urgent and committed steps to nip this national quandary of school abduction in the bud before it snowballs into a situation that will not only scuttle national developmental efforts, but also unleash untold consequences.

Dr Victor Ekwukoma, Educational Researcher and Communications Specialist, Abuja; ekwukomavictor@yahoo.com/07031300141

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