Nigeria, the biggest Commonwealth country in Africa with a population of nearly 190 million, was never going to achieve the goal of a basic education for all children by next year, 2015. Rough estimates suggest that as many as 10.5 million are not in school. But what is worse is that, due to the insurgency in the Northeast, the statistics are now in retreat.
Almost every day the Boko Haram sect, which combines radical Islam with an exploitation of poverty and unemployment among young men, commits atrocities. “Boko Haram,” literally, means “western education is forbidden.” President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in three Northern states – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa – but raids have taken place elsewhere in the North. Last year, for example, there was an attempt on the life of the octogenarian Emir of Kano, in which a number of his bodyguards were killed. The British Council was forced to close its beautiful office and theatre in Kano, decorated in traditional Hausa style, and cut its staff there from over 30 to four.
Boko Haram, which has demanded that President Jonathan convert to Islam, has declared war on modernity, traditional rulers, western education and particularly girls’ education. An attack in February on a Federal Government College in Yobe led to the deaths of 29 secondary students. These “unity schools” are the prestige institutions of public education, and five colleges were closed after the assault, affecting 10,000 students.
Not surprisingly, this is having a woeful impact on educational standards in the Muslim North, which have long lagged behind those in the largely Christian South. National Bureau of Statistics figures for 2012 show that while the national attendance rate for primary schools was 71 per cent, an increase of 10 per cent on 2008, the figures for the Northeast were only 42 per cent, and for the Northwest 47.8 per cent. It is likely that these will have declined since. The impact of the insurgency on literacy rates for women aged 15 to 24 is serious. The rate for these Nigerian women as a whole has fallen to 66 per cent in 2012, down about 14 per cent on 2008. In the Northeast states the comparable literacy rate is only 30.1 per cent.
Statistics suggest that Nigeria has been making progress on other MDGs. For example, maternal mortality has fallen from 800 per 100,000 in 2004 to only 350 per 100,000 in 2012. There is, however, an unmet need for family planning, with only 17.3 per cent of women aged 15-49 using any type of child spacing, and almost none ( 3.3 per cent ) in the poorest households.
There has been criticism of the Nigerian government’s security and negotiation responses to Boko Haram, which has bases in neighbouring countries also. The UN, whose office in Abuja has been attacked, has been slow to define it as an international terrorist organisation. But it is absolutely clear that, without an end to this insurgency, Nigerians in the North of the country will not enjoy the fruits of the MDGs.
Richard Bourne, Secretary of the Ramphal Institute, has been visiting Nigeria for research purposes.