Lagos, Nigeria, Sep 27 (BUS): Emmanuel Benson was planning to obtain his diploma in Horticulture and Landscaping from the Federal College of Forest Mechanization of Nigeria next year. Now, he’s not willing to risk going back to school, after he was kidnapped by bandits along with dozens of others earlier this year.
“Our lives are in danger – Nigerian students, especially in Kaduna state where we are,” said the 24-year-old. As much as he wanted to continue his studies, “the kidnapping and everything that’s going on hasn’t stopped yet… Staying here anymore doesn’t help anyone.”
Benson is among a growing group of Nigerian students who are looking for alternative solutions to their education that will not put them in further danger, as bandits in Nigeria’s northern states are increasingly ambitious, and they are increasingly kidnapping students for ransom.
At least 25 Nigerian students who spent nearly two months in the custody of militants in the country’s restive northwest region are now pooling resources in hopes of leaving the West African country to study in another country, such as the United States, according to teachers and parents. Federal College of Forest Mechanization, Kaduna State.
Some students, as well as parents and teachers at Kaduna College, told the Associated Press that after spending about seven weeks in captivity before regaining freedom in May, life hasn’t stayed the same. They are afraid to pursue education in Nigeria, and now they are relying on the help of a school committee that is supervising the application process for getting education abroad.
There are no clear plans yet on how this registration will work, except that they hope to obtain scholarship opportunities in the United States or elsewhere.
Nigeria is no longer an option for them because “the country is not safe,” according to Paul Yahya, one of the 25 students.
Many families in Kaduna state say they are now mostly staying at home due to fears of attacks. The ransoms are big, and in Nigeria, where the national poverty rate is 40%, parents are suffering.
“Even the parents don’t have the money, because they struggle to pay the ransom (their kidnapped children) and they pay (a lot) a lot to the negotiators (who helped secure the children’s release),” Abdullah Othman said. Head of the Parent-Teacher Committee who oversees the application process for interested students.
If students leave, it means starting higher education all over again and losing at least three years spent so far for some.
The 25 students hoping to leave are among the 1,436 students kidnapped last year in Africa’s most populous country, according to Peter Hawkins, representative of the United Nations Children’s Agency in Nigeria. He said the education of up to 1.3 million Nigerian children has been affected by school kidnappings.
The Kaduna School and many other schools in at least four states remained closed due to insecurity.
One such school is Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna, where 10 students were released on Sunday, about three months after they were kidnapped in July. A school official told the Associated Press that another ransom was paid to secure the students’ release, with 11 of the 121 seized from the school still in the custody of the kidnappers.
Kauna Daniel from Kaduna College wants to leave, although she does not have money or passport, but she is still afraid.
“I don’t want to go anywhere again,” her angrily voice rang out over the phone. She said she has been unable to sleep since her release from captivity in May due to trauma and an eye problem.
“The trauma we are going through is out of control and so far everything is getting worse,” said the 19-year-old, adding as if she was pleading, “I better stay home.”
The United Nations estimates that the country of more than 200 million people already has 10 million children out of school, one of the highest rates globally, with another million fearing returning to classes as schools reopen in the coming weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these numbers, according to Save The Children Nigeria, which said 46 million Nigerian students have been affected by school closures as a result of the pandemic.
With kidnappings in schools by groups of armed men who often camp in deserted forest reserves across the northwestern and central parts of the country, some parents are in trouble. Should they weather the odds and send their children to schools often located in remote areas, or keep them indoors, out of the prying eyes of gunmen?
Usman, chairperson of the Kaduna School Committee, said that parents of the affected students in Kaduna are “excited” to be accepted into schools abroad because their children “remain at risk…and can be kidnapped at any time”.
Friday Sunny is one such parent. He said his two daughters have spent weeks in captivity with other students at Kaduna College, and are now waiting for responses from places outside Nigeria, unable to return to school in the West African country.
“The government of Nigeria needs a plan to better prepare education systems to respond to crises,” said Bader Musa of Save the Children International in Nigeria. “There is a need for greater investment in education systems by both government and international donors.”