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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)

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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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)

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“Boko Haram Leaders Also Use Religion as A Prod to Violence”, Confesses Boko Haram Defector

Umar is now in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after fleeing the Boko Haram camp

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Boko Haram defector Bana Umar is seen at an undisclosed location. Umar agreed to be photographed on condition that his face not be shown. VOA
  • Umar was a fighter for Boko Haram, the Islamist radical group
  • Umar believes that the group manipulates Islam to its own violent ends
  • Umar is now in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after fleeing the Boko Haram camp

Maiduguri/Washington, August 27, 2017: The way Bana Umar tells it, VOA and other broadcasters helped convince him to leave Boko Haram.

Until the night of August 18, Umar was a fighter for the Islamist radical group, living at a camp in the vast Sambisa Forest, one of the group’s long-time strongholds in northeastern Nigeria.

The experience was certainly exciting. Umar says he served as a bodyguard for a commander, Abu Geidam, who he describes as very close to Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s best known leader.

And he saw action across Nigeria’s Borno State. “I have been to war about six times,” he says. “I fought in Wulari. I fought in Bita. I participated in the fighting around Chad. I was in the group that repelled Nigerian soldiers whenever they ventured into Sambisa.”

But his conscience was just as active as his gun. When asked if what Boko Haram does is good and right, he says it is not, because the group attacks people “mercilessly and unjustly,” and in his view, manipulates Islam to its own violent ends.

Boko Haram defectors confession
FILE – This image taken from video released by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria in May 2014 shows leader Abubakar Shekau, the group’s most prominent leader. VOA

Radio prompted him to make an escape plan. Umar says he heard promises from the Nigerian chief of army staff, General Tukur Buratai, that defectors from Boko Haram would be welcomed, not punished. And he heard how Boko Haram’s deadly ambushes and suicide bombings were received in the outside world.

“Many of us listened to radio stations like BBC and VOA,” he says. “I listened to these radio stations frequently to the extent that when I laid down to sleep I would be thinking of what I heard. I realized that all our activities were evil. We killed. We stole. We dispossessed people of their properties in the name of religion. But what we are doing is not religion. Finally I got fed up with the group.”

Umar is now in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after fleeing the Boko Haram camp. He described his experiences this week in an interview with VOA Hausa Service reporter Haruna Dauda. His comments, translated from Hausa, provide insight into how the militants recruit and retain fighters and are managing to survive in the face of a multi-nation offensive.

Persuaded to join, scared to leave

Umar is 27 years old and hails from Banki, a town on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon. Until 2014, he made his living as a cell phone repairman and burning CDs.

Radical Islamist group, Boko Haram
Boko Haram militants (in camouflage) embrace and shake hands with Boko Haram prisoners, released in exchange for a group of 82 Chibok girls, who were held captive for three years by the Islamist militant group, near Kumshe, Nigeria, May 6, 2017. VOA

But that year, Boko Haram overran the town. Umar says his friend, Abu Mujaheed, lured him into becoming a member of the group. All Nigerians are infidels, and only the followers of Abubakar Shekau are true Muslims, Mujaheed said. Join and you can fight to kill all the infidels.

Umar joined, but says he quickly got scared and wanted to run. He didn’t, he says, because Abu Mujaheed told him he would be killed if he tried to escape.

Asked this week if that was true, Umar said there is no doubt about it. “Even mere rumor or allegation that someone is contemplating leaving the group would lead to the killing of the person,” he says.

He says Boko Haram also discouraged defectors by telling them General Buratai’s promise of amnesty for any escapee was a ruse.

There are more than 1,000 Boko Haram members who would like to leave the group, Umar says. “There are many people that were abducted from their home towns who don’t know the way back to their places of origin. They [Boko Haram leaders] preach to such people not to leave, as if it was divine for them to be there.”

He adds: “Even some original members of the sect now want to leave because soldiers have intensified the war against them unlike in the past.”

Boko Haram defectors
FILE – Family members wait to claim bodies of suicide attack victims at a hospital in Konduga, outside Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 16, 2017. The attack was blamed on Boko Haram militants. VOA

All Boko Haram members must take new names when they join the group, and Bana Umar’s name was changed to Abu Mustapha. He says he became a fighter, not a commander. He said the militants were living in the Jimiya section of the Sambisa Forest, which, according to him, was the headquarters for Boko Haram.

At one time, he implies, living conditions were decent. In 2014, Boko Haram ruled large parts of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, and could operate almost at will.

Now, he says, “Life is difficult. It is not what it used to be in the past. Food is difficult for everyone.”

Some militants grow their own food, he says. “But even when you farm, your leader could take all your farm produce from you in the name of religion. You are always told that your leader has rights over all you have and yourself,” he says.

Boko Haram leaders also use religion as a prod to violence, he says.

