Nigeria’s education system, envisioned as a beacon of hope and progress, now stands threatened by violence, exemplified by the frequent abduction of students by terrorists and militant groups targeting schools. The cases of the Chibok Girls (2014) and Dapchi Girls (2018) echo as reminders of the challenges facing Nigeria’s citadels of learning.

The past few weeks have witnessed a sad upsurge of this unsavoury event.

On a pleasant note, scores of schoolchildren abducted from Kuriga, Kaduna State, were released at the weekend, two weeks after they were taken away in what was one of Nigeria’s largest mass kidnappings in years.

The students, about 287 of them, were kidnapped by rampaging gunmen on motorcycles, sparking outrage and condemnation from several quarters, including the UN children’s welfare agency, UNICEF.

More than 1,680 schoolchildren have been kidnapped in Nigeria since the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State, with fear of attacks stopping some children from ever attending school, says Save the Children.

New data by Save the Children reveal that attacks on schools have been continuing and highlight the violence that schoolchildren and teachers face across Nigeria.

In addition to the abductions, over 180 schoolchildren were killed and nearly 90 injured in 70 attacks between April 2014 and December 2022, with an estimated 60 school staff kidnapped and 14 killed. Twenty-five school buildings were reportedly destroyed during that period.

The majority of these attacks took place in North-West Nigeria (49 attacks), followed by North-Central Nigeria (11 attacks).

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These attacks have long-lasting consequences for communities and for children’s access to education, often leading to the mass withdrawal of children from school, as well as school closures. In the North-West state of Katsina, nearly 100 schools remain closed due to insecurity, affecting the education of over 30,000 children.

One in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school.

A 2022 UNESCO report notes that approximately 20 million Nigerian individuals of the country’s approximately 200 million population are not enrolled in school. This amounts to 10 per cent of Nigeria’s entire population and is more than the overall population of various countries in Africa.

The insurgency unleashed upon the country by Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) and sundry criminals is, to an increasing extent, responsible for this and the scope is widening.

Meanwhile, Nigeria is in dire need of economic development and an enhanced quality of life for its citizens. An educated and skilled workforce is a key to this dream. The lack or shortage of education or skills within teeming populations then creates social, security and economic challenges which constitute daunting roadblocks to development. These include a lack of adequate and appropriate manpower to drive the economy in the future, as well as an increase in the wave of criminal activities.

As such, the Federal Government must, as a matter of urgency, come up with a plan to address the insurgency and random criminality and their wilting impact on school attendance. This plan must be well articulated with stated objectives, defined leadership, a reporting system, technology driven, with roles and timelines assigned. This is to ensure commitment, sustenance and result.

The out-of-school children syndrome and, indeed, the insurgency and criminality which give it verve are volcanos sizzling to erupt. A stitch in time saves nine.