The persistent cases of abduction of schoolgirls in the North by the Boko Haram insurgents have raised serious threat to the campaign for girl-child education in Nigeria. Chika Mefor reports.
Education is said to be the backbone of any development in a nation. It empowers people and strengthens the nation. Girl-child education by its right not only helps in nation building, but it is imperative for sustainable economic growth. Nigeria still has 10.5 million out-of-school children, the world’s highest number. Sixty per cent of those children are in northern Nigeria. In the north, girl child education has often been given a minimal attention. Though girl-child education is under the Millennium Development goal enshrined under the United Nation’s resolution in 1996, and which Nigeria is a signatory to, but many girls are still out school.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 40 per cent of Nigerian children aged six to 11 do not attend any primary school with the Northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country, particularly for girls.
Rachel Hatch, Research Associate at the Education Policy and Data Center, added that in many northern states more than 50 per cent of young women ages 15-24 have no experience with formal education. This was even before the insurgency and the various abductions in schools.
The abduction of an estimated 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State by Boko Haram testified to the magnitude of risk that girls and young women bear when they attend school. Though some of the abducted Chibok school girls either returned themselves or were rescued, it sent a signal that the fragile girl-child education in the country especially in the north was at a breaking point.
While about 113 girls were yet to return after four years, the nation woke up to the news of another abduction of 110 girls in their school in Dapchi, Yobe state. Though the girls were later returned except for Leah Sharibu who was held back because she refused to convert to Islam, the tale they brought back from their sojourn were the same; their captors had asked them never to return to school.
One of the freed Dapchi girls Aisha Kachalla, said during an interview with newsmen that the Boko Haram warned her and the other girls not to pursue their education any further. Aisha who has been reunited with her parents, said she was scared to go back to school because of the Boko Haram warning.
Kachalla Bukar, who is the secretary of the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls’ parents’ group, also reechoed Kachala’s words that the sect has urged the parents not to send their children to school.
“When they came, they told us that they were returning the girls not because somebody gave them money, but out of their freewill. We thanked them. Then they told us that we must never return our girls to western school again; we said we will do as they said. They preached to us for some time, and we said we will heed to their sermons,” he said.
Many fear that the warning by the sect would make many parents to withdraw their children from school. Kenneth Menyi, a psychologist who works at the Psychologist Magazine expressed fear that many children would be scared of going to school, thereby increasing the rate of out of school children.
“Even if the children will want to go, the parents will not allow them. I can tell you that with the trauma, the returned girls went through, before they will want to go to school, it will take time.
That is the reason they need counseling after what they passed through,” he said.
Dr. Manassah Allen, an activist and a native of Chibok where the first schoolgirls abduction was recorded, said that insurgency had no doubt brought about a lower drive for education, particularly, the girl-child education.
According to him, many girls in the Northeast had escaped the insurgency, while others are with child, children for the Boko Haram fighters adding that their lives were negatively affected and that education is far from their minds.
“It affected education of girl-child a great deal. Even before the insurgency, education was at the lowest level. You can see an entire local government without secondary school, only few functional primary schools. Some of the schools don’t have qualified teachers while others don’t have teachers at all.
“The insurgency and abductions have further aggravated the problem. If you come to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, you will see teenagers, young children just breeding children. You will hear stories that they were in school before but due to the insurgency they are no more. All they could do is to get married.
“That is those that are lucky to escape, while those that are not lucky, are married off to the insurgents. That has affected not just their education but their life negatively and having given birth to children, some of them, will not like to go back to school again. They are just thinking about how to get empowered and cater for their children. The issue of school is far from their mind.
“I have met one girl that had escaped with her mother to Cameroon. The insurgents killed her father. She came back to look for her grandmother and was abducted. Her mother died in Cameroon. She was married off to a Boko Haram fighter who was later killed. She then escaped but went to her community. There she saw that sects were still living around her community. She had to come back to the IDP camp. We were able to get something here through the non-governmental organisation to assist and counsel her. She is already having a baby who is four years old. She is just 21. Without the insurgency, she would have finished her secondary education by now and probably would have been in higher institution. But now she is thinking of how to survive and take care of her baby,” he said.
Allen added that the various aids from various organisations and government was geared toward building accommodation and providing feeding for the numerous displaced persons adding that insurgency has dealt a serious blow on the access to education especially in the North east.
“On ground, you see massive schools being rebuild in Maiduguri. Majority of them have not been completed for the past six years. The existing schools in Maiduguri are overstretched because many students are coming in from other local government areas and even neighboring states,” he said, adding, “Bama, has not been rebuilt and it is the largest local government after Maiduguri metropolis. We are concentrating on building houses where people will live. School is not the priority now.”
Allen however stated that the abduction of the girls in his community, Chibok, though a huge blow, has not deterred his people from seeking education.
He said: “In Chibok, most of the schools where built by the missionaries, most of the people are aware of the value of education long before the abduction. Many of the people in Chibok have sent their children away to other places so that they would be able to go to school. Some have gone as far as Lagos. Generally the interest is there, but some of our people with merger income, especially the peasant farmers cannot afford to send their children out.”
Also speaking, Ummi Bukar who is working with a Non-governmental Organisation, Page Initiative, lamented that insurgency especially in the north has really lowered access to education as most of the people, especially girls are only thinking of how to survive in their world characterized by insecurity.
“Girl-child education in the northeast is already the poorest because of the insurgency, not just the abduction. In our work we usually come across girls who are out of school either because the insurgents have set their homes ablaze or they are in IDP camps,” Bukar said.
“Some are no longer thinking about school because they have to fend for themselves. The girls are the ones who fend for their families.”
However, the father of the only girl, Leah, who is still in the hands of the Boko Haram, Nata Shabiru said that even with the abduction of his daughter, he will never withdraw his children from school.
Shabiru, who spoke with LEADERSHIP Newspaper over the phone, wondered what would be the fate of children in the country without education adding that to defeat the insurgency, girl-child education must be encouraged.
“No, I will not withdraw any of my children from school. Even now my daughters are still in school. By God’s grace when she (Leah) comes back, she will still continue with her education. If they say we should not take our children to school, what will be their fate?” he queried.