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Girls' education in Nigeria: a challenge exacerbated by Boko Haram

By Patricia Jenkings - posted Wednesday, 8 April 2020

On March 23, 2020, the Nigerian government closed all schools in order to stop the spread throughout the nation of the deadly COVID-19 disease. Subsequently, Audrey Azoulay, Director General of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNESCO), stated that we must both keep children learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and also lay the foundations for more inclusive education when the crisis subsides. She added that we should remain positive that this can be achieved, but that the full impact of this deadly virus is yet to be seen.

Education in Nigeria, however, has historically been challenging as there are many social norms, widespread poverty, institutional practices and most notably, inequality that prevent student access to quality education. Adeleke Adegbami, Olabisi Onabanjo University (November 2018), has reported that only 1 per cent of Nigerians own 99 per cent of the nation's wealth and that the Nigerian state has continued to wallow in different crises: most of these might have been adverted if the nation's youth were well educated.

Furthermore, UNICEF recently reported that even though primary education is officially free and compulsory in Nigeria, about 10.5 million of the country's children aged 5-14 years are not in school. One in every five of the world's children who do not go to school lives in Nigeria. Of further concern is that in northeast Nigeria 2.8 million children in three conflict-affected states (Borno, Yobe, Adamawa) need education-in-emergencies support. In these states at least 802 schools remain closed and 497 classrooms are listed as destroyed, with another 1,392 damaged but repairable.


Moreover, the lack of quality education for girls in Nigeria has been particularly challenging and girls remain highly disadvantaged. UNICEF has reported that northeast and northwest Nigeria have female primary school net attendance rates of 47.7 per cent and 47.3 per cent respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls in these regions are not in school.

Education for girls in northern Nigeria has been adversely impacted upon by the social turmoil caused by the infiltration of Boko Haram militants into Nigeria. This was most evident with the mass abduction on 14 April, 2014 of 276 Chibok secondary schoolgirls in the north-east of Nigeria by this extremely violent terrorist movement. Boko Haram aims to establish an Islamic state that follows a strict interpretation of Islamic law and is opposed to western education. The tragic abduction occurred nearly six years ago and resulted in one of the biggest-ever global social media campaigns. However, some 100 girls are still missing. Sadly, life has changed forever in the normally sleepy rural community of Chibok and it is heartbreaking to see families yearning for the return of their abducted daughters.

The plight of the Chibok schoolgirls received unprecedented international media coverage but such incidences could be considered all too common in Nigeria's northeast conflict zone. In November 2014, a further 300 children were abducted from a school in Damask Borno. However, as pointed out by Munir Safieldin, Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria (2016), "The abducted Chibok girls has become a symbol for every girl who insists on practicing her right to education."

Education is a fundamental human right as stated in the landmark document The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and reaffirmed in numerous human rights treaties and declarations. This year, in fact, marks the 25th anniversary of the global adoption of the historical Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with the vision of improving the rights of women and girls.

Moreover, in September 2015, Nigeria made an historical and far-reaching decision: it agreed with all other United Nations (UN) Member States to adopt a UN resolution to implement measures to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to transform the world for the better and improve development for all communities everywhere. Passing this resolution is significant, as the 17 SDGs provide a global blueprint for dignity, peace and prosperity for people and the planet now and in the future, looking toward 2030. Education is central to achieving the SDGs, as it is a basic human right and a foundation on which to build peace and security as well as to drive sustainable development.

However, the plight of Nigerian students and the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls has resulted in a loss of faith in Nigeria's national leaders. They have come under much criticism for not fulfilling their public duty to adequately provide quality education for all, and for the fact that many of the Chibok schoolgirls remain missing. Clearly, the Nigerian government needs to better accept and act upon its responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for all school students.


To work towards achieving positive outcomes, it is also timely for the government to review its path towards achieving the SDGs by 2030, leaving no one behind. With just ten years to go, there has been a call to accelerate solutions to all the world's biggest challenges. For that reason, providing quality education should be a priority as it is a foundation for improving the quality of life. This could well be most significant in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, when strong local and global visionary leadership will be needed to rebuild.

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Article edited by Margaret-Ann Williams.
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About the Author

Patricia Jenkings is a former political advisor. She has a PhD from the University of Sydney in social policy studies and education.

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