An Effort To Eradicate Education

Two weeks after Boko Haram militants abducted as many as 234 teenage girls from a government school in northern Nigeria, many of the girls’ fates remain unknown. Several of them escaped, but most were not so lucky:

Pogo Bitrus, leader of a Chibok elders group, told AFP that locals had been tracking the movements of the hostages with the help of “various sources” across the northeast. “From the information we received yesterday from Cameroonian border towns our abducted girls were taken… into Chad and Cameroon,” he said. The girls were then sold as brides to Islamist fighters for 2,000 naira ($12) each, Bitrus added.

Terrence McCoy looks back at other times Boko Haram (whose name translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden”) has targeted schools in the past:

In July 2013, 29 students were burned alive at a school in northern Nigeria. Days later, [Boko Haram leader Abubakar] Shekau said, “Teachers who teach western education? We will kill them! We will kill them in front of their students, and tell students to henceforth study the Qur’an.” Boko Haram massacred 40 more students two months later. In February of this year, 59 boys attending boarding school were shot dead, and their school razed.

Eliza Griswold explains how the collapse of education – and civil society in general – in Nigeria has fueled the rise of the militants:

Paradoxically, many of the young members of Boko Haram are also victims.

They attack the kind of schools that they never had the chance to attend. Boko Haram’s swelling ranks are filled with boys and young men who attended almajiri schools, West African madrassas. An estimated 23 million boys and girls in Nigeria alone are educated in these Islamic schools. Unlike Nigeria’s government schools, which require payment for tuition, almajiri schooling is free, so even the poorest could attend. The northeastern city of Maiduguri, the center of Boko Haram, used to be a seat of some of the finest Islamic education in Africa. The teachers taught students in exchange for the students’ work on their farms.

As a result of the expansion of the Sahara Desert and the extreme flooding and drought linked to climate change, these teachers can no longer sustain those farms in northern Nigeria where whole villages have been overrun by sand dunes. Instead, the teachers and students have been forced to move south to the slums at the edges of large cities, including Abuja, where instead of tending crops for their teachers, the students are reduced to begging on their behalf. … In the slums, many of these boys sleep with their begging bowls under their heads for safekeeping.  To make money, corrupt teachers rent out their students to commit acts of violence. In this way, many have become foot soldiers for Boko Haram.