The attack by the Boko Haram sect on Government Secondary School, Mamudo in Potiskum, Yobe State, on Saturday, July 6, is as seen not just another act of terrorism, but a deliberate act to discourage Western education in the North
| By Olu Ojewale | Jul. 22, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IT WAS, no doubt, a big setback for Nigeria’s campaign against Boko Haram insurgents in the northern parts of the country. When everyone had thought the military campaign in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states was making great success in pushing out the Islamic sect, the group’s attack on the students of Government Secondary School, Mamudo in Potiskum, Yobe State, on Saturday, July 6, has again brought to the front burner how far the sect would go to discourage Western education in the North. At least 22 students and a teacher were killed in the attack.
To forestall a repeat of such incident, Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, a navy admiral and chief of defence staff, directed deployment of security men and women in schools and other sensitive government buildings in the troubled states. “The CDS has directed that even schools without threats from Boko Haram should be heavily protected in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. We will certainly secure all the schools in the flashpoints,” a military source was quoted as saying.
Prior to the deployment, Boko Haram which literarily translates as ‘Western education is forbidden,’ had sent threat letters to some schools to close down or face the wrath of attacks. However, the July 6, attack has continued to attract wide condemnations from individuals and organisations in and out of the country, especially among international non-governmental organisations.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday, July 8, described the killing as wicked, horrific and barbaric. He said that the killers would go to hell. The President, in a statement by Reuben Abati, his special adviser on media and publicity, said his administration would not allow itself to be undermined by any group or persons. “The killing is barbaric, completely wicked. Anybody who will target innocent children for any kind of grief of emotional dyfunction will certainly go to hell. Mr. President wants to assure Nigerians that this kind of desperate Nigerians will be flushed out of the system,” the statement said. The President, however, promised his commitment to the issue of the protection of lives and properties of all Nigerians and assured that the war against terrorists which had been launched would continue until the menace is completely wiped out. David Mark, Senate president, and Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, also condemned the pupils’ killings.
The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, said that the attack should be “condemned absolutely by all communities,” pointing out that a total of 48 pupils and seven teachers had been killed in the four attacks since June 16. Manuel Fontain, West African director of UNICEF, said that, “there can be no justification for the deliberate targeting of children and those looking after them.” Reacting in the same manner, the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, CANAN, a non-governmental organisation based in the United States, said it shared “the deep and profound pain of those who have lost relatives” in the brutal terrorist attacks, and renewed its call on the US state department to designate of Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, FTO.
“We are also particularly worried that this level of attack was conducted successfully and effectively under a state of emergency. This is really disturbing! It is a significant setback for the emergency rule declared in Yobe State,” the CANAN statement said. The group therefore, called for an urgent investigation so that justice is done swiftly, saying, “This will send clear deterrent messages to the terrorists who may be regrouping as they could see the Yobe killing as a boost… Anything short of that would be an unmitigated disaster to government’s ability to do its primary duty of protecting lives and property and could make mincemeat of the reputation of the entire Nigerian security apparatus.”
On its part, the Amnesty International, AI, wants the Nigerian government to take steps to prevent further attacks on schools to protect children’s lives and their right to education. “The protection of children’s lives is paramount, and the Nigerian government has a duty to ensure that the country’s educational sector is not further threatened by the killing and intimidation of students and teachers and the destruction of school buildings,” Lucy Freeman, AI’s deputy director for Africa, said in a press release on Monday, July, 8. Freeman was particularly worried about effects of attacks on educational institutions. “The damage and resultant consequences can be major and far-reaching. Access to basic education in a country where education is mostly seen as a privilege, requires that proper structures and services are in place and that students can access adequate books and materials,” she said.
According to Abubakar Aliyu, deputy governor of Yobe State, a total of 209 schools had been razed by the terrorists in various parts of the state. Speaking to members of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of the Security Challenges in the North led by Kabiru Turaki, Aliyu said that the state had spent more than N4 billion battling the insurgents.
The Yobe incident was the second of such deadly attacks by the Boko Haram sect on schools and students in Yobe State. Last month, six students, two teachers and a resident were killed at the Government Secondary School, Damaturu, when gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members attacked the boys’ school. Similarly, in Maiduguri, Borno State, nine students and six teachers were killed when armed men believed to be members of the sect stormed a public school in the metropolis and shot sporadically, killing the final year students who were writing their Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination, SSSCE, organised by the National Examinations Council, NECO.
