By CHINEDU ASADU, Associated Press
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) – Emmanuel Benson was planning to graduate in Horticulture and Landscaping from the Federal College of Forest Mechanization of Nigeria next year. Now he’s not ready to risk going back to school, having been kidnapped by bandits along with dozens of others earlier this year.
âOur lives are in danger – Nigerian students, especially in Kaduna state where we are,â the 24-year-old said. As much as he wanted to finish his studies, “the kidnapping and all that is happening have not stopped yet … staying here is no longer benefiting anyone”.
Benson is one of a growing group of Nigerian students looking for alternatives to their education that will not put them further at risk, as bandits in northern Nigerian states grow more ambitious, organizing more in addition to student kidnappings for ransom.
At least 25 Nigerian students who spent nearly two months in the custody of gunmen in the troubled northwest region of the country are now gathering resources in hopes of leaving the West African nation to study in another country , like the United States, according to teachers and parents. at the Federal College of Forest Mechanization of Kaduna State.
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Some students, as well as parents and teachers at Kaduna College, told The Associated Press that after spending about seven weeks in captivity before being released back to freedom in May, life is not the same. They fear continuing their education in Nigeria and now rely on the help of a school committee overseeing their application process for education abroad.
There are no clear plans yet on how this listing would work except that they are hoping for scholarship opportunities in the US or elsewhere.
Nigeria is no longer an option for them because âthe country is not safe,â according to Paul Yahaya, one of the 25 students.
Many families in Kaduna state say they now mostly stay indoors for fear of attacks. The ransoms are heavy, and in Nigeria, with a national poverty rate of 40%, parents are struggling.
“Even the parents don’t have any money, because they are struggling to pay their ransom (for the abducted children) and they have paid (so) a high amount to the negotiators (who helped secure the children’s release) “said Abdullahi Usman. , the chairman of the parents and teachers committee which oversees the application process for interested students.
If the students left, it would mean starting higher education all over again and losing at least three years so far for some.
The 25 students who hope to leave are among 1,436 students who were kidnapped last year in Africa’s most populous country, according to Peter Hawkins, representative of the United Nations Children’s Agency in Nigeria. The education of nearly 1.3 million Nigerian children has been affected due to school kidnappings, he said.
Kaduna school and many other schools in at least four states remain closed due to insecurity. One of those schools is Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna, where 10 students were released on Sunday, nearly three months after their kidnapping in July. A school official told AP that another ransom was paid to secure the release of the students, with 11 of the 121 who were seized from the school still in the custody of their captors.
Kauna Daniel from Kaduna Middle School wants to leave, although he doesn’t have the money to do so or a passport, but he’s still scared.
“I don’t want to go anywhere anymore,” his voice echoed angrily over the phone. She said she had not been able to sleep since being released from captivity in May due to trauma and an eye problem.
“The trauma we are going through is getting out of hand and it’s even now that everything is getting worse,” said the 19-year-old, adding almost as if begging that “I had better stay home.”
The United Nations estimates that the country of more than 200 million people already has 10 million children out of school, one of the highest rates in the world, with 1 million more fearing to return to class as schools will reopen in the coming weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these numbers, according to Save The Children Nigeria, which said 46 million Nigerian students have been affected by school closures due to the pandemic.
With school kidnappings by groups of armed men often camping in abandoned forest reserves in the northwest and center of the country, some parents are caught in a dilemma. Should they brave obstacles and send their children to schools, which are often located in remote areas, or keep them at home, away from the prying eyes of gunmen?
Kaduna School Committee Chairman Usman said parents of affected students in Kaduna are “eager” to be admitted to schools abroad because their children “are still vulnerable … and can be kidnapped at anything. moment “.
Friday Sani is one of those parents. He said his two daughters had spent weeks in captivity with other students at Kaduna College and are now awaiting responses from places outside Nigeria mentally unable to return to school in that country. West Africa.
âThe government of Nigeria must have a plan to better prepare education systems to respond to crises,â said Badar Musa of Save the Children International, Nigeria. âThere is a need to increase investment in education systems by governments and international donors. “
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