No one can separate me from education

After almost four years in captivity, Habiba, one of the Chibok girls released by armed groups in 2017 in north-east Nigeria, is back to school, studying to become a journalist.

Folashade Adebayo, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A girl released from captivity.
14 April 2022

Habiba Musa (not real name) was one of the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Non-state Armed Groups (NSAG) at the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, north-east Nigeria on April 14, 2014.

Though 15 years at the time, Habiba recalled the events of that day vividly as armed men broke into the dormitories and burnt down the laboratory and other facilities in her school.

“We were in the middle of our National Examination Council Senior School Certificate Examination (NECOSCE) and we had finished writing Government exam that day. Most of us were up that night studying for the next day’s paper,’’ said Habiba.

None of the girls in the school eventually finished the NECOSSCE examination. By daybreak, the NSAG had succeeded in hauling 276 girls into multiple trucks, abducting them from the safety of their schools and from the path of their dreams.

"They drove for three days into the forest. They offered us soft drinks and biscuits, but we refused. We were beaten and moved from location to location. At one point we were in Gwoza town for months. They told us education is forbidden."

“I felt downcast throughout. My family was on my mind, especially my father. He used to be a teacher in Damboa, a neighbouring town. But he was involved in an accident and had injured his spinal cord. So, he had to stop teaching. When I was abducted, I thought of him a lot. I wondered if he would survive the ordeal. I also missed choir practices in my church. I was a choir member in Chibok. Many of us cried for days whenever we remembered our lives in Chibok. We felt hopeless,’’ said Habiba.

The case for safe schools in Nigeria

Hope came on crutches in 2017, when Habiba and 82 other schoolgirls were released through negotiations with Government and other stakeholders. They were the second set of girls to taste freedom, after the first batch of 21 girls were released.

While Habiba and 102 other girls have since been released, a total of 173 schoolgirls are still unaccounted for.

Eight years after, attacks on schools continue to occur, including last week when NSAG attacked Damboa town in north-east Nigeria, burning a health facility and classrooms at the Technical Girls College in the early hours of the day.

A Temporary Learning Space at the Katarko Primary School burnt by armed groups.
A Temporary Learning Space at the Katarko Primary School burnt by armed groups.

In 2021 alone, 1,440 children were abducted in 25 school attacks across Nigeria, including classrooms and a UNICEF-supported Temporary Learning Space at the Katarko Primary School in Gujba Local Government, Yobe State.  In June last year, over 100 children and five teachers abducted from the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State. While many of the children have been released, 14 are reportedly still with their captors.

For the Safe School Initiative to work in Nigeria, the UNICEF Chief of Maiduguri Field Office in Maiduguri, Phuong T. Nguyen, said stakeholders, including Government, must take their commitments seriously and honour them.

“These commitments include having a critical focus on girls and children with special needs, investment in community-based protective measures, strengthening the capacity of education personnel to enhance school safety and security, involvement of child protection actors as part of all military operations, and deterring the use of schools by military and non-state actors for non-education purposes.’’ she said.