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Nigerian State Closes Schools After 140 Students Kidnapped

Student wares lie on a bed after 140 boarding students of Bethel Baptist School were kidnapped by gunmen in Kaduna, northwestern Nigeria, on July 5, 2021.

Nigerian authorities in northwest Kaduna state have closed 13 schools after more than 140 students were kidnapped Monday from a Baptist high school. The closures follow a string of armed attacks on schools that authorities say threaten to permanently damage Nigerian children's education.

Kaduna State Schools Quality Assurance Authority officials say a risk assessment shows the 13 schools are the most vulnerable to attacks.

The attack on Bethel Baptist High school Monday is the latest in a spate of school kidnappings for ransom and the fourth such mass kidnapping in the state in five months.

Kaduna authorities said 26 people, including a woman teacher, have been rescued and that troops are searching for missing kidnap victims.

But a local clergyman said an initial verification showed only 20 out of 180 students boarding at the school before the attack had been accounted for.

Amnesty International's Seun Bakare says attacks and school closures signal severe threats to education in Nigeria.

"We risk the loss of a generation if these attacks on schools and attacks on education continue," Bakare said. "It is so shameful that on one hand, bandits and Boko Haram are attacking children and their right to education, on the other hand, the government's only response is to shutdown schools. The government's response is also an attack on education and this is completely unacceptable"

The recent wave of kidnappings continues to worsen the education crisis in Nigeria's north, a region known for low levels of literacy and enrollment, and accounting for more than 70 percent of Nigeria's school dropouts.

Despite the government's pledge to secure the schools, critics say it is either unwilling or unable to fix the problem.

"We don't want the government to make a mere pronouncement that they're on top of the situation, we want the government to take responsibility, we want the government to take actions that will abort such occurrences," said Emmanuel Hwande, a spokesperson at Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT.

On Sunday, gunmen also attacked a National Tuberculosis and Leprosy center and abducted eight people, including an infant.

The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, says 2.8 million children in the northeast need education emergency support due to violence in the region.

Unless addressed, experts say many more children will be risking a bleak future.

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