The current attacks on schools and students by the Boko Haram insurgents have been seen as deliberate acts to create fears and discourage Northern parents from sending their children to school. Already, there is apathy towards Western education in the north. A recent article, Increasing Access to Education in Northern Nigeria by the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, gave a chilling indication of the educational backwardness of the North. It said in part: “Forty-two percent of primary-age children in this country, about 10.5 million, are out of school. Less than a third of primary school children proceed to junior secondary school and even fewer go on to complete secondary school. The situation is worse in predominantly Muslim Northern Nigeria where primary school attendance and academic achievement are far below national averages.” Little wonder that at the last common entrance examination to unity schools, only 86 pupils from Yobe State sat for the examination in the state that has 2.3 million residents. Besides, more than 40 of those students were from other parts of the country. To encourage students from the north to fill their quota at the 104 unity government schools across the country, the states such as Yobe, Taraba and Zamfara, recently had their cut-off marks lowered to two, three and four points for male students and 27, 11 and two points for female students. Whereas students from Anambra, Imo and Enugu states are expected to score 139, 138 and 134 points for both males and females to get admission to unity schools.
Observers attribute the educational backwardness of the north to a number of factors, from early marriage to nomadic life of many of them as well as religious education in the form of almajiri, which has pride of position above Western education. To encourage the populace to embrace Western education governments in the north have virtually made education free from primary to tertiary level. But the problems are not restricted to all that.
The situation is also compounded by lack of qualified teachers. According to Aminu Sharehu, director-general of the National Teachers’ Institute, NTI, in Zaria, Kaduna State, 80 per cent of school teachers in most northern states are not qualified for the job. Speaking at a national conference on Quality Assurance and Control in Teacher Education as a Tool for Achieving Millennium Development Goals, organised by the Federal College of Education, Zaria, on July 3, Sharehu urged northern state governments to give priority to training teachers working in their various institutions. “You need to train and retrain teachers because the National Certificate in Education, NCE, is just a starting point. In the teaching profession, we do not have learned people, but learning people because we believe that there is no end to learning. So, it is only lawyers that are proudly calling themselves learned. As for what are really responsible for poor qualification of teachers in the north, I will keep that for another day. But there is need for increase in teachers’ salaries and continuous increase in their remuneration to make them better teachers,” Sharehu said.
However, Governor Muhktar Yero of Kaduna State, who also spoke on the occasion, said that only 50 percent of the teachers in his state were not qualified and not 80. Yero, who was represented by Mohammed Usman, commissioner for Education, said: “The Federal Ministry of Education stipulates that the minimum teaching qualification in our schools should be NCE. But majority of teachers we have today in the system are not NCE holders. So how can they qualify to teach in the new curriculum? As a measure to improve education in the state, Governor Muhktar Yero has given an approval to recruit 1,800 teachers.”
The commissioner said his ministry would make sure that it recruits qualified teachers for the state.
“When I came on board as the Commissioner for Education in Kaduna State, I discovered that 50 per cent of the teachers, particularly the primary school teachers, are under qualified. There is no way they can do the job very well. I had to give them a time frame of five years within which to upgrade themselves and become NCE holders,” Usman said.
The commissioner noted that there were some teachers in the system, who had never attended any education programme in the past 20 years. Besides, he said that about 1,840 teachers within the system would be flushed out because of fake certificates.”
While government officials are working assiduously to normalise things at the education sector for the benefit of the community, the literacy level may further reduce because of the attacks on schools by the terrorist group. This has been the concern of Nigerians who fear the negative effects of the attacks on socio-economic and educational development of the north. They also fear that illiterate north will be a fertile ground to breed terrorist and radical groups.
Tijani Musa, a former editor of the rested Triumph newspaper in Kano, in a telephone interview with Realnews, said the attack was terrible and unacceptable. He said it would further compound the already bad socio-economic and educational system in the north. Besides, he said, it would further make the region more disadvantaged in education.
Achike Chude, a public commentator, blamed the government for the attacks, saying security should not have been lax in school areas when the group was already known for fighting against Western education. “We all know that terrorists do hit and run. There were areas that were supposed to be well guarded. We must tell our politicians that the life of those children were more important than ambition of any of them. What has happened has shown the gross incompetence of this administration. This country has failed those children; the president has failed them; the state governor has failed the children. Our country is in a serious state of collapse. The people who have taken us to this situation cannot take us out. So, they should get out and let people who love this country take over,” Chude said.
Speaking in the same vein, Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a pastor and security expert, said it was a terrible thing to attack innocent school students. “Those innocent students have not contributed to anything happening in the country. It was the worst crime anyone has committed against innocent students in this country,” Ekpe-Juda said adding that the terrorists had attacked the students to discourage parents from sending their children to school. “No one will like to send his or her children to school to go and die. For doing that, many parents would rather have children at home or in the farm. It is a retrogressive thing when children of school age are made to idle away while their mates all over the world are getting education,” he said, adding: “Those who have done that to those children will not escape the judgement of God; their own children will also suffer the injustice done to those children.”