Nigerian authorities have reopened schools in northern Kaduna state after being closed for two months due to insecurity. The region has suffered armed kidnappings and the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says nearly one million Nigerian children are “afraid to return to school.”
Nigerian teacher Naomi Ibrahim opened Kevata Primary School in Kaduna State seven years ago after Boko Haram militants forced her to flee her hometown in Borno state.
She says it aims to help children affected by conflict get a basic education, but that waves of violence and mass abduction are jeopardizing their work and keeping students away.
“Some are from Borno, some are from Adamawa, Gombe and other places. We are just praying, it is God who is keeping us safe,” said Naomi Ibrahim, a teacher and school owner.
Ibrahim says only 50 of the roughly 120 students appeared for the new term that began last week. She blames insecurity in the area for the low attendance.
Kaduna is one of the states that was hit hardest by the massive school kidnapping in northern Nigeria late last year. Since December, the government reports that more than 1,000 school children have been confiscated from schools in the region.
Kidnappings are usually carried out by bandits – local criminal gangs demand ransom from the families of the victims. Other states affected include Niger, Zamfara and Katsina.
To address the problem, Kaduna state officials closed schools in July but reopened them this month, saying the situation had improved.
Community leader Abu Mohamed agrees.
“There is really an upgrade in terms of security attention from the government. Why? Because the government has given a clarion call for all the safety equipment and they have all gathered here in Kaduna, they have gone to the forests to see what their Where are the (robbers’) stations,” he said.
But Aishtu Musa says that the fear of bandits kidnapping her children from school has not gone away.
“I’m afraid of what’s happening now, so I don’t want them to go to school yet,” she said.
Two weeks ago, UNICEF estimated that one million Nigerian children could be denied education due to safety concerns.
The agency estimates that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, approximately 13.2 million. UNICEF Nigeria’s education manager Rudra Sahu says the actual figure could be even higher.
“There were regular attacks in the months of May, June and July, especially in the north central and north-west region and 11,000 schools were closed during that time as a precautionary measure,” Sahu said. “Schools are opening now but there is apprehension in the minds of parents.”
For now, schools such as Kevata Primary School will continue classes, despite uncertainty about whether it is safe to do so.