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17 April 2014
Zeynabou Kane

Education under attack: Nigeria

Many schools were bombed, set on fire or attacked by militants in the north – and increasingly militants turned their attention to students and teachers. Dozens of school teachers were murdered, and at universities there were very heavy casualties in attacks by gunmen firing indiscriminately and in some cases also using bombs.


After Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999, it suffered ongoing inter-communal, political and sectarian violence which had claimed the lives of more than 15,700 people by 2011. The unrest, which continued into 2013, was seen by observers as being underpinned by endemic corruption, poverty, poor governance, unchecked violence by the security services and discrimination against ethnic minorities. Misuse of public funds was seen as having a devastating impact on education quality and on attempts to widen access to education. Considerable disparities in access and quality existed among Nigeria’s states, with education levels generally lower in the north. There remained an enduring distrust of Western education dating back to British colonial rule when missionary schools were largely kept out of the north and the few that did operate there were seen as vehicles for converting young Muslims to Christianity. From 2009 onwards, violence spiralled across northern and central Nigeria. Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group whose commonly used name means ‘western education is a sin’ in Hausa, sought to impose a strict form of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the north and end government corruption. It launched hundreds of attacks against police officers, Christians and Muslims whom it perceived as opponents. Attacks on education between 2009 and early 2011 most often involved kidnappings of students or staff for ransom in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, apart from a spate of attacks on schools during an uprising by Boko Haram in July 2009. However, in 2011 and 2012, the targeting of education, particularly schools and universities, escalated, with increasing reports of killings by Boko Haram, and reprisals against Islamic schools and suspected Boko Haram supporters. Schools, universities, students and personnel also came under attack during fighting between Christians and Muslims. Net enrolment in primary school was 58 per cent (2010),1154 gross secondary enrolment was 44 per cent (2010)1155 and gross tertiary enrolment was 10 per cent (2005). The adult literacy rate was 61 per cent (2010).

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