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Nigeria: Staying out of school to avoid kidnappings

Shehu Salmanu
April 13, 2023

In northern Nigeria, hundreds of children have been abducted from school in recent years. No longer wanting to take risks, many parents have stopped sending their children to school. They'd rather risk them dropping out.

An empty classroom full of green desks and chairs
Schools in northern Nigeria have been abandoned by the dozensImage: Sunday Alamba/AP/picture alliance

14-year-old Hausa'u Salisu has dropped out of school but not because of bad marks or because her family couldn't afford it anymore. Girls like her are most vulnerable to abductions in the region, which have intensified over the years.

In order to avoid their daughter being kidnapped by bandits, her parents have taken her out of school.

"Before the banditry, we lived normal lives like any other person. But then they first raided the neighbouring villages before ours. We were displaced and since then, there has been no opportunity for us to return to school. Our teachers have also deserted the school for fear of being kidnapped," Salisu told DW.

Salisu lives in the Bakon Zabo village in northern Nigeria, where she says the fear of being kidnapped has pushed thousands of girls like her out of attending school.

Living in this atmosphere of fear has not only hindered her education from continuing but has also made Salisu give up on her dreams.

"The constant attacks have killed off my ambition of becoming a medical doctor. Moreover, my friends and schoolmates are all displaced in different towns, cities, and villages. Some were killed while others are kept hostage by the bandits," she told DW. 

A deserted classroom in Zamfara state with a blackboard and some chairs and tables in a corner
Empty chairs at empty tables: a deserted classroom in Zamfara stateImage: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images

An endemic crime problem

More than 10 million children in Nigeria are out of school. Their reasons may be varied but in the north of the country, kidnappings are the main motivation for keeping children away from pursuing their education: At least 1,400 schoolchildren have been abducted in the northern part of the country in recent years. The issue first gained worldwide attention with the 2014 abduction of the 276 Chibok schoolgirls- but it didn't stop there.

In February 2021 alone, bandits kidnapped another 200 schoolgirls in the Northern state of Zamfara in one single attack, and as recently as last week, another ten schoolgirls were abducted by yet unidentified gunmen.

For those who are willing to take the risks, there's no sufficient infrastructure left: Over 11,000 schools in seven states in Northern Nigeria have been forced to close due to the ongoing insurgency, and about 1,000 schools have either been damaged or destroyed.

Sign in remembrance of the Chibok abductions
The 2014 abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls drew global attention to the kidnapping sprees in NigeriaImage: Kola Sulaimon/AFP

Kidnapping: a lucrative industry

Kidnap ransom negotiator Yehusa Getso told DW that kidnapping is not only a means to sow fear in local communities but has long become a way for bandits to make money:

"Kidnapping in Nigeria has become a lucrative business, much more than the oil business. ... (I)t is expanding scope by the day," Getso said.

He added the criminals behind the abductions do not care about the impact their dealings have on families, and he believes that they would stop at nothing:

"They don't care who you are. They don't care what family you come from. They don't care whether you are rich or poor," he said.

Despite the government's efforts to fight the jihadist insurgency in the north and thus protect communities from kidnappings, hardly any progress has been made.

Kabiru Adamu, a security and risk management expert, told DW that as long as the bandit gangs continue to be paid the ransom they demand, they will have an incentive to continue.

"If you are paid money, it is an incentive. Today, that is what is happening. They adapt and they are paid money, and they are able to spend that money," Adamu said, stressing however that as long as the ransom payments are made, their business will continue — even though it constitutes a crime.

Holding education at ransom

That is why many parents are discouraged from sending their children to school. Those who place the value of their education above all else and continue to attend classes effectively risk their lives each day.

For Salisu, it isn't safe to return to school just yet, but she says she's looking forward to getting back on the path of education:

"My ambition is to go back to school, God willing. Having an education is very important. With that, I am calling on the authorities to come to our aid," she told DW.

Nigeria's scourge: Kidnapping more lucrative, more common

Edited by: Sertan Sanderson.