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Public Boarding Schools in Nigeria’s Borno State Set to Reopen after almost Three Years due to Boko Haram Threat

The United Nations says Nigeria has the world's largest number of school-age children who are not in class — approximately 10.5 million

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Abdulkadir Abdullahi arranges his school uniform in Maiduguri, Nigeria, October 2016. (C. Oduah/VOA)
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Seventeen-year-old Abdulkadir Abdullahi stands in his bedroom looking at his new school uniform — a white, long-sleeved shirt with a button-down collar and navy blue pants. On Monday, he’ll put them on, along with a new pair of sparkling white tennis shoes. He’ll stuff his new textbooks inside his brand-new book bag.

Abdulkadir is going back to school.

“For almost three years, things have not actually been interesting because we have not been going to school. We were really sad about it, but there was nothing we could do,” Abdulkadir said.

Abdulkadir Abdullahi, 17, looks through his brand-new textbooks in Maiduguri, Nigeria, October 2016. (C. Oduah/VOA)
Abdulkadir Abdullahi, 17, looks through his brand-new textbooks in Maiduguri, Nigeria, October 2016. (C. Oduah/VOA)

His parents spent about $20 to make sure he was prepared for the first day at the biggest all-boys government boarding school in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria.

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For a few years, the school had been closed and, for a while, it hardly looked like a school. Thousands of people who had run to Maiduguri to escape Boko Haram militants took over the building, sleeping in its corridors and cooking large pots of soup in the courtyards.

Boarding schools across Nigeria’s Borno state, like this one in Maiduguri, will reopen Oct. 10 after being closed for more than two years because of the Boko Haram insurgency, Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah). VOA
Boarding schools across Nigeria’s Borno state, like this one in Maiduguri, will reopen Oct. 10 after being closed for more than two years because of the Boko Haram insurgency, Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah). VOA

Most of the boarding schools in Maiduguri had been converted into camps for the internally displaced.

These days, Boko Haram’s violence is not as rampant as it once was. Last week, the state education commissioner, Inuwa Kubo, announced it was time to reopen the schools.

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“Now that peace has gradually returned and we have relocated all these IDPs [internally displaced persons] in the schools, we are going to reopen on the 10th of October,” he said. “I don’t know when last we had a bomb blast across the state; it has been quite some time.”

Dozens of schools destroyed

An undercover intelligence officer in the Civilian Joint Task Force told VOA that Boko Haram is still active in some places. Its members conduct sporadic attacks, particularly in the northern part of the state, around Lake Chad, where the borders of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad intersect. A multinational task force has been operating in the region.

This laboratory science classroom in a high school in Maiduguri, Nigeria, has not been used for more than two years. Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah/VOA)
This laboratory science classroom in a high school in Maiduguri, Nigeria, has not been used for more than two years. Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah/VOA)

In a bid to destroy Western-style education, Boko Haram has directly targeted schools across northeastern Nigeria for the past seven years.

The United Nations says Nigeria has the world’s largest number of school-age children who are not in class — approximately 10.5 million. Boko Haram’s insurgency is partly to blame.

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Last year, Amnesty International stated that at least 70 teachers and more than 100 students were killed or wounded between January 2012 and October 2013 in Maiduguri alone. It said at least 50 schools were either burned down or badly damaged, while 60 more were forced to close.

Baba Goni Ibrahim, a science teacher at an all-girls high school in Maiduguri, Nigeria, looks out of a classroom window at the campus, Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah/VOA)
Baba Goni Ibrahim, a science teacher at an all-girls high school in Maiduguri, Nigeria, looks out of a classroom window at the campus, Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah/VOA)

The secondary school in the town of Chibok in southern Borno became infamous after Boko Haram members invaded it the night of April 14, 2014. The militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, and the school campus was virtually destroyed.

The Borno state government had already decided the previous month to close all secondary schools.

Schools like the one in Chibok are still under reconstruction. Many parents in Chibok have relocated to other areas, but the state government has reached an agreement with the parents who have remained.

“We have decided to allow the students of the secondary school in Chibok that was attacked, to resume on Monday as well; but, the students will use classrooms in the primary school. They will not sleep in the school,” Kubo said.

Excitement, despite insecurity

Security in the area is still unstable. Just last month, two villages, about 10 kilometers away from Chibok, came under attack. A handful of people were killed.

Nonetheless, teachers say they are excited to welcome back their students.

Baba Goni Ibrahim has been teaching science at an all-girls high school in Maiduguri, Nigeria, for the past 20 years, Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah). VOA
Baba Goni Ibrahim has been teaching science at an all-girls high school in Maiduguri, Nigeria, for the past 20 years, Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah). VOA

Baba Goni Ibrahim has been teaching science at an all-girls high school in Maiduguri for the past 20 years. He thinks that many of his students will struggle to get back into the classroom routine, having been away for two and a half years.

