Web of Conflicts – Nigeria
In the volatile northeastern region of Nigeria, children remain the direct and indirect targets of relentless jihadist fighters. From murder or kidnapping to forced displacement, where they face complex humanitarian challenges. While many are predisposed to join armed groups due to socio-economic issues, others are recruited through coercive measures such as kidnappings and other life-threatening circumstances. About 300,000 children have been killed and more than a million displaced in northeast Nigeria, according to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). As jihadist warfare, bandit violence, sects, group strife, and violent secessional struggles and repressions rage, the harsh realities of Nigerian children caught in the web of violent conflict continue.
Violent conflict exacerbates the challenges facing children beyond the northeast. There are an estimated 13.2 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, according to Nigeria’s Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajuba. In addition, recent sit-at-home orders in the southeast, large-scale attacks and kidnappings in schools by bandits threaten the efforts of many Nigerian children to access education. Since December 2020, around 800 children have been kidnapped in Nigeria. In total, more than one billion yen was demanded as a ransom during this period. For example, in February 2021, bandits demanded 800 million yen to free the kidnapped Kagara schoolchildren. Limited access to education prevents children from acquiring knowledge and skills for self-reliance, making them vulnerable to conflicts, their triggers and consequences.
Many Nigerian children caught up in the fabric of the conflict are both victims and perpetrators. The likely challenges that prevail in hotbeds of violence also make children vulnerable to entrepreneurs in conflict. In 2018, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund reported that a local militia fighting Boko Haram insurgents freed approximately 833 child soldiers in northeast Nigeria. According to UNICEF, the released children were among nearly 1,500 boys and girls recruited by self-defense militias. Violence continues, gaps in security measures and deficits in human capital will continue until peace and security are restored.
Tackling the plight of Nigerian children affected by violent conflict means generating child-friendly response efforts. In response to the 2014 kidnapping of schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, the Global Business Coalition for Education and One World at School launched a âSafe Schools Initiativeâ. Despite an initial fund of $ 10 million and the start-up of 500 pilot schools in northern Nigeria, many children still face serious dangers in places of learning. State governments should review school arrangements in light of conflict and security risks in areas of violence. The practice of boarding schools without adequate security in areas prone to attacks by armed men must be abolished in order to reduce the vulnerability of schoolchildren. In addition, the Nigerian government must increase the security of communities prone to attack.
The Nigerian government must focus on sustainable and verifiable solutions for out-of-school children. The country faces a major challenge to ensure that all children, especially the most disadvantaged, attend, stay and learn in school. While enrollment rates are said to be improving, actions must be continued to ensure better education and retention of children in school. The much talked about Almajiri program is a contributing factor to the number of out-of-school children. Therefore, the federal government should work with state governments, development agencies and faith-based organizations to tailor its schooling solutions to Almajiri’s situation. To promote the sustainability of schooling, the government must produce a program that will blend formal education with Islamic education. This strategy will constitute the incentive for the massive schooling of almajiri children. The long-term benefits of schooling will be in addition to efforts to stabilize conflict areas and improve degraded human capital development.