“They use religion to tell us to kill with the promise of going to paradise. Leaders quote profusely from the Quran and the sayings of the prophet [Mohammed] to support their arguments. As they explain to make us understand their own point of view as the absolute truth, we must keep saying Allah is great, Allah is great. Then we would go out to kill,” he says.

Boko Haram kills number of people across Nigeria
FILE – A photo shows a general view of one of the biggest camps for people displaced by Boko Haram and likeminded Islamist extremists in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 28, 2016. VOA

A call to ‘repent’

Boko Haram has killed at least 20,000 people across Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger since it launched its insurgency against the Nigerian government in 2009. Attacks and bombings continue, even though the joint task force sponsored by those countries and Benin has stripped Boko Haram of nearly all the territory it once controlled, which leader Abubakar Shekau said would form the base of a “caliphate.”

Also readIslamic Terrorism Again? Boko Haram Islamic Terrorist gun down 14 in Maiduguri, Nigeria

With the weight of the group’s deeds bearing down on him, Bana Umar felt a growing need to flee. He didn’t act, however, until someone else encouraged him to believe what General Buratai promised.

He escaped on the night of August 18 with that person — the wife of his commander, Abu Geidam. On the 20th, they turned themselves in at a Nigerian army base in Maiduguri.

Asked what he would say to Boko Haram fighters still in the Sambisa Forest, Umar says: “I am calling them to repent, especially those who want to come out but are afraid… Let people know that soldiers would not do anything to whoever voluntarily repents. I came out and no one harms me. Not one single soldier lays his hand on me.”

Nigerian officials are currently debriefing Bana Umar, as they do with all Boko Haram members who leave the group voluntarily. When they finish, he will be reintegrated into Nigerian society, although not in his hometown of Banki. He will be taken to another location where he isn’t known, to make a fresh start. (VOA)

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Study: 9/11 Survivors May Face the Risk of Developing Increased Heart, Lung Diseases Years Later

The monumental terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11 have managed to leave behind scars that are much more than just skin-deep

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The 9/11 attacks. wikimedia
  • A recent study shows that the survivors may be at an increased long-term risk of asthma, other similar respiratory diseases, and heart attack
  • The findings indicate that intense exposure on a single day – the first day of the disaster – contributes substantially to the risk of developing chronic conditions
  • The authors used data from the WTC Health Registry cohort to examine the long term health effects of acute exposure to the dust cloud or physical injury caused by the terrorist attack

Washington, July 18, 2017: The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, have made the accident a historical event, having left behind scars that are much more than just skin-deep. A recent study shows that the survivors may be at an increased long-term risk of asthma, other similar respiratory diseases, and heart attack.

The association between physical injury or acute exposure to the dust cloud on the morning of September 11, 2001, and chronic diseases up to ten to eleven years later (2010-2012) were examined and analyzed by researchers at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

According to the corresponding author Robert Brackbill, the findings indicate that intense exposure on a single day – the first day of the disaster – contributes substantially to the risk of developing chronic conditions. He also mentioned, “Continued monitoring of people who were present in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre on 11th September by medical providers is warranted for the foreseeable future.”

The researchers observed that the number of types of injuries, such as fractures, head injuries, or sprains, a person sustained on 11th September 2001 was associated with an increased risk of angina or heart attack in a dose-dependent manner. This means that the risk of having angina or a heart attack went up with every additional injury type.

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According to ANI, exposure to dust, PTSD and being a rescue worker, as well as current smoking were associated with a higher risk of non-neoplastic lung disease (lung conditions not involving tumors) other than just asthma. Dust exposure, on its own, was associated with an increased risk of asthma. But none of these risk factors were associated with a higher risk of diabetes.

Out of the total number of 8,701 people who were a part of this study, 41% had been intensely exposed to the dust cloud, 10% had a single injury, 2% had two types of injury and 1% had three or more.

In the survey, the researchers also noticed 92 incident cases of heart disease, 327 new cases of diabetes, 308 cases of asthma, and 297 cases of non-neoplastic lung disease among 7,503 area workers, 249 rescue workers, 131 residents and 818 bystanders – the most heavily exposed groups.

The authors used data from the WTC Health Registry cohort to examine the long term health effects of acute exposure to the dust cloud, or physical injury caused by the terrorist attack. The WTC Health Registry is responsible for monitoring the physical and mental health of 71,431 persons exposed to the 9/11 attacks.

In the study, a lack of specific information on the severity, location, and treatment of injuries, as well as on the circumstances in which they were sustained meant that the number of types of injuries was used as a proxy measure of injury severity. However, the authors mentioned that it has been shown by previous researchers that more than one type of injury can be associated with increased risk of death and longer stays in the hospital.

The study has been published in the Injury Epidemiology journal.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter @dubumerang