“We have to tidy up our belts and make sure we double up our efforts teaching afternoon and morning. We’ll give them a rigorous training to catch up,” Goni said.

The students will pick up exactly where they left off. Those who perform well on an assessment exam will advance to the next level.

The Yerwa Girls Secondary School in Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria’s Borno state, will reopen on Oct. 10, after being closed for more than two years because of the Boko Haram insurgency. Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah/VOA)
The Yerwa Girls Secondary School in Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria’s Borno state, will reopen on Oct. 10, after being closed for more than two years because of the Boko Haram insurgency. Oct. 5, 2016. (C. Oduah/VOA)

All the schools were renovated last month. The government fumigated the buildings and bought new materials.

“We purchased new mattresses for the students because the IDPs who were living in these schools took everything, even cooking utensils. There was virtually nothing left when they left, so we are starting afresh,” Kubo told VOA.

All the same, Abdulkadir says he is happy. He is moving into the dormitory this weekend.

“I know I will miss him, but I prefer him in school than just sitting around,” his mother, Maryam, said as she watched him arrange his belongings.

Abdulkadir is her oldest child. He had been spending his days working as a tailor. Starting Monday, he will spend his days as any other high school student.

“I am excited because I will go and start learning new things,” he said. (VOA)

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Over 100 ‘Chibok Girls’ Rescued From Boko Haram Militants Restart Education in Nigeria

The abductions had sparked worldwide outrage and a "Bring Back Our Girls" movement that gained supporters in the United States, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

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Boko Haram
Chibok girls entertain guests during their send-forth dinner at A Class garden in Abuja, Nigeria. The girls will commence a special foundation program at American University of Nigeria Yola .VOA

Nigeria, September 21, 2017 : More than 100 ”Chibok girls” released by Boko Haram militants, have begun a new phase of their lives. They have started taking classes at the American University of Nigeria after months of rest and recovery under the care of the Nigerian government.

The girls had been expected to start at the university in the city of Yola early next month, and the government threw them a send-off party last week at their rehabilitation center in the capital, Abuja; but, the chairman of the Chibok parents’ association, Yakubu Nkeki, said the start date was moved up because the school year had already begun.

Boko Haram
Some of the 106 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian town of Chibok, are seen dancing joyfully during the send-forth dinner in Abuja, Nigeria, Sept. 13, 2017. (VOA)

“I went with them to the school until they were handed over to the school authority,” Nkeki told VOA’s Hausa service on Tuesday. “Since the school has already started, it was decided that it is best for them to go straight to school so they don’t miss too many classes. They were already starting late.”

At the send-off party, the minister for women’s affairs and social development, Hajia Jummai Alhassan, said the girls will start remedial classes at AUN to prepare them for undergraduate studies in any field of their choice, to be paid for by the federal government.

Boko Haram
Some of the gifts packaged to be given to the 106 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian town of Chibok, are seen during the send-forth dinner in Abuja (VOA)

AUN was already educating 24 girls who escaped Boko Haram shortly after the Islamist radical group, notorious for killing thousands of Nigerians, kidnapped more than 250 students from a secondary school in the Borno state town of Chibok in April 2014.

The abductions sparked worldwide outrage and a “Bring Back Our Girls” movement that gained supporters in the United States, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

The girls who entered the university this week spent 30 to 37 months in Boko Haram captivity before the militants released them in two groups, in October 2016 and May 2017, following negotiations with the Nigerian government.

U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), an early supporter of Bring Back Our Girls, met the girls in Abuja shortly before they left the city and told VOA the former captives generally seemed to be in good shape; but, she said that according to the girls’ caretakers, this followed a long period of medical treatment and psychological therapy.

Boko Haram
In this file photo taken from video released by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist network, May 12, 2014, shows missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok. (VOA)

“Can you imagine being held captive with terrorists, men who frighten you every single day for three years? When you are released, you are not normal, your psyche is not too good. They had to debrief them and help them,” Wilson told VOA.

Wilson said she was told that some girls are also recovering from bullet wounds, machete wounds and snake bites.

ALSO READ Boko Haram Refugees Raped by Nigerian Troops and Police, says Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Wilson said that contrary to some reports, the girls have seen their families since being released; but, she endorsed the government’s decision to keep the girls together in rehab instead of returning them to their homes.

“Because these girls had been together so long, to separate them would have traumatized them in my estimation. I think the decision to keep them together was the best thing they could have done,” she said.

More than 100 girls from Chibok remain in Boko Haram captivity, three-and-a-half years after they were taken.

At the send-off party, Women’s Affairs Minister Alhassan expressed optimism the rest of the girls will be freed.

“I assure you that by the grace of God, we will have our remaining girls released,” she said. (VOA)