Sunday, April 14, 2024 marked the 10th anniversary of the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram terrorists. Although over 100 of the girls were rescued between 2016 and 2023, about 92 of them are yet to be accounted for. For the victims and their families, it has been 10 years of sorrow, disappointment and tears.

The incident was the first major terrorist act by the Boko Haram insurgents. Fifty-seven of the girls were lucky to escape by jumping off the trucks conveying them to Sambisa Forest then. Every effort to rescue the remaining girls proved abortive. Local and international pressures were mounted by individuals and groups such as ‘#BringBackOurGirls’ to have the girls released. It got to a point, when the then President Goodluck Jonathan lamented that Boko Haram elements had infiltrated his government.

The abduction of Chibok girls marked the beginning of what has become an epidemic of students’ abductions in northern Nigeria. In February 2018, these same terrorists invaded Government Secondary School, Dapchi in Yobe State. They kidnapped 110 schoolgirls. After about a month, they released 105 of the girls, as four of them had died in custody. One of the girls, Leah Sharibu, is still in captivity. The terrorists reportedly refused to release her because she was said to have refused to renounce Christianity.

From Kankara in Katsina State to Kagara in Niger State; and to Jangebe in Zamfara State, abduction of schoolchildren has made the country one of the worst places to raise children. In the Kankara incident, over 300 schoolboys were kidnapped from the Government Science Secondary School and taken to a forest in Zamfara in December 2020. They were released after six days in captivity. In 2021, over 300 schoolgirls were also kidnapped from their school in Jangebe, Zamfara State. According to a recent report released by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) over 1,680 Nigerian schoolchildren were abducted in 10 years, 180 children killed due to attacks on schools, an estimated 60 school staff kidnapped and 14 killed.

Clearly, Nigeria has failed her schoolchildren. Some of the released children and their families will live with the psychological trauma all through their lives. A recent report by the Murtala Muhammed Foundation indicated that 21 of the freed Chibok girls returned with 34 children. The report also noted that 48 parents of the abducted girls had died since they were kidnapped.

Some of the rescued girls are reportedly not happy with the turn of events after their release. They feel they are happier and freer while at the Boko Haram camp. Some media reports indicated that they were not well taken care of as they lacked basic provisions like food. In all of this, the worst hit is school enrolment in the North. Most parents are wary of sending their children to school these days due to insecurity. And this is a region where millions of pupils are out of school.

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The present government should go beyond whatever its predecessors did to secure our schoolchildren. Granted that security personnel cannot be everywhere at the same time, they could, at least, collaborate in intelligence gathering and sharing. This will go a long way in frustrating the plans of the terrorists.  

There may be some saboteurs within our security agencies who reveal security information to the enemies. Allegations are rife that some powerful forces are backing the terrorists. These bad elements should be fished out and dealt with accordingly.

We believe that our security agents know where to locate these terrorists. They should take the war directly to them in their cells. Government agents should have monopoly of the instruments of violence or warfare. With air and ground offensive, we believe the terrorists will be routed. Our borders should be well manned so as to prevent influx of illegal arms and ammunition which the terrorists feast on.  

The safe school initiative launched in 2014 could come handy in the efforts to protect schoolchildren, teachers and school facilities. Security personnel could be deployed to the schools to provide some form of security to the students. These security personnel may not be able to match the firepower of the terrorists but they could alert other security agencies about any attack on the schools. State or community police could complement the efforts of the central police in this regard.   

The kidnap of Chibok schoolgirls is a major blight on our image and integrity as a nation. We must do everything possible to ensure that it never happens again. Government must make strenuous efforts to rescue the remaining girls still in captivity and rehabilitate them. It must ensure that it adheres to Section 14(2)(b) of the constitution by performing its primary duty of securing lives of the citizens, especially innocent students.