“I Have Been Praying Not To Die Without Seeing My Children”: Inside The Epidemic Of Nigeria’s School Abductions

On 27 August, the last of the kidnapped students from the Salihu Tanko Islamic seminary in Tegina, Niger State earlier this year, were returned to their families. The abduction, which took place on 30 May, included the seizing of 136 students at gunpoint by 200 heavily armed men. Since then, 15 students out of the 136 were fortunate enough to escape; however, six students died in captivity. According to Al Jazeera, the principal of the seminary, Abubakr Alhassan, stated that he was not able to provide details regarding a ransom paid to retrieve the children. Yet in a CNN report, Alhassan said that donations were collected from members of the government, pastors, and imams to pay the ransom. 

Parents of students gathered a total of 70 million nairas ($147,000) and a few motorbikes to give to the kidnappers of their children, according to Alhassan. “[T]he government contributed, individuals have contributed,” Alhassan said. However, Niger State government spokeswoman Mary Noel-Berje denied any government involvement in the collection of ransom funds. According to CNN, she highlighted that “the parents [of abducted students] negotiated with the kidnappers,” even though they knew the government “was not ready to be part of the ransom [negotiations].” 

Mothers like Hauwa’u Isa and Fatima Adamu, who both suffered the trauma of losing their sons to bandit abductions, were overjoyed and relieved to see their children after nearly 100 days. “[I] cannot find a word to express how delighted I am today. For the past 88 days, I have been praying not to die without seeing my children,” Isa said in a CNN report. Specific details about the conditions of the camps holding students hostage were not released. However Niger’s State government said in a statement that students looked “feeble and malnourished.” Some were advised to seek immediate medical attention before returning to their families. 

Since Boko Haram’s infiltration in the sphere of kidnapping in December 2020, abduction and violence in Nigeria have increased at alarming rates, resulting in some schools shutting down out of fear of the continued kidnappings. In Kaduna, a northern Nigerian state, schools were suspended for around three weeks due to the fear of the relentless abductions. Notable organizations like UNICEF have proposed plans, such as the stage four Sustainable Development Goal, which ensures “inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all.” In Nigeria, there are approximately 304 ongoing projects that are still collecting funds to create resources. Some include STEM camp for girls in Minna, empowering victims of Boko Haram through mentorship, financial independence courses, and psycho-social support. 100 job opportunities through a campaign were also launched by Leadership Initiatives. 

However, experts such as Bulama Bukarti, senior analyst of extremism policy for the Tony Blair Institute of Global Change, proposed that “the West can help in two significant ways.” In a Vice report, he called upon the West to provide two major things: first, weapons and ammunition so security officers are well-equipped against bandits; second, more job and educational opportunities for young adults in Nigeria.

Since the April 2014 abduction of 200 female students by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the nation has found itself grappling beneath the growing intensity of this humanitarian conflict. In an Amnesty International Report, members of Boko Haram and other local bandits continue to roam free; 600 schools remain closed out of fear of the abductions; at a local level, security officers fail to protect the nation’s students. Amnesty International has called upon Nigeria’s government to enforce and prioritize the educational rights of its students, so they can obtain excellence in an environment that is rid of violence and trauma.

The pathway to heal Nigeria begins at the grassroots level by addressing the immense suffrage the nation’s education system has experienced because of abductions, and the devastations of war. Education has preserved the lives of Nigeria’s young women from trials such as trafficking, child marriage, early childbirth, and famine in rural areas. Through donating, collecting funds, and even launching a new campaign, communities globally can bring change to the once thriving educational institutions and societies of Nigeria. Power through arms and ammunition loses in seconds. It is, however, the power of a classroom that brings peace to the table of global discussion and human justice.