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Nigeria: 10 Years After Chibok, Schoolchildren Still at Risk

Human RightsNigeria: 10 Years After Chibok, Schoolchildren Still at Risk

(Abuja) –Ten years after the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigerian authorities have failed to put in place and sustain crucial measures to provide a secure learning environment for every child, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since 2014, according to Save the Children, more than 1,600 children have been abducted or kidnapped across northern Nigeria. In the northeast, the armed conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian armed forces continues to take its toll and, in the northwest, criminal groups commonly called bandits are terrorizing communities. During February and March 2024 alone, bandits kidnapped over 200 children from their schools in Kaduna and Sokoto states.

“For many children across northern Nigeria, the pursuit of an education means facing the constant threat of abduction or kidnapping,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Children should never face the harrowing dilemma of sacrificing their safety for education, but this untenable choice, which echoes the profound insecurity plaguing the country, is thrust upon them daily.”

On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram, an Islamist armed group, abducted 276 girls from their school in Chibok, a town in northeastern Borno state, sparking global outrage. Although some of the girls escaped, or were released or rescued, 96 remain in captivity according to UNICEF, and civil society groups continue to pressure the government to ensure they are rescued. Boko Haram, known for its opposition to education, has carried out other such abductions, including one of 110 girls from a school in Dapchi, a town in Yobe state, in 2018.

In addition to kidnappings by Boko Haram in the northeast, the ongoing banditry crisis in the northwest has in recent years made that area a hub for criminal kidnapping for ransom. The crisis emerged after years of conflict between herders and farmers, giving rise to the criminal groups, which have carried out widespread killings, looting, extortion, and kidnapping for ransom in mostly rural communities.

Between December 2020 and February 2021, a series of high-profile incidents, including the abduction of over 600 schoolchildren across Zamfara, Katsina, and Niger states, thrust the kidnapping issue into the spotlight.

In the aftermath of Chibok, the Nigerian government endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international political commitment to protect education from attack and schools from military use which turns them into targets. The government also adopted a Safe School Initiative for Nigeria with the support of the global community and Nigerian business leaders. The initiative aimed to raise funds with an initial US$10 million pledge to help make schools safer, including by moving them to safer areas and creating a safe school model for schools across Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, the three states worst hit by the Boko Haram insurgency.

However, the multi-stakeholder initiative faced problems, and there has been a decline in momentum over the years with little or no progress made in fortifying schools, Human Rights Watch said. In 2021, Nigeria’s then-Senate president Ahmad Lawan, following an investigation into the utilization of the funds for the initiative, declared that it was designed to fail without a National Policy and Strategy for the Safe School Initiative and the leadership of the Federal Education Ministry. In the meantime, communities continue to suffer the brunt of bandit attacks and schoolchildren remain vulnerable prey.

A Chibok girl who was in Boko Haram captivity for over two years, and was released with 20 others, told Human Rights Watch that news of school kidnappings brings back memories of her ordeal. “Whenever I hear that more children have been kidnapped, I feel terrible, helpless,” she said. “We are still not safe … It brings back memories of what happened to me. I can never forget being snatched from my parents, my family for so long. I pray this is not the case for those that are kidnapped.” She is now a 28-year-old university student studying natural and environmental sciences.

Kemi Okenyodo, an expert in security and governance and the executive director of the Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative in Abuja, told Human Rights Watch that the ongoing school kidnappings, resembling those in Chibok a decade ago, highlight a failure to learn from past experiences, as they are taking place without adequate security infrastructure or intervention from authorities to prevent dozens or hundreds of children being snatched away at once.

Amid the heightened threat of attacks on schools, many have been forced to shut down completely, with more than 20 million children out of school in Nigeria, according to UNESCO, among the highest number in any country in the world. According to UNICEF, 66 percent of out-of-school children in Nigeria are from the northeast and northwest, which are among the poorest regions in the country.

For girls especially, the challenges are double edged. They risk rape and other forms of sexual violence if kidnapped, and if kept out of school, they risk child marriage, which is a common practice in these regions.

In 2021, the government adopted the National Policy on Safety, Security and Violence Free Schools aimed at improving school security, strengthening the capabilities of security agents to respond to threats, and ensuring that education continues for children displaced by conflict and crisis, among other reasons.

The authorities committed to investing 144.8 billion naira (about $314.5 million at the time) over a certain period to finance this initiative. In 2023, they announced that 15 billion naira (about $24 million at the time) had been earmarked to pilot the initiative in 18 high-risk states and 48 schools. However, details of the implementation are sparse, and it remains unclear the extent to which this has been done.

Okenyodo told Human Rights Watch that the government needs to involve communities in designing and implementing initiatives to make schools safer to create a sense of ownership and reduce inefficiency and corruption.

“Now more than ever, the Nigerian authorities should step up efforts to make learning safe for children,” Ewang said. “They should work with communities to adopt rights-respecting measures and put in place adequate financing, systems, and structures to ensure quick, effective, and transparent implementation to ensure that children can learn without being exposed to grave harm.”

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity.

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