Boko Haram attacks Yola
Houses destroyed by retreating Boko Haram in the city of Yola in Adamawa province, NigeriaGetty

Nigeria's Borno State is in turmoil, plagued by a raging insurgency that has cost dozens of lives in recent weeks alone and seen farmland and property worth millions of naira destroyed. It is also strained by a huge influx of refugees from elsewhere in the country as Boko Haram continues its murderous rampage.

As a result of the massive level of illiteracy in Borno, uneducated youths have been brainwashed into joining the insurgency. Their parents reject so-called Western education – known as Boko – as un-Islamic, and every year less and less young people enrol in school, which is seen as a tool of the colonial West.

It does not help that many of the oldest schools in Borno were established in the colonial era, among them Yerwa Central Primary School, which was opened in 1915, just one year after Nigeria was created by fusing together a number of previously rival states into a colony administered by Britain.

Education another victim of war

As a result of the Boko Haram crisis that began in 2009, many schools have been closed due the risk of violence and others have become camps for displaced people from other districts in Nigeria.

But critics in Borno State say that the local government is actually happy with this situation, as they still receive their allocated education funding from the government in Abuja and are able to pocket it because they have no schools to spend it on.

"I think it is possible for people not to want the war to end because [it] provides another form of looting by government officials from federal to state and local levels. In Borno state [...] we have 27 local government areas and only a few of them are functioning even though all of them receive their allocations at the end of the month," said Mallam Kaka Bolori, a People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate.

"The rest of them simply [share] the allocation [and] claim that they cannot do anything in their respective areas because of the insurgency. Boko Haram has provided a means of looting for government officials in many of these states," he said.

Kaka also blamed the state government for not showing commitment to education, a lack of which he noted has fuelled terrorism in the north-east. He said that despite a number of local areas not having a secondary school, there has been no commitment on the part of local authorities to build new facilities.

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How to stop Boko Haram?

"Ending Boko Haram requires a holistic approach. We must [look at] what caused Boko Haram in the first place. Boko Haram came about as a result of the absence of basic education and opportunities for many, who felt they were entitled to those things. Nobody with proper Islamic education [would join] Boko Haram," he said.

Muhammad Abdullahi, an NGO activist in Borno State, agreed: "This is a society that's already left behind in terms of education, and now instead of the government trying to bridge the gap, it is actively contributing to widening that gap. The international humanitarian and charity foundations as well as the United Nations and the federal government should please come to the aid of the future generation, the children. They really need education."

On Monday 23 November the government ordered that secondary schools in Borno State should re-open, but when I visited the turnout of students was poor, perhaps because there are not enough teachers, or else due to discouragement caused by the long closure.

One headmaster, who wanted to remain anonymous, told me that it was not the teachers alone that should be blamed, but the government, because it did not encourage teachers' welfare. While the government claims to promote public school, it fails to provide funding and Nigeria's elites send their children to be educated privately.

"What you pay for is what you get. Our salaries are terrible compared to the rest of the agencies. I am a husband and father of eight sons and daughters and I am finding life really difficult despite the fact that I have been in the job for more than 20 years. I cannot afford it," he said.

A father of four, Bukar Bukar, added: "The state government have for long been shouting that the public schools are conducive and offer free education without any payment. But [...] the teachers are least paid. We say: 'A hungry man is an angry man - no angry teacher will ever teach well."

Hajiya Ummi, director of the Zab Child Development Foundation, a Nigerian charity, said that the financial situation for parents too was dire: "Due to the current security situation, the majority of the less privileged parents are facing cumbersome financial challenges, which automatically disables them from enrolling their wards to schools and thereafter taking care of their academic bills. These groups of parents need helping hands to educationally invest in their wards, for the benefit of the generality in future."


Ahmed Umar Bolori is a journalist based in Maduguri, Nigeria, and coordinator of the Fa'ash Foundation.


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