More than 300 children kidnapped from school in Nigeria are still under the control of criminal gangs, and many of them have been missing for nearly two months. Some of the abducted persons were only two years old.
Although many of the more than 1,000 children taken have been released, hundreds of families are still desperately waiting for news of their children, usually after the ransom is reportedly paid.
Some parents told BBC News about the pain they are experiencing and shared their views on the efforts to educate their children when faced with this danger.
‘They are unknown people’
Hadiza Hashim is the mother of five children who marched with a gun outside the gate of an Islamic school in Tegina, Niger State, on May 30, when 134 students were abducted.
The youngest two, Walid and Rahama, are only two or three years old. They were later released along with other young children who were too small to walk. But their three older brothers and sisters are still imprisoned.
The oldest Uma is only 13 years old and likes watching cartoons like Tom and Jerry with her younger siblings. Due to anxiety, her mother has not heard from them since the kidnapping.
On the day of the kidnapping, a Sunday, she described rushing to school after hearing gunshots. For her own safety, she was forced to hide. From the hiding place, she saw dozens of armed men entering the school.
“They broke the padlock and started yelling for the children to take off their shoes to prevent them from escaping. The children started screaming for their parents.
“I saw my two-year-old child being carried by a man with a gun. He yelled to the boy to shut him up because he was screaming for me, his mother. I can do nothing,” Mrs. Hashim said .
Two young children were traumatized by this experience. Mrs. Hashim described how they woke up screaming in the middle of the night, fearing that they would be taken away again. They kept asking where their sister and brother were and why the bed was empty.
Mrs. Hashim taught science at a nearby junior high school that was closed due to insecurity caused by criminal gangs. According to reports, the kidnappers demanded more than $100,000 (£73,000) in compensation for the children.
The parents of missing children are desperately raising funds, but the annual salary of a teacher in the area is less than $400, which prevents them from obtaining the funds they need.
She is worried that her child will be forgotten because of poverty.
“People ignored what happened because they were unknown children. If they were someone’s child, they would not be left in the wilderness for weeks without news. This is not allowed,” Mrs. Hashim said.
“Education for them is crucial”
On June 17, more than 80 students from a federal boarding school in Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State, were abducted.
Aminu Umar’s son Mustapha is 14 years old and the eldest of five children. His family lives more than 200 kilometers (124 miles) away from the school, but desperate for his son’s education, his father believes that this boarding school will provide him with the best start in life.
Just a week before the kidnapping, another parent asked his son to drop out of school due to reports of criminal gangs operating in the area.
He tried to persuade Mr. Omar to also take Mustafa away, but his father wanted him to take the exam. The teachers told him that the students were safe, which reassure him.
“I entrust my children to them. Now since I was kidnapped, I cannot sleep normally. I always want to know what conditions the children are kept in, how they sleep, and whether they can get clean water and enough. Food,” Mr. Omar said.
He added that since the kidnapping incident, they have rarely heard from the school or the government, and he is very worried that his son will be harmed.
However, although his wife begged him to let Mustafa’s brothers and sisters drop out of school, he insisted that the children continue their studies.
According to UNICEF, more than 1,500 schools in central and northern Nigeria were forced to close due to insecurity. But Mr. Omar believes that the solution to insecurity lies in education.
“People are dropping their children from school across the state. But we have fallen behind in education, so this will cause more problems in the future,” Mr. Omar said.
“My wife has been tortured for worrying about the safety of our children, but I believe it is important for them to receive an education.”
“There is no education without security”
On July 5, 120 students from Bethel Baptist High School in Kujama, Kaduna State were abducted.
14-year-old Nathan Joseph Kopzuma hopes to become a civil engineer. As an avid reader, he likes to study science at school.
From the day he was kidnapped, his pastor father said he had not heard from him. The only news came from the school authorities who had contact with the kidnappers.
“As parents, we are traumatized. We want to do something to intervene, but we can’t do anything. We can’t fight them by ourselves, we can’t go there, we don’t know where the children are. We are frustrated.”
Pastor Joseph Kopzuma Hirdima said that he has asked the government to help them rescue the children and bring them home. But little progress has been made, and he said that they have no choice but to pray for God’s intervention.
Rebecca Bulus (Rebecca Bulus)’s 13-year-old son Joseph was taken away from the same school. She described the shock of hearing that his son was kidnapped: “The moment I heard it, my world turned upside down. I almost fainted. , I’ve never cried like that—I’ve cried bitterly for days. I can’t describe how painful it is.”
Since they were taken away, she has only been told that the children are still alive.
She described Joseph as a happy and helpful boy who sang and played drums and piano in the church band. He is the second of four children. Even though he is in boarding school, he still maintains a close relationship with his younger siblings at home and calls them regularly to talk to them.
Ms. Bruce said that her youngest child was still in elementary school, and they were hit hard and could not understand what happened to their brother.
The kidnappers demanded a large ransom from the children. The family is trying to raise the necessary funds, but it is under tremendous economic pressure.
Ms. Bruce’s husband is a church pastor. She teaches in a nearby junior high school, but just three months ago, she was unemployed. Now the family has to ask relatives to help raise money.
“We need security. Without it, there is no education. My eldest son is also in boarding school and I am worried about his safety. We are preparing to drop him out of school. We first need to achieve peace in our country-when this goal is achieved. At times, education can follow,” she said.