Nigeria: Education unions call for the immediate release of students after new attack

published 6 July 2021 updated 20 June 2024

Education International condemns the kidnapping of 140 students by gunmen in northwest Nigeria Kaduna state and urges public authorities to ensure their safe return to their families and communities. EI reiterates that schools must be safe havens, free from violence and intimidation.

At least 140 students are missing and presumed kidnapped after gunmen stormed the Bethel Baptist School in Nigeria’s northwest Kaduna state, where an epidemic of kidnappings for ransom has increasingly ensnared students in Africa’s most populous nation.

According to media reports, a local Christian leader said there were 180 students in the school, only 20 of whom had been accounted for. However, he said some of them may have escaped. On 4 July, armed assailants also abducted eight people, including two nurses and a 12-month-old child, at the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Training Center in Zaria, about 50 miles from Kaduna, according to the BBC.

The alleged kidnappings were the fourth armed attack on an educational institute in Kaduna state in the past five months and the third on the Zaria hospital. Since December, more than 1,000 students have been abducted, at least nine killed, and over 200 are still missing – some of them as young as three –from similar raids, also according to the BBC.

The latter went on to report on a statement by Kaduna police forces saying that the gunmen “overpowered the school’s security guards and made their way into the students’ hostel where they abducted an unspecified number of students into the forest.”

The statement adds that 26 people, including one female teacher, have since returned, while the status of the rest of those missing from the Bethel Baptist School remained unknown. Nigerian police said they had not yet received any ransom demands from the alleged kidnapping at the hospital.

African educators united to fight violence in schools

“Teachers, education support personnel and students are at risk simply by coming to school, because armed forces consider schools and tertiary education institutions as targets,” explained Education International’s Director for Africa Dennis Sinyolo. “Frequent abductions in Nigerian schools threatens to undermine the education of millions of children,” he added.

Since the islamist group Boko Haram (which means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language) abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok secondary school in Nigeria’s Borno state in 2014, in a widely reported incident, kidnappings for ransom by armed groups have been on the rise in parts of Nigeria where poverty, unemployment, and the proliferation of criminal and armed groups is rampant. The proliferation of kidnappings of schoolchildren has led many parents to see schools as unsafe, according to further reporting by The Washington Post.

The Education International Africa Regional Committee (EIARC) has expressed deep concern over the fact that schools in many countries in Africa, especially Nigeria, are not the safe havens they should be.

In a statement adopted by the EIARC in May, education unions from the region have reaffirmed their solidarity with the Nigeria Union of Teachers and called on the Government of Nigeria to ensure that schools are safe and secure all over the country.

The statement emphasizes that “education is a fundamental human right no matter the circumstances, and that the utmost must be done to protect schools and children’s right to education.” It stresses that “the quality of teaching and learning is enhanced by a safe, peaceful, secure, supportive, and conducive, learning environment that ensures the safety and health of all teachers and students,” and that “education authorities across the continent should ensure environments that are supportive, comfortable, safe, and secure for all.”

Education International’s World Congress resolution

Education International and its member organisations have already been underlining for many years the need to consider schools and education settings as safe sanctuaries for educators and students, in Africa and the world over.

During Education International’s 8th World Congress held in Bangkok, Thailand, in July 2019, delegates adopted a Resolution on attacks on schools in Africa. The document asks Education International and its member organisations in Africa to pressure their governments to, in particular:

  • ratify and domesticate all instruments for the prevention and combating of terrorism in Africa and put in place mechanisms for the implementation of these instruments;
  • endorse, implement, and support the Safe Schools Declaration to ensure that all students and educators, male and female, can learn and teach in safety;
  • systematically investigate attacks on education and prosecute perpetrators;
  • ensure that education promotes peace instead of triggering conflict.

The 2009’s Declaration on “Schools as Safe Sanctuaries” also contains seven articles, each articulating a call to action from the world community. They are:

  1. Reaffirm the commitment to the principle of the right to education in safety
  2. Take practical measures to ensure protection
  3. End impunity for attacks on students, teachers, academics, all other education personnel and education facilities
  4. Strengthen monitoring of attacks and efforts to end impunity
  5. Prioritise action and share expertise on resilience and recovery
  6. Make education an agent for peace
  7. Support campaigns of solidarity.