Nigerian authorities have reopened schools in northern Kaduna state after closing them for two months due to insecurity. The region has suffered a string of armed kidnappings and the U.N. Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says about one million Nigerian children are “afraid to return to school.”
Nigerian educator Naomi Ibrahim opened Kewta Primary School in Kaduna state seven years ago, after an attack by Boko Haram militants forced her to flee her hometown in Borno state.
She says the aim is to help children affected by conflict get a basic education, but waves of violence and mass kidnappings are threatening her work and keeping students away.
“Some are from Borno, some Adamawa, Gombe and other places like that. We’re just praying, it is God that is keeping us safe,” said Naomi Ibrahim, an educator and school owner.
Ibrahim says only 50 of about 120 students appeared for the new term, which began last week. She blames insecurity in the region for the low attendance.
Kaduna is one of the states worst hit by mass school kidnappings that began in northern Nigeria late last year. Since December, the government reports more than 1,000 school children have been seized from schools in the region.
The kidnappings are usually carried out by bandits – local criminal gangs demanding ransom from the victims’ families. Other states affected include Niger, Zamfara, and Katsina.
To address the problem, Kaduna state authorities closed schools in July but reopened them this month, saying the situation had improved.
Community leader Abu Mohammed agrees.
“There’s an upgrade really in terms of security attention from the government. Why? Because the government has made a clarion call for all the security apparatus and they have all gathered here in Kaduna, they have gone into the forests to see where their (bandits’) stations are,” he said.
But Aishatu Musa says the fear that bandits could kidnap her children from school has not gone away.
“I’m scared about what is happening now, that’s why I don’t want them to go to school yet.,” she said.
Two weeks ago, UNICEF estimated one million Nigerian children could miss out on education due to security concerns.
The agency estimates Nigeria has the greatest number of out-of-school children in the world, about 13.2 million. UNICEF Nigeria’s education manager, Rudra Sahoo, says the actual figure could be even higher.
“In the months of May, June and July, there were regular attacks particularly in the north central and northwest region, and as precautionary measure, 11,000 schools closed during that time,” said Sahoo. “The schools are opening now but the apprehension on the minds of the parents is there.”
For now, schools like Kewta Primary school will carry on with classes, despite uncertainty about whether it is safe to do so.