Skip to main content

Fear and school: How Boko Haram cripples children's future

By Nima Elbagir and Lillian Leposo, CNN
updated 12:44 PM EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
  • Up to 300 schoolgirls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram from Chibok, Nigeria
  • Parents, children say they are now too scared to go to school in the region
  • Father tells CNN: "No one can afford losing their daughter"

Chibok, Nigeria (CNN) -- It's the beginning of the second semester in public schools across Nigeria and students are flocking back after the vacation.

But in most of Borno state, the heartland of the militant group Boko Haram, the desks are empty and the playing fields are quiet.

Western education is a sin in the eyes of the terror group --- and nowhere has that message more clearly hit home than in their recent horrific attack on Chibok Girls Secondary School. Only the walls of the classrooms, library and science laboratories remain: a charred shell of what was once, the pride of Chibok.

But even more painful is the fact that more than 200 of the girls who took classes here are still missing, kidnapped from the school during that night of terror.

Mother of missing girl: 'Our hearts hurt'
Nigerians take security into own hands
Nigeria: 54 girls ID'd in Boko Haram tape
Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said. Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said.
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls

Daniel Muvia, a resident of Chibok who witnessed the attack on his village, says he is too scared to take his daughters to school. Since the attack he's kept them at home, where he felt they would be safer.

"I am scared of sending them to school," he says. "I'm not feeling good that they're at home and I'm not feeling good to send them to school because of the attacks."

Muvia's dilemma mirrors that of almost every parent in Chibok: torn between education for their child and their family's safety.

On the way to Chibok from Abuja, the country's capital, travelers meet one police or military checkpoint after another. But join the main rough dirt road to Chibok and the government security presence seems to taper off.

It all leaves local residents feeling vulnerable and afraid. Muvia couldn't forgive himself if he sent his daughter to school and then heard that something had happened to her. "No one can afford losing their daughter," he says.

In an article on his website "Education for All" Gordon Brown, the U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, says 10.5 million children in Nigeria are yet to go to school and that the high levels of illiteracy are now an economic problem, as well as a social disaster, for the country.

Map: Nima Elbagir's route to Chibok  Map: Nima Elbagir's route to Chibok
Map: Nima Elbagir's route to ChibokMap: Nima Elbagir's route to Chibok

Analysts say that if the Boko Haram attacks on schools continue unabated then those levels of illiteracy will significantly increase, further compromising the future of the country's young people.

CNN interviewed one of the girls who managed to escape from Boko Haram on the night they were taken from their dormitory. Though she hopes to go back to school soon so she can fulfil her dream of becoming a doctor, she's still very scared. "If in Chibok, I'll never go again," she says.

But like many families in the area her family is too poor to send her to a boarding school far away from the village. All the people in Chibok seem to have left is hope. Muvia prays a day will come when his daughters will be free to pursue their futures and become lawyers, doctors or engineers.

"When I see all these people doing their jobs, I have the desire -- or the hope -- that I want my children to be like them," he says.

"I have very high hopes for them."

READ: 'Fear is everywhere:' Boko Haram threat keeps abducted Nigerian girls' village awake

READ: The road to Boko Haram's heartland

READ: Opinion: Negotiation, not force, way to #BringBackOurGirls

Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Thu October 9, 2014
Arwa Damon meets two young orphans, now in Niger, whose mother died years ago -- and whose father was killed in a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria.
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
A small river marks the border between Niger and Nigeria -- a shallow divide between security and the horrors of Boko Haram.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Arwa Damon reports that U.S. sources now believe Boko Haram insurgents may be hiding on the islands of Lake Chad.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Isha Sesay talks to journalist Aminu Abubakar who says approximately 500 people have been killed in northeastern Nigeria.
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
A policeman stand beside children holding as members of Lagos based civil society groups hold rally calling for the release of missing Chibok school girls at the state government house, in Lagos, Nigeria, on May 5, 2014. Boko Haram on Monday claimed the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria that has triggered international outrage, threatening to sell them as
Police in Nigeria's capital Tuesday made a U-turn, saying a ban on protests in support of the more than 200 girls kidnapped in April does not exist.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
A top Nigerian official claims to know where the missing schoolgirls are located, as Arwa Damon reports.
updated 5:00 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
Arwa Damon reports on Nigerian schools sitting empty as residents live in fear of Boko Haram.
updated 7:11 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
A large part of northern and central Nigeria is now at the mercy of intensified attacks by Boko Haram, and the group seems to be embarking on a new phase of its campaign.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
Half of a yellow sun poster
It's one of the most important Nigerian stories to hit the big screen -- yet the director says Nigeria's bureaucracy is purposely preventing its release.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
Opinion: The media turns Boko Haram into 'superstar monsters' -- which is exactly what they want.
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Tue May 13, 2014
CNN's Nima Elbagir speaks with the mothers of two missing Nigerian schoolgirls.
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
With fear in her eyes, a young woman tells CNN's Nima Elbagir, the first journalist to visit Chibok, how she fled gun-toting Islamic extremists.
updated 6:39 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Over the last 20 years, the narrative on the African continent has shifted from Afro-pessimism to Afro-optimism.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Women in repressive countries are fighting back against injustice, writes Frida Ghitis.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Biyi Bandele, who recently directed Oscar nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor in "Half of a Yellow Sun," discusses his remarkable journey.
updated 6:24 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
From regular people to celebrities, here are some of the people participating in the movement.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Nigeria woke up to a brand new economy, apparently. But the country are suffering and its people responded with a hiss.
updated 5:00 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
At 23, many people around the world are still at university -- at that age, Gossy Ukanwoke had already started one.
updated 12:23 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Oprah, if you're reading this, for goodness sake return this woman's calls.
Are you in Nigeria? Share your thoughts on the schoolgirls' kidnapping, but please stay safe.