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Picture: Lindsay Mgbor/Department for International Development

After Chibok, Nigeria Will Still Need Education

The Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 girls from the Chibok boarding school in northern Nigeria on April 17th has generated more media attention than any single atrocity in recent African history. Yet long after the media blitz is over, unless Nigeria takes dramatic and sustained action, most of the girls and boys of northern Nigeria will still fail to get an education.

In northern Nigeria, about a third of primary school aged children are out of school. In several states, that figure climbs to two-thirds .

Despite GDP growth of over 6 percent, inequality is on the rise in Nigeria. And the north, where 70 percent of people are living on less than a dollar a day, has not benefitted equally from the $80 billion in annual revenues. For many, education signifies real cost and opportunity cost, and it is an unobtainable luxury.

Local leadership in some northern states work against progress in girls’ education. Sharia law has been adopted in many of those states, but it is culture more than religion that drives campaigns sponsored by some of them to marry off underage girls en masse.

Poor quality of education further explains low attendance rates. Almost three-fourths of the children that finish primary school in the northeast are illiterate. Why would a resource-stretched parent, now afraid of insurgent attacks, take risks on such schools?

The development and education crisis in northern Nigeria was a precursor to Boko Haram. Research shows that where a large youth demographic has limited access to education, conflict is more likely. In northern Nigeria, Boko Haram draws members from the ranks of uneducated, poor northern men. They prey on criminal youth, at times forcing them to conscript, and in other cases paying them to commit attacks. Out-of-school children are also at risk. Boys between ages 9 and 15 expressed remorse last year for accepting $30 to burn schools for Boko Haram.

African leaders have declared war on Boko Haram and the world has declared its intolerance for their brutalities. Now, before the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign dies out, an honest conversation about the lack of education as a driver of conflict is warranted.

President Goodluck Jonathan has taken steps towards education reform by launching theSafe Schools Initiative. It aims to improve the quality of education and to address the immediate security issues. To keep schools safe, international experts are focused on the physical protection of schools, community liaison teams, and better early warning systems. UNICEF, international non-profits and Nigerian grassroots organizations continue their efforts to support education amid the current climate of danger. However, the country will need sustained international partnership to confront the deep-seated security and educational challenges affecting the 10.5 million children out of school. . Hopefully with the help, and under the eye of international attention, Nigeria can immediately begin to better protect children from attack and address barriers to education.

In 1996, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) kidnapped 139 girls from the St. Mary’s College Aboke in northern Uganda. The girls were used as negotiating pawns and enslaved wives to commanders. As in the case of Chibok, the incident was an international sensation. Books and a movie told the horrific tale and the presidents of Uganda, South Africa, and Sudan were involved in negotiations to free the girls. The war and attacks on schools continued for over a decade. In 2009, the last of the Aboke abductees, Catherine Ajok, escaped and returned to her home. That year, the Ugandan government put in place a recovery plan, belatedly noting the need to address stalled human development in the north as a way to prevent future conflict.

The Boko Haram kidnapping is a crisis that crosses international boundaries and has awakened the world to the long-standing realities in northern Nigeria. For the sake of the girls and boys that need an education, let’s not let this crisis go to waste.

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