By Aminu Kauraly
More than 300 children kidnapped from school are still in the hands of criminal gangs in Nigeria, with many now missing for nearly two months. Some of those abducted are just two years old.
While many of the more than 1,000 children taken have been released, often after extortionate ransom amounts were reportedly paid, hundreds of families are still desperately waiting for news of their children.
Some parents spoke to BBC News about the anguish they are experiencing and shared their thoughts about the struggle to educate children in the face of such danger.
‘They are the children of nobodies’
Hadiza Hashim is the mother of five children marched at gunpoint out of the gates of an Islamic school in Tegina, Niger State, on 30 May, when 134 students were kidnapped.
The two youngest, Walid and Rahama, are just two and three years old. They were later released along with other toddlers who were too small to walk. But their three elder siblings remain in captivity.
The eldest, Umma, is just 13 and loves watching cartoons like Tom and Jerry with her younger brothers and sisters. Wracked with anxiety, her mother has not heard from them since the kidnapping.
The day of the abduction, a Sunday, she describes rushing to the school after hearing gunshots. Forced to take cover for her own safety, from her hiding place she saw dozens of armed men enter the school.
“They broke the padlock and started shouting for the children to remove their shoes, to prevent them from running away. The children started screaming for their parents.
“I saw my two-year-old carried by a man with a gun. He was shouting at the boy to shut up because he was screaming for me, his mother. I couldn’t do anything,” Mrs Hashim says.
The two younger children are traumatised by the experience. Mrs Hashim describes how they wake up in the middle of the night screaming, terrified they will be taken again. They keep asking where their elder sisters and brother are, why their beds remain empty.
Mrs Hashim teaches science in a nearby junior school, now closed because of the insecurity caused by criminal gangs. The kidnappers have reportedly asked for the equivalent of more than $100,000 (£73,000) for the children.
Parents of the missing children are desperately trying to raise funds, but a schoolteacher’s salary in the area is less than $400 a year, making the sums demanded far beyond their reach.
She fears her children are being forgotten because they are poor.
“People have ignored what has happened because they are the children of nobodies. If they were the children of somebody, they wouldn’t be left in the wilderness for weeks with no news. It wouldn’t be allowed,” Mrs Hashim says.