Years of Boko Haram-related violence in north-east Nigeria have led to an entire generation of children missing out on an education.
Hundreds of thousands of children across the Lake Chad Basin, which straddles Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad, have been denied their right to education since 2009 because schools have been burnt, bombed and in some instances used for counter-insurgency efforts. In many places, the teachers have fled.
Consequences of disrupting education
Hussaini Abdu, country director at Plan International in Nigeria, is concerned about the consequences of a generation of children missing out on school.
Without education, children are at risk of being seen as an ideal recruitment pool for extremist organisations or criminal gangs.
“Today’s 15-year-olds were only 7 when this conflict began,” Abdu says. “Growing up amid brutal conflict will have affected them profoundly and not having a chance to go to school makes things even worse.”
Access to education has been particularly affected in north-east Nigeria, where the worst of the attacks have taken place.
Over a million people in the region have been displaced from their homes, often having been forced to move from community to community, making it difficult to keep their children in school.
Others, particularly the families of girls, avoid school due to the high risk of abduction.
“Without education, children are at risk of being seen as an ideal recruitment pool for extremist organisations or criminal gangs,” says Abdu.
“In some cases this is because their chances of employment are severely limited, which understandably makes them feel frustrated and resentful.
“In other cases, both boys’ and girls’ absence from a protective environment such as school makes them vulnerable to being forcibly recruited by armed groups. In the long term, the loss of education is going to make it much harder to put an end to the cycle of violence gripping the region.”
The reality of abduction
Mary* spent three long years searching for her two sons, Julius*, 16 and Joseph*, 14, after they were abducted by armed Boko Haram insurgents in 2014.
The boys had been staying with their uncle when insurgents tore through the town kidnapping children, taking them deep into the Sambisa forest. Their uncle was executed in front of them.
The boys were held captive in the forest for three years along with other young prisoners: “They (insurgents) attempted to teach us how to fight with guns but one of their leaders stopped them arguing that we were too young,” Julius recalls.
The children were made to watch when the militants killed people and commanded them to cover the spilt blood with sand. Showing the scars on his legs, Julius says: “each time I refused to do their bidding, they hit my leg with iron rods. It hurt so much.”
Joseph, the younger of the two boys adds: “We did not receive much food. Some 20 of us often had to share one meal. We barely managed to survive.”
Difficulty resuming normal life
Mary was reunited with her two sons who had been abducted by Boko Haram after 3 years of searching. She hopes they'll soon be able to return to school.
At the end of 2016, while their captors were away from the camp raiding a community, the two brothers managed to escape and crossed the border into Cameroon.
Once Mary heard there were unaccompanied children in the neighbouring country, she sold all her possessions and despite being pregnant, set off on to find her boys. She was overjoyed to finally be reunited with them in one of the refugee camps.
Julius and Joseph, whose identities must be hidden for child protection reasons, are now back home with their mother. The family is receiving support from Plan International and partners in the hope that they may start to recover from the ordeal. Mary hopes that her children will soon be able to return to school and resume life as normal.
Supporting education in Nigeria
Since November 2016, Plan International has been working in Borno and Adamawa states in northeast Nigeria to support children who left school due to insurgency to recommence their studies by providing school materials and training teachers.
We are now calling on the Nigerian government to provide accelerated learning programmes for children who have been denied education due to the conflict.
Additionally, in areas where schools have been damaged or destroyed, we are urging the government to prioritise the establishment and equipping of temporary learning spaces, alongside the restoration of school facilities.
*Names have been changed to protect identities