One million Nigerian children are at risk of not being able to attend school due to the threat of violence after a series of mass kidnappings and attacks, Unicef said on Wednesday (September 15th). More than 37 million Nigerian children are due to start the new school year this month, but “This moment is stolen from about a million [d’entre eux] because insecurity threatens their safety and their education ”, said in a statement Peter Hawkins, the representative of Unicef in Nigeria.
According to the United Nations agency, there have been 20 attacks on schools in Nigeria this year: more than 1,400 students have been kidnapped and 16 have died. Kidnapped by criminal gangs in the northwestern and central states of the country, most were released on payment of ransom after weeks or months of captivity in rural camps under appalling conditions. About 200 are still missing.
“Families and communities continue to fear sending children back to their classrooms due to the wave of attacks on schools and kidnappings”, according to Unicef. Some states have temporarily closed schools after kidnappings.
The north-west and center of the country have long been plagued by violence between nomadic pastoralist and farming communities who compete for land and water. Attacks have intensified with the emergence of heavily armed criminal gangs, known locally as “bandits,” who loot villages, steal livestock and kidnap for ransom.
This year, these gangs have targeted schools and colleges in northwest Nigeria, kidnapping students and taking them to hiding places in the woods while they negotiate payments. About 70 students kidnapped almost two weeks ago were released this week in Zamfara state (north-west), where the army has launched an offensive against kidnapper gangs.