The north should invest more in education

In the first quarter of 2021, after a spate of mass abductions of school children across the North, seven states had to shut down schools within their jurisdictions to reassess the spiraling security threats. It’s the desperate act in a region where authorities had to preserve learning institutions, which had become soft targets for terrorists who struck to seek ransoms and—as were the cases with the Boko Haram terrorist group—to inflict on the people some ill-digested doctrinal abhorrence of Western education.

 According to the latest statistics from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Nigeria now has about 20 million out-of-school children. Northern Nigeria, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) data, accounts for 69% of these children aged between six and 11, while solution to this education crisis is increasingly being frustrated by the escalating violence in the region.  

Since Boko Haram masterminded the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, in 2014 and defied the federal government’s bids to checkmate them, schools have become theatres of fear and deaths as various non-state actors take advantage of vulnerable security infrastructure to kidnap for ransom or attempt to exhibit monopoly of violence to make demands from the government. In an April 2022 report by Amnesty International, over 1500 kids were reported kidnapped by armed groups across the country between 2020 and 2021. In Katsina State, 344 schoolchildren of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, were abducted on December 11, 2020. A few days later in the same state, 80 pupils of a Qur’anic School in Mahuta were also kidnapped. In Niger State, 27 schoolboys were abducted at Government Science College, Kagara on February 17, 2021. Zamfara State lost 317 schoolgirls of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, to abduction after a raid by bandits on February 26, 2021. 

This climate of fear has not only instigated the shutting down of schools in Yobe, Zamfara, Niger, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, and Sokoto States, but has also underlined the downturns of education policies formulated or implemented by governments of the affected states. The transition from establishing schools to assuring students that they would return to their parents and guardian alive was one for which many state governments seem ill-prepared and the consequences are devastating.

During the failed 1976 Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme, state governments in the North attempted integration of Islamic and secular curricula just to lure school-age children to acquire Western education but the experiment was hindered by inadequacy of funding and supervision by the government. It could neither inspire the proposed mass enrollments in the region nor neutralise the doctrinal aversion to Western education and norms, which has been weaponised by non-state actors like Boko Haram since the early 2000s.

Northern state governments must devise solutions to their peculiar education crisis and play down the historical pastime of blaming the nation’s colonial heritage for the disparity between the two regions over 60 years after independence. In 2015, the Sokoto State government contemplated a bill to criminalise parents’ refusal to educate their children. In Kaduna, the state government has serially conducted competency tests to weed out unqualified teachers. In Kano State, 26% of the 2022 budget was earmarked for education. These measures, though inspiring, require actionable and sustainable plans to make a difference and the nation’s policymakers must accept the ancestral challenge to bridge the educational gap between the two regions.

 The tradition of lowering cut-off marks for students from Northern states in admission processes into national institutions breeds mass laxity and hampers competitive spirit in the schools. What requires preferential treatments are the education budgets of respective states and the commitment of stakeholders to ensuring full implementation and sustainability of the programmes. 

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