With the growing prevalence of kidnappings in the country, schools all over Nigeria have become soft targets for insurgents and bandits, resulting in the abduction of hundreds of students. Daily Trust Saturday investigates the staggering number of students abducted since 2014 and the impact of this on the education system.
Daily Trust investigations show that some 829 secondary school students in Nigeria have been abducted in the last six years by bandits and Boko Haram.
The figures are derived from reported cases in the media since 2014.
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The recent abduction of 344 students of the Government Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State from their school hostels is the single most audacious mass kidnapping since the crime became rife in Nigeria.
The Kankara abductions drew the attention of the global community almost in the way that the 2014 abductions of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok by Boko Haram did.
While the Kankara boys have been released after six days in captivity, over a hundred of the Chibok girls remain unaccounted for.
Other mass abductions of students in the country included the Dapchi abductions of February 19, 2018, where jihadi group, Boko Haram, stormed a school in Borno and kidnapped 110 students.
All but one of those students, Leah Sharibu, remains in captivity as the others were released soon after.
The spate of abductions of students, mostly from boarding schools, has seen the closure of several schools in the North, in states like Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara and others. Considering that these are already states considered educational backwards, the trend is worrying.
Most of the 13 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are believed to be from the North, according to data by UNESCO.
Many experts fear that poor school enrolment, especially in the North, which has received a boost in recent years, is the worst hit in the immediate and long term by the abductions as parents may refrain from sending their children to school for safety and security concerns.
The mass abduction in Kankara is the first major abduction of children from school and was quickly followed by the kidnapping of some 80 Islamiyya students in Dandume, also in Katsina State, on their way back from maulud celebrations.
Fortunately, that abduction was foiled by the prompt intervention of soldiers, police and local vigilantes.
However, the claims by Boko Haram that they were behind the Kankara abductions have added another dimension to the disturbing trend.
The group has largely been confined to the three states in the North East region and has targeted schools in its decade-long insurgency.
Controversy over the Kankara figures
Daily Trust records show that going by the school register, 668 students went missing on the night of December 11, when the bandits attacked. Some 270 students were left in the school after the attack.
With some students emerging from the bush after the bandits’ attack, that number rose to 406, the following Sunday.
However, the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari had said only 333 students were still missing, as against the 668 unaccounted for, according to the school register and sources in the school.
One of the abducted boys, who managed to escape from the bush, said that after a headcount, the bandits had abducted about 520 students.
However, after days of negotiation with the bandits, 344 students were released on Thursday, December 17.
The abduction of the students brought the Federal government and security under heavy criticism because it was not the first time students and teachers were being abducted in their school premises.
“It is unacceptable that students in our schools are still being abducted and the whole nation appears helpless,” the Country Director of Plan International, Nigeria, Dr Hussaini Abdu, said.
Dr Abdu said the abduction of the students is an indication that the nation and government have not learnt from the unfortunate incidents of the previous abductions.
He noted the abduction of 276 girls from the Chibok Secondary School in Borno State in 2014 and another set of 110 girls from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State in 2018.
However, Daily Trust checks showed that since 2014 that the 276 Chibok schoolgirls were abducted, there have been recurring incidents of abductions, bringing the total number of students abducted from their school premises to 829. Eight teachers have been abducted in this period.
The breakdown shows that on 5th and 6th October, 2016, two students of government Vocational School, Rijau, Niger State were abducted, four students and two teachers of State Model College, Igbonla, were also abducted.
On February 19, 2018, 110 students were abducted from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi and on September 19, 2018, two students from Maiduguri Capital School, Borno, were also abducted.
On October 4, 2019, six students and two teachers were abducted from Engravers College, Kakau Daji, Kaduna, and on October 10, 2019, the school principal of Government Technical School, Kajuru, Kaduna was also abducted from the school premises.
On January 8, 2020, four students of Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Kakau, Kaduna were abducted, while on August 24, 2020, four students and one teacher of Prince Academy Secondary School, Damba-Kasaya, Kaduna State were also abducted.
