The Islamic State of West Africa Province should not be allowed to recruit the 13.2 million out-of-school children in Nigeria who could serve as breeding criminals for kidnapping and armed robbery. The insurgents are desperate to overrun the North-East Nigeria and render the government weak to respond to their criminal tendencies that had kept that part of Nigeria under their control. Since the merger with ISIS, Boko Haram has developed into a desperate monster, devouring its victims and inflicting pains on the people and government. The group has changed tactics from attacking mosques, markets, public buildings and barracks to abduction of defenceless people.
I want to beg the federal, state and local governments to work hard so that the 13.2 million out-of-school children are not recruited into Boko Haram or enlisted into kidnapping gangs. In the 21st century, we cannot afford to produce 13.2 million jihadists, kidnappers and armed robbers. Let us work hard to eliminate out-of-school children.
Sixty nine per cent of the out-of-school children in the North could be classified as “vulnerable“ and exposed to the jihadists and threatened by various terror organisations. A majority of the children could be recruited into Boko Haram terror group. The situation is that an entire generation of children in the North-East is being robbed of their right to education, an essential ingredient for their future and for the development of the region, which for years has lagged behind other parts of the country. Without urgent action to address the lack of access to education occasioned by the Boko Haram attacks, the lives of these children could become locked in unending cycles of underachievement and poverty. Boko Haram is also a kidnapping group today having kidnapped some of these out-of-school children and recruited them into their terror group.
For example, in Borno State, one of the most affected states, schools at all levels were closed in 22 out of 27 local government areas for at least two years, and public secondary schools in the state capital, Maiduguri, only reopened in February 2016 after internally displaced persons, who occupied most of the schools, were relocated elsewhere. Education might have been grounded to a complete standstill in even relatively safe Maiduguri if it were not for some private schools that remained open when state authorities shut down public schools in March 2014.
As schools become targets, children are living and working on the streets – and the government isn’t doing much to protect them. The unceasing conflict in North-East has destroyed the institutions meant to protect children. Nearly half of the children aged between seven and 14 years old in the North-East are missing out on school.
Generations of children have paid the price in the North-East that has not been at peace since 2010.
UNICEF said 69 per cent of Nigeria’s out-of-school children are located in the northern part of the country. Bauchi State has the highest number with 1.1 million children followed by Katsina with 781,500.
UNICEF’s Deputy Representative in Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, made the revelation at a Northern Nigeria Traditional Leaders Conference on out-of-school children held in Kaduna.
The so-called Islamic State is collapsing. In Syria, Iraq and Libya, it is losing territory and they are using West Africa as their recruiting ground. Its ambitions of a global caliphate are unrealised. But perhaps this was predicted, even anticipated. First came the grooming, then the recruitment and training to create a new army of child jihadists, who might grow into adult militants. The IS and Boko Haram are the next generation of hate in West Africa.
As children are immersed in this public violence in the North-East, they are also targeted by ISIS and Boko Haram members who lure them with various techniques. Insurgents provide incentives to poor families by offering to pay parents hundreds of dollars per month for each child they send, and some of the children being slaughtered silently. ISIS calls these children, who have been featured in many ISIS propaganda releases, “Cubs of the Caliphate.”
Boko Haram and ISIS could target the 13.2 million out-of-school children specifically, aiming to create a generation of loyal followers who are indoctrinated from an early age and therefore might be less likely to dissent. It’s an issue that should worry everyone in the country.