Hanatu Abubakar was full of hope when she gained admission to the Federal Government Girls College (FGGC), Monguno, Borno State, in 2009. According to her uncle, Garuba Ashru, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Hanatu wanted to become a healthcare worker.
But in 2020, she died without fulfilling that dream, leaving behind a son, who is now under two-year-old.
“In fact, she died of the same unfortunate circumstance she had aspired to join hands to address,” Mr Ashru told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview in September, in Maiduguri.
According to the don, Hanatu became disoriented after Boko Haram terrorists attacked her school in 2011, raping and killing some of her schoolmates.
The attack, which occurred when she was in junior secondary school 3, made her and many other survivors leave their ancestral home.
“When she came back from Monguno, we were faced with difficulty of where to really fix her because of the trauma she was going through. Schools were also shut for about two years and things became very difficult for her and for all of us in the family.
“When we subsequently enrolled her in another school in Maiduguri here, she had already lost the ‘fire’ burning in her. This was somebody who lost her friends, so adjusting in a new school was not easy,” Mr Ashru narrated.
According to him, when Hanatu completed secondary school, her result was not good. “Soon, social pressure began to impinge on her because the delay made her to be older by the time she finished secondary school.”
After she got married, she enrolled for a remedial programme at UNIMAID and was eventually admitted as a full-time student in the department of Physical and Health Education (PHE).
But shortly after she was delivered of a baby in 2020, complications set in. “She was already a 300-level student when she died” from the complications, the professor said.
In the afternoon of Thursday, September 2, this reporter met Kala Bukar, a former assistant head teacher at Doro Primary School in Abadam Local Government Area of Borno State, in a tiny makeshift office at the Mohammed Goni College of Legal and Islamic Studies (MOGCOLIS), Maiduguri alongside his colleagues and fellow IDPs camp mates. The office also serves as their living room, bedroom and prayer room.
He said since 2014 when the local government was sacked by the insurgents, residents were yet to return home. He said the insurgents destroyed the 20 primary schools, three junior secondary schools and two senior secondary schools in the area.
“I lost some of my colleagues and pupils to the attacks. While some of us moved to Maiduguri, others ran to Bosso in Niger Republic and have remained there till date,” Mr Bukar said.
After Governor Babagana Zulum returned the IDPs home, the camp at MOGCOLIS was relocated to Auno in Konduga Local Government Area of the state where Mr Bukar is now the head teacher.
“It is difficult leaving Maiduguri for Auno, but we have no choice since the government insisted that it is part of the process to resettle us in our villages,” Mr Bukar, who now shuttles between Auno and Maiduguri, said.
A head teacher’s ordeal
Goni Kale was the head teacher at Arge primary school, also in Abadam Local Government Area of the state. He witnessed the attacks on his school and communities in the area, including the murder of the education secretary of the local government, Usuwar Umara, by the terrorists in October 2014.
“He was killed while offering his prayers. They killed him because he was the one in charge of education in the local government. In the local government area, we were more than 300 teachers that were displaced. In fact, till date, some come to teach at the IDPs camp for two weeks and return to their families in Niger Republic to spend another two weeks. Some are not even coming back at all,” Mr Kale, who also teaches at Auno IDPs camp, said.
The situation at the Muna Garage IDPs camp in Maiduguri was depressing when our reporter visited in September. School-aged children roamed about the densely populated camp aimlessly, the makeshift schools built by development partners in the camp being of no interest to them.
Clinics in the camp also struggled to contain cases of malnutrition. According to Yakaka Babagana, 752 cases of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) were presented at one of the clinics between January and August 31.
At the second clinic in the camp, 722 patients were on admission within the same period.
Mrs Babagana, a community manager of SAM, said residents of the camp are more concerned by hunger than schooling. The children were clad in dirty clothes. When the reporter approached them for conversation, they ran away.
In an interview with our reporter, the Chief of Maiduguri Field Office for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Phuong Nguyen, said the terrorists destroyed 1,400 schools, forced more than one million children out of school, and killed 2,295 teachers between 2009 and 2020.
