This Saturday, it will be ten months since 14 April 2014 – the day the Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria. As the Jihadist group expands its campaign of terror, we take a look at the devastating effect this is having on Nigerian people, especially its children.
Boko Haram, which means ‘Western education is forbidden’, wants to create an independent country in the far north-east of Nigeria, based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law. Despite the huge international support of the campaign to #BringBackOurGirls, the girls still haven’t been found, and disturbingly:
- Boko Haram attacks are more and more violent: destroying villages, committing mass murder and kidnapping women and children
- last year Nigeria had more civilian war deaths than any other African country
- latest research shows that nearly 6,450 civilians died in 2014 because of the conflict started by Boko Haram.
Living in fear of Boko Haram
Shaku, 16, is the brother of one of the 276 girls kidnapped in April. He said: ‘I loved my sister very much. We would read together and she would help teach me things that I didn’t know. When I remember these things, I can’t sleep and I start to cry.’ Shaku is one of thousands whose families have been torn apart by losing a loved one to Boko Haram violence.
As the attacks become more violent, naturally people are panicking. ‘Every day, especially in the night, people would scream “Boko Haram are coming” and all the family would run and hide in the fields,’ Shaku explained.
The threat of Boko Haram means large parts of Nigeria have become no-go areas, as those who can, flee to safer towns and cities. Shaku’s parents were so worried about keeping him safe that they sent him and his remaining sister away to live with an uncle in the capital Accra.
Children are too scared to go to school
Boko Haram is also having a very damaging effect on education in Nigeria. The country already had the highest number of children out of school, but now fear of kidnap and abduction is making both girls and boys scared to go to class. And not just in the north east of Nigeria, but all over the country. Even in relatively safe areas, children are being pulled out of school because their parents are afraid that they will be targeted.
Boko Haram are also increasingly using children in suicide bombings. Dr Hussaini Abdu, our Nigeria Country Director, suspects many children are being forced to work for the extremists. He said: ‘Children can easily be indoctrinated or coerced, especially in a religious and patriarchal environment.’
How Boko Haram is affecting the Nigerian elections
Boko Haram does not believe in democracy, so it is no coincidence that the recent expansion of terror has occurred just before national elections. Because Boko Haram targets public places with large crowds, people are likely to fear going to polling stations. Nigeria was scheduled to go to the polls on 14 February to vote for a new president but now that has been postponed.
Hussaini Abdu believes that Nigeria’s army needs international reinforcement: ‘The Nigerian government must reach out to the international community, if our government is ever going to stop Boko Haram’s continuing attempt to end Nigerian democracy through killing and kidnapping innocent people’.
Tackling poverty in Nigeria
As the humanitarian crisis in the north-east gets worse and Boko Haram continues to undermine education, our work tackling poverty across Nigeria and fighting for children’s right to go to school is all the more important.
Despite the risks, we’re continuing to:
- actively promote quality, free and compulsory education in Nigeria, especially for girls
- provide safe spaces for girls in our schools through Girls’ Clubs
- work with communities to encourage more girls to enrol in and stay at school.
Hussaini Abdu is also urging the international community to encourage the Nigerian government to respond to the vulnerability of communities and ensure that children like Shaku can go to school without fear.