Education International
Education International

Report reveals Boko Haram’s devastating toll on education in northeast Nigeria

published 19 April 2016 updated 26 April 2016

A new Human Rights Watch report shows that Boko Haram’s targeted attacks on schools, students, and teachers have affected all strata of life in Nigeria’s northeast, with education as the fault line of the conflict.

The 86-page report, “‘They Set the Classrooms on Fire’: Attacks on Education in Northeast Nigeria”,released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 11 April, documents the increasingly brutal assaults of Boko Haram’s (“Western education is forbidden,” in Hausa, the dominant language in northern Nigeria) on schools, students, and teachers since 2009 in Borno, Yobe, and Kano states.

Between 2009 and 2015, Boko Haram’s attacks destroyed more than 910 schools and forced at least 1,500 more to close. At least 611 teachers have been deliberately killed. Thousands more students and teachers have been injured, some in deadly suicide bombs in the same period. The insurgent group has abducted more than 2,000 civilians, many of them women and girls, including large groups of students. An estimated 10,000 civilians have died in Nigeria since the group began its attacks in 2009. The conflict has left nearly one million children with little or no access to school.

Deliberate attacks

In late 2012 and early 2013, the HRW report notes, as Nigerian security forces expanded military operations against Boko Haram, the insurgents became more brutal, deliberately targeting and killing teachers, school administrators, and education officials. The group also attacked students to keep them out of school and forcibly recruited students into Boko Haram’s ranks. Its fighters abducted female students as “wives”, effectively for sexual slavery. As security tightened, Boko Haram adopted suicide bombings as a tactic at schools and other locations, killing increasing numbers of children and school staff.

Intimidation and harassment of teachers

Teachers and school staff told HRW that insurgents quietly began intimidating and harassing them in many parts of Borno and Yobe states from late 2012. Public school teachers were the initial targets of threats for being government workers and teachers in Western-style schools. Many received personal visits from insurgents to warn them to stop teaching.

Targeted killing of teachers

In addition, insurgents sometimes went into mosques to preach against teachers, urging parents to withdraw their children from school. After prayers, they searched the towns for teachers whom they either killed or abducted.

Boko Haram has shown particular distaste for certain subjects like geography and science. Analysts and researchers explained to HRW that insurgents were taught to believe that aspects of science, such as the theories of evolution, and the principles of evaporation in geography contradicted Quranic text. Teachers of these subjects were therefore targeted, as well as teachers responsible for discipline or examination of students. Teaching of subjects such as Christian religious knowledge or English has also earned the wrath of insurgents. Some Arabic teachers and clerics whose teachings or sermons contradicted Boko Haram ideology were also targeted for killing.

Attacks on female teachers

The insurgents also said they do not want female teachers and students attending school. In addition to the targeted killings and harassment suffered by male and female teachers alike, they have abducted female teachers for forced conversion, rape, and forced marriage and also harassed them to dress in a prescribed manner.

NUT: ‘Traumatic and demoralising’

In October 2015, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) President Michael Olukoya acknowledged that “the memory of the 276 abducted Chibok girls and thousands of others whose potentials and lives have been cut short, remains traumatic and demoralising.”

Strongly condemning the killing of teachers in terror attacks, he added that an additional 19,000 teachers have been displaced and are suffering great losses due to the “barbaric activities of the insurgents.”