Children in Nigeria are arguably the worst-hit of numerous violent conflicts in the country. Today being the International Day of the Girl-Child, the girl-child is still facing all forms of dehumanising abuse. From physical and emotional violence to sexual violence. Even retrogressive socio-cultural and religious norms that inhibit the capacities of the girl-child. In April 2014, at least 276 schoolgirls were abducted from their school in Chibok by Boko Haram. Five years on, over a hundred are still missing. February 2018, 110 schoolgirls were abducted in Dapchi by the same group. However, while government was able to secure the release of most of them, five died as a result of the ordeal they went through. Leah Shuaibu is still being held by the Jihadist, purportedly for refusing to denounce her Christian faith. Nigeria has about 13.2 million out-of-school children. According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), one in every five out of school children in the world is in Nigeria. In the terror-ridden North-East region, the education of about 2.8 million children in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states have been affected conflict.
The growing risks school children, especially girls, are facing in a learning environment is worrisome. Within the week, six school children and a school principal were abducted in Kaduna state. Most suicide bombings by Boko Haram terrorists are mostly carried out by young girls. It is interesting to consider that, alongside the reported cases of massive abductions, there are cases of underreported kidnappings in the country. Schools are conventional learning centres and should be safe spaces where people go to acquire knowledge. These centres are rapidly becoming unsafe for children and their teachers.
How can the 13.2 million out of school children go back to school when it is not safe? Advocacies are calling on government and relevant stakeholders to facilitate the process of sending back Nigeria’s 13.2 million out-of-school to school. How safe will they be considering the violence going on in schools? Nigeria’s education, notwithstanding its myriad of challenges, is under threat of violence. Schools are no longer safe for children to learn. The risks of abduction, especially in volatile areas, is increasingly worrisome.
The Safe School Declaration is a call to action. It intends to achieve a safe learning environment, especially in conflict zones. In Nigeria, hundreds of schools have been destroyed by the 10 years insurgency coupled with the abduction of young girls and women. When children in war zones are forced out of school and exposed to horror, they tend to pick up antisocial behaviours. Coupled with the fact that If they are not learning productive skills, some are forced to join armed groups as children soldiers. About 89 countries as of May 2019 have endorsed the Safe School Declaration, which commits them to defend schools against violent attacks.
In line with the UNICEF statement “all children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances, have the right to quality education.” Regardless of living in war-torn communities in Nigeria, targeted education intervention programmes should be committed in these areas. Government should collaborate with donor agencies to ensure that schools are set up and running even in displacement camps. Children should not be denied education on account of violent conflicts. In addition to this, there should be proper securitisation protocols to ensure that learning environment is secured from attacks. Schools that operate boarding house options in conflict zones should be monitored with adequate deployment of security personnel. The idea of operating school boarding houses exposes school children to coordinated terrorists’ attacks and abductions. While efforts are being made to send Nigeria’s 13 million children back to school, it should also ensure the schools are safe and secure from violent attacks.