Books Versus Bullets in North-East Nigeria

Nigerian school children

Continuing violence between the Joint Military Task Force and the radical Islamist sect, Boko Haram, in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri in north-east Nigeria has resulted in schools closing intermittently. But one school is battling to bring education to the city’s children.

The threat of terror attacks has affected school enrolment according to Sani Ali Gar, project director of Nigeria Education Data Survey.

“Over the past two years school enrolment has dropped by 15 per cent in Borno State,” he says. “This is directly linked to the unrest in Maiduguri. Parents want to keep their children close to them.”

Boko Haram translates from Hausa, a trading language spoken in the Sahel region, as books are forbidden. The group’s founder, the now deceased Yusuf Mohammed, told his followers that Western education has corrupted the minds of Nigeria’s ruling elites.

Yet in a suburb of the city a small revolution is taking place. The Future Prowess School was set up four years ago for orphans and vulnerable children.

The school offers Western and Islamic education to both boys and girls with free tuition. A daring feat in a city under siege by hard-line Islamists whose battle-cry is the end of Western education in the north of Nigeria.

The headmaster at the school, Suleiman Aliyu, insists he is not jeopardising the safety of the children.

“We have never received any threats from Boko Haram,” he declares.

Over half of the pupils are orphans. Several lost their parents during military crackdowns and violent attacks by Boko Haram.

Teachers have also been affected by the violence. One of them, Zainab Ehizojie, says her husband was killed by Boko Haram a year ago.

“I got a call saying my husband was seriously injured,” she recalls. “He’d been hacked with a machete. By the time we got him to the hospital he was dead.”

Perhaps the bottom-up approach to education offered by the Future Prowess Foundation will enable it to evade the wrath of Boko Haram.

But, so long as Borno State features at the bottom of school enrolment figures in the country, low literacy rates and high unemployment will drive some into the ranks of Boko Haram.