One million Nigerian children will likely be kept away from school due to the threat of violence after a series of mass kidnappings and attacks on students this year, the UN said on Wednesday.
More than 1,000 students have been kidnapped en masse for ransom by criminal gangs in the northwestern and central states of Nigeria since December, with dozens still in captivity.
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said there were 20 attacks on schools in Nigeria this year, taking more than 1,400 students and 16 were killed.
Most have been released after rescue negotiations, but only after weeks or months of captivity, often in dire conditions in rural camps.
“Families and communities remain fearful of sending children back to their classrooms due to the series of school attacks and kidnapping of students,” UNICEF said in a statement.
More than 37 million Nigerian children are due to start the new school year this month, the agency said, while an estimated one million likely would not return.
Some state governments have temporarily closed schools after the kidnappings.
The northwestern and central states have long struggled with tit-for-tat violence between nomadic herders and farming communities fighting for land and water.
The attacks escalated with the emergence of heavily armed criminal gangs, known locally as bandits, who raid villages, steal livestock and kidnap for ransom.
This year, gangs of bandits have attacked schools and universities in northwestern Nigeria, kidnapping students and taking them to hiding places in the forest while negotiating payments.
Around 70 students kidnapped almost a fortnight ago were released this week in northwestern Zamfara state, where the army has launched an offensive against gangs of bandit kidnappers.