According to Ms Nguyen, the conflict forced all schools in Borno State to close from December 2013 to June 2015. In Yobe and Adamawa states, schools were closed for shorter periods on an ad hoc basis.
“The Education-in-Emergency Working Group Nigeria Joint Education Needs Assessment (JENA), November 2019 found that conflict continues to affect the ability of schools to remain open and provide lessons across north-east Nigeria. The JENA 2019 also reports that most schools assessed in Adamawa and Borno states had stopped functioning at some point since 2012 due to the emergency (71 per cent and 68 per cent respectively), as had 43 per cent of schools in Yobe.
“In the first half of 2021, Borno faced a drastic reduction in humanitarian access with an escalation of actions of Non State Armed Groups (NSAGs) targeting teachers and threatening those who support educational activities,” Ms Nguyen said.
Like North-east like North-west
Nigeria’s North-east region has been most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. However, schools in other parts of the country, particularly the North-west, North-central and South-east, are also under attack.
In its recent statement as part of activities to mark the second anniversary of the International Day to Protect Education from Attacks, the Save the Children International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), said more than 1,000 students have been abducted from Nigerian schools in 2021 alone.
The country director of Save the Children International Nigeria, Mercy Gichuhi, who signed the statement, said a recently released report by Save the Children, titled: “Build Forward Better,” revealed that education systems in Nigeria and other countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Mali, and Libya are at ‘extreme risk,’ worse than Syria and Yemen.
“In Nigeria, the number of out-of-school children, according to UNICEF, was at 10.5 million before the effects of the conflict, humanitarian crisis and COVID-19 pandemic were felt. With the total or partial closure of schools in Zamfara, Katsina, Adamawa, Kaduna, Niger and other states due to kidnapping and abduction of school children, the number of children that would be prevented from accessing education in Nigeria could be on the increase.”
In Kaduna State for instance, the commissioner for education, Shehu Makarfi, said the third term for the 2020/2021 session could not be held as a result of violent attacks on schools.
Mr Makarfi, while speaking with PREMIUM TIMES in September, said schools would not open in five local government areas – Birni Gwari, Kajuru, Sambo, Giwa, and another.
“We shut down the schools because we don’t have enough personnel to provide security for all of them. We have 512 public secondary schools in Kaduna State, 4,260 public primary schools, and we have over 5,000 private primary schools and more than 1,000 private secondary schools. If you put them together and you want to provide four or three policemen per school, they will not go round. We just have a little above 10,000 policemen in the state so we don’t have enough,” Mr Makarfi said.
The situation is similar in Zamfara, Katsina and Niger states, where scores of students have been abducted in the past few months.
The North-central states of Benue, Plateau and even Kogi have also recorded violent attacks on schools.
Different stories from southwestern, southeastern schools
At Iwoye-Ketu in Yewa area of Ogun State, South-west Nigeria, the perennial herders-farmers’ crisis has forced teachers and pupils to abandon schools.
Joel Ademola, the traditional ruler of Iwoye-Ketu, said cattle sometimes take over classrooms in his domain.
The monarch, who spoke with our reporter at Imeko, the headquarters of Imeko-Afon Local Government Area of Ogun State, said schools were sometimes attacked by herders during their crises with communities.
“Sometimes, we close schools for weeks because even if we don’t, no parent would allow their children to attend schools in such an atmosphere of violence,” Mr Ademola said.
The situation is the same at Eggua in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State. A palace chief, Adeyanju Adegbenro, said clashes between farmers and herders started more than 10 years ago but escalated in 2020 due to “the growing culture of impunity on the part of the herders.”
He said in 2021 alone, at least 50 people were killed in the Ketu-Yewa axis of Ogun State.
“Those of us left in the community are talking in hushed tones out of fear. More than 70 per cent of residents have fled. This is an ancient community that is fast turning into a ghost town,” Mr Adegbenro told our reporter at Eggua palace.
The police spokesperson in the state, Abimbola Oyeyemi, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), could not give the number of the victims of the crisis but said as of February 25 when our reporter visited him in Abeokuta, the state capital, 13 deaths had been reported.
