One million Nigerian children are likely out of 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 northwestern and central Nigeria since December, and dozens remain in captivity.
UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, said there have been 20 attacks on schools in Nigeria this year and more than 1,400 students have been taken away and 16 have died.
Most were released after ransom negotiations, but only after weeks or months of captivity, often in appalling conditions in rural camps.
“Families and communities continue to fear sending children back to their classrooms due to the wave of attacks on schools and kidnappings of students,” UNICEF said in a statement.
More than 37 million Nigerian children are expected to start the new school year this month, the agency said, while around a million are unlikely to return.
Some state governments have temporarily closed schools after kidnappings.
Northwestern and central states have long struggled with tit-for-tat violence between nomadic pastoralist and farming communities fighting for land and water.
Attacks have intensified with the emergence of heavily armed criminal gangs, known locally as bandits, who loot villages, steal livestock and kidnap for ransom.
This year, bandit gangs have targeted schools and colleges in northwest Nigeria, snatching students and taking them to forest hiding places while they negotiate payments.
About 70 students kidnapped nearly two weeks ago were released this week in northwestern Zamfara state, where the military has launched an offensive against kidnapper gangs.