My heart went out to the families of the boys who were kidnapped from Government Boys Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, when they were missing. During the time that their sons were in captivity, I cannot imagine how the Parents would have felt. I think that I can safely say without equivocation, that, apart from death, kidnapping/abduction of a child is one of the worst things that can happen to a family – not knowing the whereabouts or fate of your child who is in the hands of the most violent, vicious types of criminals (I call them criminals, because their actions have nothing to do with the teachings of Islam or any religion of the Book). I am sure you will all agree with me that, this has gone way beyond pontification, rhetorics, and debate on whether the President attends the National Assembly (NASS) to address the members on insecurity, or whether he was in Katsina when this ugly incident occurred and he didn’t visit the Parents of the abductees etc. It is a matter for serious and immediate action. These days, in Nigeria, we have been moving from one negative and undesirable hashtag to another – #BringBackOurGirls, #LekkiShootings, and now, #BringBackOurBoys. What next? It is time for Government to respond meaningfully and impactfully, to our security challenges.
Apart from rescuing these children, going forward, what steps will Government take to ensure that children are safe while they are in school? Believe it or not, another incident of kidnapping has already been reported in Katsina State after #BringBackOurBoys; one in which about 88 girls were said to have been rescued from their abductors. Beefing up the security in all schools (especially up North) is a given, as children cannot just put a stop to their education. Education is the key to the development of any society; but, these criminal elements are instilling fear into Parents with their concentrated and continuous attacks on educational institutions, in order to ensure that they keep their children out of school – something that would be tantamount to conceding defeat to those who senselessly say formal education is an abomination, if Parents and their children are scared away (of course, being scared away is a natural reaction – who wouldn’t be afraid? With the kind of violence that Boko Haram has unleashed in the past and is still unleashing, most people would be fearsome). Already, Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of out-of-school children in the world, and one of the biggest problems plaguing our country, is that too many of us are uneducated – it would be unfortunate, if more people quit school to avoid being Boko Haram targets.
Section 1(1) & (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution) provides that the Constitution is supreme and binding on all in Nigeria, and that it prevails over any other law. Section 10 of the Constitution prohibits the adoption of any religion as a State or National Religion, whether Islam, Christianity, Ifism or Hinduism. Then, Section 18 of the Constitution provides that Government shall promote science and technology, strive to eradicate illiteracy, and where practicable, provide free education up to tertiary level, and even a free adult literacy programme, while Section 38(1) guarantees our right to freedom of thought and religion.
The synopsis of a community reading of afore-mentioned constitutional provisions, is that Nigerians are free to practice any religion which they choose, and even change their religious beliefs; that education is a priority for all in Nigeria, as it is a fundamental objective and directive principle of State Policy; that religion does not play any role in State Policy; and therefore, even if any religion prohibits its devotees from acquiring an education, the provisions of the Constitution which promote formal education, shall prevail.
Islam and Education
In reality, nothing in the Holy Quran or the Holy Bible prohibit education. However, the organisation, Jamaal-u-Ahlis-Sunna-Linda-Awati Wal-Jihad – “the organisation committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and Jihad”, aka Boko Haram (literal interpretation “Western Education is forbidden”), says otherwise, having misquoted and misinterpreted the words of the Holy Quran. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Islam promotes the quest for knowledge, and this is evidenced in the Hadith (the traditions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]). Some of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] in the Hadith are: “Whosever follows a path to seek knowledge therein, God will make easy for him a path to Paradise”; “Education is not only the right, but the duty of every Muslim, male or female”; “The best gift from a father to his child, is education and upbringing”. It is said that the first word of the Quran to be revealed was: ‘Read’. I do not see any words in these particular quotations of the Hadith, defining or qualifying this quest for knowledge, as only Islamic knowledge.
Two of the world’s oldest Universities are Al Quaraouiyine, Fez, Morocco established in 859 by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri, with an associated Madrasa, and Al-Azhar which was built by Muslims in Cairo, Egypt and was first opened in 970. While Al Quaraouiyine concentrates on the Islamic religious and legal sciences, Arabic Grammar/linguistics and Maliki Law, Al-Azhar which was founded as a centre of Islamic education, expanded its scope in the 1960s to other disciplines like Medicine and Engineering. Both Universities, are open to male and female students.
So, where did Boko Haram get their own ‘misrevelation’ about education? Among other things, it seems that they received it from the group’s contempt for Western education, which they see as one of the signs of the corruption that has pervaded our nation. They also believe that many aspects of Western education, are contrary to the teachings of Islam.
In Mohammed Abid Ali’s Article “Islamic and Western Education Systems – Perceptions of Selected Educationists in Malaysia”, Ali quotes Khan (1986) who stated thus: “The philosophy of Education determines the aims and objectives of Education. There are different philosophies of Education. Naturally there are different aims and objectives of Education (p. 41)”. I concur. Ali goes on to say that “…..it is natural that Islam should have a system of education which is different from the western system of education, which has its background either in Christian theology or secular approach”. I also agree with Ali that “the West and Islam have quite different philosophies of life….”, and education systems are developed to suit the aim and objectives of the different nations and philosophies.
The sum and substance of this is that, the aims and objectives of Nigeria’s educational system, I imagine, are to develop human potential in order to develop the country. This may not necessarily be in consonance with that of Islam, which according to Ali, “prepares man to assume the responsibilities of the highest creation of God and His vicegerent”, that is, while the aims and objectives of western education may be worldly, that of Islamic education is obviously, heavenly.
And while I have no issue with either type of educational system, I can only conclude that Section 38 of the Constitution guarantees our right to have any type of education which we so desire, whether religious or formal; and that because Nigeria is officially a secular nation à la Section 10 of the same Constitution, no one has the right to outlaw western/formal education – any attempt to do so as Boko Haram has sought to do, is unconstitutional. This is Federal Republic of Nigeria, not Islamic or Christian Republic of Nigeria.
Criticism from the Opposition
Again, I snigger and marvel when members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) shamelessly condemn this administration vis-a-vis their handling of the Boko Haram crisis. Did they not assist in solidifying the emergence of the killer group? Was it not under their administration that, in the year 2000, the then Governor of Zamfara State, Ahmad Yerima unconstitutionally adopted Islam as his State’s religion contrary to Section 10 of the Constitution, followed suit by Governors of other Northern States? Was it not after that, that religion began to become more of a problem in this country and the slang ” ‘Islamisation of Nigeria” etc became the order of the day? Should Yerima’s unconstitutional act not have been nipped in the budWas it not the then Governor of Borno State who was alleged to have given teeth to this deadly terrorist group for his own selfish political gain at the time? Granted those two Governors may not have been members of the PDP, but pray tell, what did the successive PDP administrations do to contain this situation then? So, while PDP’s observations may not be out of turn, many wonder about their moral justification to make them, since they are an integral part of the problem, especially as half of APC were once PDP members.
Let us not be too distracted with debates amongst the different arms of government, and accusations and counter-accusations between the opposition and this present administration, and join them in shifting the blame between themselves – they have all failed and neglected to fulfill the primary purpose of Government – the security and welfare of the people (Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution). Instead, let us continue to mount legitimate and lawful pressure on this administration to fulfill its constitutional obligations to us, and secure our lives and property, especially those of our brothers and sisters in the North who are presently living under siege. Whether it is to change the leadership of the Armed forces, or restructure the Armed forces for better efficiency, or to seek external assistance if need be, it is unarguable that, Government needs to up the ante and step up to the plate, as far as security within the country is concerned.