The situation is similar in Igangan, a rural community in Oyo State, where frequent farmers-herders’ clashes have claimed many lives with properties worth millions of naira destroyed.
In March, 2016, three students from Babington Macaulay Seminary School, a model private missionary secondary school in Ikorodu area of Lagos, were abducted by kidnappers.
The incident was followed by another attack on the Turkish International School, located within the borderline of Lagos and Ogun State around Isheri Area of Lagos State, and in May 2017, six students of the Lagos Model College, Igbonla, Epe, were also abducted.
Separatists on the rampage in South-east
In September, while students of Comprehensive Secondary School, Nkume, in Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State, were writing their West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), gunmen allegedly enforcing the sit-at-home order of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) set the school ablaze.
Apart from stopping the students from writing their English Language examination that day, the attackers also set ablaze the motorcycles they found on the school’s premises.
The secessionists have declared Mondays a sit-at-home day with gunmen violently enforcing the order.
It is unclear what the current figure of the out-of-school-children is in Nigeria, as the last statistics of 10.5 million provided by UNICEF predated the latest escalation of attacks on schools.
However, there is now a reluctance by many parents to send children to schools far away from home.
For instance, during the entrance examination into the 104 federal government colleges in Nigeria, many parents who spoke to our reporter at a centre in Abuja, the federal capital territory, said their wards were participating in the examination only to test their ability as they would not allow them to attend schools outside their vicinity.
A pupil, Naheema Adisa, was offered admission to the Federal Government College in Bwari, FCT, but her father, an information technology expert, Olawale Adisa, who also resides in Abuja, said she would not take the offer.
“We have the admission letter already but she is not going. My landlord’s child schools there and not long ago he, alongside other parents, received distress calls that the school was being targeted for attacks. He rushed to the school to pick his child. Though there was nothing at the end of the day, since then, his mind has always been there,” Mr Adisa said.
A teacher at Kings’ College, Lagos, who does not want to be quoted, said everyone now wants to attend the school because it is located in the heart of the city, “where people believe their children are safe.”
“This year alone, more than 4,000 applied to our school but we cannot admit more than 350. That is why people are insinuating that their children’s slots are being taken by some people. It is a lie. The fact is that to gain admission here is like a camel passing through the eye of a needle,” the teacher said.
The head of data desk for the National Examinations Council, Abdulrashid Abdulrazak, said he could not provide details of how applications to schools in the hinterland may have been affected by the attacks. He, however, said statistics do not show a decline in enrolment for the common entrance examination.
The registrar and chief executive officer of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), Olusegun Ajiboye, said the government was working with individuals and organisations to protect schools.
Mr Ajiboye, who spoke at a virtual lecture to mark the 2021 annual World Teachers’ Day, said the government was introducing many measures not only to encourage engagement of quality teachers but to also protect them against all forms of hazards.
“We have witnessed continued attacks on schools and while the government is working through the various security operatives to nip the problem in the bud, we are also working round the clock to ensure that protection is provided for our schools,” Mr Ajiboye said.
But the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Emmanuel Osodeke, does not attach seriousness to official statements like those of Mr Ajiboye.
The university lecturer said the best way to judge a government about its commitment to the future of the younger ones is by the investment it makes in education and health.
He said nothing has shown that President Muhammadu Buhari prioritises education in his agenda.
According to the professor, since his emergence as President in 2015, Mr Buhari has not devoted up to eight per cent of national budget to education, saying the bulk of the paltry allocation to education “even goes to recurrent expenditure.”
The special adviser to Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on education, Tokunbo Wahab, urged the authorities to convene a national education summit on the best ways to tackle insecurity in schools.
According to Mr Wahab, beyond the violent attacks by bandits and insurgents, are also the challenges of violent cultism at all levels of education, flooding of classrooms and encroachment of school lands to build properties.
“Schools must be safe for learning to take place and it cannot be restricted to one region. As long as Nigeria is still together, we must ensure that every child is protected and is allowed to get quality education in a conducive atmosphere. Anything short of that is like sitting on a keg of gunpowder. That is what is happening currently,” Mr Wahab said.
“This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Regulators Monitoring Programme.”
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