Amnesty International is marking the seventh anniversary of the kidnap of 279 school girls in Chibok by Boko Haram terrorists with a damning report that over 640 students have been abducted between December 2020 and March 2021, especially in Northern Nigeria, amidst perceived inability of the relevant authorities to keep schools safe.
In a statement from the Country Directorate in Nigeria, a saddening tally of abductions in the last four months, starting from December 2020 showed about 640 students, going through the torture of being in bandits’ cells, at different times, before some eventually breathed the air of freedom.
The statement from Amnesty said, “On Friday 11 December 2020, at about 9:30 pm, gunshots were heard within the premises of Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Kastina state, northwest Nigeria. Witnesses told Amnesty International that hundreds of gunmen broke into seven dormitories, rounding up 300 students and marching them to an unknown destination. The students were held in captivity for six nights until their release on 17 December 2020.
“The night-time attack prompted state governments in Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara, Jigawa and Katsina to order schools to close, contributing to the huge number of children that are out of school in Nigeria. The UN currently puts the figure at 10.5 million. Just a month later, on 17 February 2021, 27 students from the Government Science Secondary School in Kagara, Niger state, were abducted by gunmen from their dormitory in the early hours of the morning. The students were released on 27 February.
“In another raid on 26 February 2021, hundreds of schoolgirls were abducted from Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state. After four days in captivity, 279 of the students were released on 2 March. In March 2021, two different schools were attacked in Kaduna state, northwest Nigeria, including the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation where 30 students were seized on 11 March.
“Attacks against schoolchildren, teachers and school buildings show a callous disregard for the right to life and the right to education by both the bandits and insurgents on one hand, and the Nigerian authorities who have failed to end these horrifying attacks, on the other.”
Speaking of the Chibok saga which attracted global outrage, the advocacy body said, “Today marks seven years since 279 schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram in Chibok. Although most escaped or were later released, more than 100 girls remain in captivity. Further mass kidnappings of schoolchildren in Nigeria have seen hundreds of children killed, raped, forced into “marriages” or forced to join Boko Haram.
“This has resulted in hundreds of schools being shut, with disastrous consequences for young people in a region already facing extreme insecurity.”
The Country Director, Osai Ojigho emphasised that “schooling should not be a matter of life and death. The government must demonstrate its commitment to protecting the right to education in Nigeria by properly investigating these attacks and holding those responsible to account.
“The Nigerian authorities’ failure to protect schoolchildren from recent attacks clearly shows that no lessons have been learnt from the Chibok tragedy. The authorities’ only response to schoolchildren being targeted by insurgents and gunmen is to close schools, which is increasingly putting the right to education at risk.
“Between December 2020 and March 2021, there have been at least five reported cases of abductions in northern Nigeria. The threat of further attacks has led to the closure of about 600 schools in the region. Whatever authorities are doing to tame this tide, is not working. The Nigerian authorities risk a lost generation, due to their failure to provide safe schools for children in a region already devastated by Boko Haram atrocities.”
AI also claimed that parents and guardians of some of the victims confided their children would not return to school because they did not believe the government could guarantee their protection. “The schools are not safe. The government is not trustworthy, and we do not believe them when they say that they would protect our children,” a parent was quoted as saying, while another was credited, with “some of our children are about to write exams but they cannot continue because the schools are closed, yet the government is doing nothing to ensure that our children return to school.”
A 16-year-old schoolgirl was also quoted in the said statement, saying, “since many of my friends were kidnapped in school, my parents decided to give me out in marriage for my own safety. Amnesty International is particularly irked that no one had been arrested or prosecuted for the litany of school children abductions, mostly in the North, adding that, “the lack of justice and accountability has led to an escalation of attacks on schools, forced school closures and left parents in despair. Authorities must provide adequate security to schools to ensure that children and teachers are safe.”
Ojigho further noted that “millions of children are paying the price of the government’s failure to protect its citizens from violence. The Nigerian authorities must restore security to schools in Nigeria and provide psycho-social support to victims of abductions and their families, to enable them to heal from trauma and integrate back into society. There must be a plan to ensure that children can return to safe classrooms.
“It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that no child is left behind. Education is a human right and the government must ensure that all children have access to basic education in an environment free from violence and threats of attacks. The body restated its commitment towards ensuring the safe return of children still in captivity, including the remaining Chibok girls, Leah Sharibu; the only Dapchi schoolgirl still in Boko Haram captivity, and other victims.”