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Located in West Africa, Nigeria faces challenges similar to other countries in the region such as widespread impoverishment, inequality, corruption, frequent violations of democratic rights and liberties by the government, as well as the presence of non-state armed groups. After multiple military dictatorships during the 20th century, the parliamentary regime has been uninterrupted but weak since its establishment in 1999. Currently, the country scores a 0.33 out of 1 in V-Dem Institute’s “Liberal Democracy Index” for 2023 and is characterized as an “electoral autocracy”.


V-Dem Institute’s “Academic Freedom Index” rates the state of academic freedom in Nigeria at 0.91 out of 1, which puts the country way above both the West African average of 0.69 and the global average of 0.59. Despite this, however, there are very serious obstacles to accessing education, including threats to academic freedom posed by non-state armed groups, the police and armed forces, and mob violence.


Non-state armed groups, especially radical Islamist groups like the Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), constitute the largest threat to academic freedom, directly targeting educational institutions. In the “Education Under Attack 2020” report, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) reported that between 2009 and 2018, Boko Haram has killed 611 teachers, damaged 910 schools and forced a total of 1500 schools to close down through repeated attacks on educational institutions.[1] Although the frequency of attacks have been decreasing over time, they still pose a substantial threat to education at all levels. For example, on January 17, 2017, Boko Haram was responsible for an attack on Maiduguri University which killed a child and wounded 17 others. Boko Haram and its splinter groups were responsible for at least 7 attacks on schools, teachers, and students in 2020 and 2021.[2] ISWAP was responsible for 12 school attacks in 2022. More recently, on December 4, 2023, there was another attempted attack on Maiduguri University when an improvised explosive device was found in the entrance of the school but defused by the police. 


In addition to attacking campuses directly and attempting to harm individuals or school buildings, non-state armed groups also frequently abduct students from schools. The infamous 2014 Chibok village school abduction of 276 schoolgirls carried out by Boko Haram has become one of the most widely known examples. While groups like Boko Haram attack schools with an ideological motivation, other armed groups that have no cohesive ideology, often referred to as “bandits”, also abduct students in order to demand ransom for their release. Scholars at Risk (SAR) has documented 25 such cases since the beginning of its reporting period in 2012. At least 9 of them have occurred in 2023. In March of 2024, more than 300 students were kidnapped in northern Nigeria over two separate attacks set two days apart. While the total number of students kidnapped by these groups is uncertain, it has been reported that the number of students kidnapped exceeded 1000 in 2020 and 2021.[3]


The harm the police and security forces in Nigeria cause academic freedom goes beyond their incapacity to protect schools against attacks by non-state paramilitary groups. In 2018 and 2019, the police cracked down on protesting students on 10 different occasions.[4]  On April 29, 2020, the police detained a university professor for speaking out against unpaid salaries on a Facebook post.[5] In 2020 and 2021, the police and the armed forces attacked and dispersed many student groups protesting issues ranging from the government closure of universities to tuition increases.[6] During the responses of the government forces, many students were detained, beaten, and tear gassed. On September 20, 2021, one student was killed by the Nigerian army when they fired on the protesting students.


Finally, academic freedom is threatened by mob violence especially in the northern parts of the country where Sharia law is imposed. On May 12, 2022, a student from the Shehu Shagari College of Education was violently killed by a mob accusing her of “blasphemy” due to messages she shared on social media. Although “blasphemy” is not a crime recognized by the constitution of Nigeria, some regional governments enforce it under Sharia law.


Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) continues to monitor the persistent threats to academic freedom in Nigeria . We call on the Nigerian government to immediately end the violation of the rights of students and faculty perpetrated by the police and the military. ESW further calls on the Nigerian government to ensure a safe and free learning environment in all schools and universities by protecting these communities against attacks by non-state armed groups. We invite all members of the international community dedicated to upholding human rights globally to join our call.


(Last updated: June 14, 2024)


Please send appeals to the following:


Bola Ahmed Tinubu

President of Nigeria

Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation

Shehu Shagari Complex,

Three Arms Zone, Abuja.


Femi Gbajabiamila

Chief of Staff to the President

Shehu Shagari Complex,

Three Arms Zone, Abuja


Yusuf Maitama Tuggar

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Tafawa Balewa House, Central Business District, Abuja       

(234) 9 52365 223


[1] Education Under Attack 2020: A Global Study of Attacks on Schools, Universities, their Students and Staff, 2017-2019 (2020). (p. 185) Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

[2] Education Under Attack 2022. (2022). Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. (p. 160)

[3] Non-State Armed Groups and Attacks on Education: Exploring Trends and Practices to Curb Violations. (2023). Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. (p. 18)

[4] Education Under Attack 2020: A Global Study of Attacks on Schools, Universities, their Students and Staff, 2017-2019 (2020). (pp. 188-189) Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

[5] Education Under Attack 2022. (2022). Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. (p. 162)

[6] Education Under Attack 2022. (2022). Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. (pp. 162-163)

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