More recently, on December 8, 2020, two teachers of Ohorhe Secondary School, Delta State were abducted and on December 11, 2020, 344 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, were taken, while 80 students of an Islamiyya school in Dandume, Katsina State, were also abducted on December 19.
The Kankara students’ abduction is no doubt the largest cache of students to be taken by criminal elements.
Perhaps the most dramatic abduction was that of Dapchi where the girls were abducted and returned by Boko Haram in nine trucks in the presence of residents and a heavy security presence that melted away as the terrorists drove into town.
The insurgents even had time to preach to the cheering locals to avoid western education before driving away, leaving the students they had abducted weeks before behind.
Reports indicated that the Nigerian government relaxed security as part of a deal struck with the militants to facilitate the delivery of the first batch of the girls.
However, Leah Sharibu, one of the kidnapped Dapchi girls, is yet to regain her freedom, following her failure to denounce her religion, as widely reported.
Only 104 of the abducted girls returned home as a few others died during the abduction.
While the abduction of students from schools continues in the country, it has exposed the failure of the government to provide security to schools despite outcries from individuals, stakeholders and international organizations.
Nigeria is one of the first 37 countries that endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) on May 29, 2015, in which governments expressed commitments to ensuring the protection and continuation of education in conflict situations.
The ratification, which took place on March 20, 2019, during a FEC meeting, opened the door for the Nigerian government to put in place a national policy to guide the implementation of the SSD nationwide.
The Safe Schools Declaration is an intergovernmental political commitment that provides countries with the opportunity to express support for protecting students, teachers, schools, and universities from attacks during times of armed conflict.
It highlights the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflicts and the implementation of concrete measures to deter the military use of schools.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu during the 2020 commemoration of the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, said: “We as a nation are committed to observing all relevant international conventions that are contributory to the protection of schools and learning centres and facilities from attack.”
Daily Trust checks showed that the majority of public schools especially in the rural areas aside having dilapidated structures, do not have parameter fencing and security personnel.
This gives hoodlums and insurgents easy access to the schools.
“Following previous incidents of kidnapping of students in boarding schools across the country, the Nigeria government by now should have put in place adequate security arrangements to ensure the safety of children learning and kept in the care of schools and education authorities everywhere in the country, especially in such locations susceptible to attacks by non-state armed groups,” Abdu said.
The Secretary-General of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Dr Mike Ike Ene noted that these incidences are sad reminders of previous ugly events in Chibok and Dapchi, where Boko Haram terrorists had attacked and abducted students, creating monumental disruptions of school activities and impeding the nations educational growth and advancement.
These have also subjected family members and relatives to unimaginable trauma.
Ene said if the condemnable act is not immediately addressed, it will largely affect the 2019/2020 academic calendar, which has already been disrupted by the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As such, we wish to remind our government at all levels of their primary responsibility as enshrined in the constitution, which is the security of lives and property of the entire Nigerian citizens.
“The NUT makes bold demands that the government must rise to these challenges and take up its responsibility to guarantee and execute this general principle and commitment of providing adequate security to all our educational institutions and the nation at large,” he said.
While noting that it is becoming apparent that government cannot provide security and safety of teachers, students and the educational community across Nigeria, he said this unfortunate situation must be addressed without further contemplation.
The NUT secretary-general appealed to all stakeholders to join hands with the government and security agencies to provide adequate protection for the students, pupils, teachers and the school communities, to ensure that educational activities are not hampered by enemies of the nation’s educational system.
An educationist, Michael Ojonugwa, said it is unfortunate that poor students suffer not just from studying under poor conditions but also from a failed system that does not provide them with adequate security.
“If we have a government which value education, after the Chibok incident, another such act could have been avoided by providing the required security, not in terms of fencing and personnel alone, but with adequate technology that can detect things within the community before it happens,” he said.
“I am sorry this may not be the last of it because we have a government that does not learn from the past.”
He, however, urged the government to, as a matter urgency, ensure that all schools are secured with technology that is functioning and deploy security personnel to schools to guard against a recurrence.