The recent abductions of school-children in Northern Nigeria by terrorists had led to the closure of over 600 schools, according to reports, in a bid to ensure the safety of the populace while fighting this scourge.
Niger, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Borno States are amongst the states who have decreed varying degrees of educational lockdowns in what has proven to be a quandary for the state governors.
In hindsight, these leaders at the helm of affairs should have predicted this dangerous downturn after the reclamation of the Sambisa Forest by the Nigerian Army which led to the near-obliteration of Boko Haram insurgent – who in turn scampered across various Northern states with the aim of wreaking mayhem via banditry and abductions.
The scale of Boko Haram’s insurgency in northeastern Nigeria has long been clear. But it took the abduction of December 2020 of more than 340 schoolboys in Kankara, Katsina State for many people – even within Nigeria – to appreciate just how bad the insecurity has become in the country’s neglected northwest.
The abductors pulled up on motorbikes at the all-boys secondary school in Kankara, in Katsina State, spent an hour rounding up the students who didn’t manage to bolt and then marched them into Rugu forest in neighbouring Zamfara State.
In a video message, the kidnappers said they were Boko Haram, a claim endorsed by the jihadist group. But that connection was quickly debunked. The group was identified as known “bandits” – one of the scores of armed gangs that have killed, raped, and plundered across the northwest, forcing more than 200,000 people from their homes.
There was a happy end to the schoolboys’ six-day ordeal. Surrounded by the army, unable to escape, the kidnappers released them – with the government insisting no ransom was paid. But the raid underlined the utter vulnerability of people to the bandits, who can do whatever they want.
Adding to the insidious cycle was the acquiescing on the part of the Federal Government to the ransom demands of these Boko Haram insurgents, who in turn, used the funds to procure more weapons for their criminal activities. There seems to be no end in sight.
Like many governments, the Nigerian authorities often deny that they pay ransoms. But schoolchildren and bandits have contradicted their accounts.
Many Nigerians say they wish that the government would protect them from abductions in the first place, rather than paying ransoms it can ill afford or authorizing dangerous and expensive rescues.
But the police are perceived as being in the pockets of those who can pay for protection.
The military is spread so thin that the defense minister said that villagers should defend themselves from bandits. He suggested that those who did not were cowards.
“Is it the responsibility of the military alone?” Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi, the defense minister, asked reporters a few hours after an attack on a school in Kagara on Feb. 17. “It’s the responsibility of everybody to keep alert and find safety, when necessary.
“But we shouldn’t be cowards,” General Magashi said. “At times, the banditry will come with about three shots of ammunition. When they fire shots, everybody runs. In our younger days, we’d stand to fight any aggression coming to us. I don’t know why people are running away from minor things like that.”
As abductions have become more indiscriminate, there has been a sharp rise in the number of deaths associated with them, with perpetrators viewing their victims’ lives as expendable, according to the recent report on the economics of abductions, conducted by SBM Intelligence, a Nigerian intelligence platform.
“When you have such large-scale abduction of children, especially defenseless, harmless children, the ransom value will be high because of the international pressure to rescue them,” said Confidence McHarry, a security analyst who worked on the SBM Intelligence report. “As the abductor, everything is in your favor.”
At least $18 million was paid to kidnappers from June 2011 to March 2020, the report said.
A “Safe School Initiative” was launched after the Chibok girls were abducted to bolster security in schools in north-eastern Nigeria by building fences around them.
At least $20m ($14m) was pledged for the three-year project, which was supported by the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, the former UK prime minister.
Many container schools were built as temporary learning spaces as part of the scheme, but it is not known if any fences were built in communities affected.
The educational prospects for children in Nigeria, where one-third of primary-age children already do not go to school, is at stake.
With the kidnappings happening in northern Nigeria, “for some students, that’s the end of their academic life,” said Muhammad Galma, a retired army major and security expert. “No parent would want to endanger his or her child’s life simply because of education.”
In conclusion, Boko Haram and similar groups are the horrendous illustration of the Hobbesian conception of human nature, creating fear, insecurity, violent disorder, and indiscriminate crimes to control and maintain power.
This is a lesson that has been repeated throughout history and countered most strongly by the ideals of the Enlightenment-era—ideals enshrined in education that are still valued today.
Enlightenment starts with education, and by refusing these schoolchildren the right to be educated and think for themselves, Boko Haram is denying them their humanity.
At the same time, encouraging education and enlightenment is not just a motivation for ending extremism, but also a strategy for combating it.
Enlightenment is the most powerful weapon against obscurantism, extremism, and oppressive religious orthodoxy as well as terrorism.
Education will break the authority of extremist groups, encourage people to think for themselves and remove the tendency toward extremist thinking.
Of course, this will go hand in hand with inclusive governance, effective government, and economic opportunities, which both improve and are improved by education. Education that nurtures and empowers an independent, critical, and entrepreneurial mind is truly what makes the difference.
Boko Haram is struggling vigorously to keep enlightenment far from the people because they know that quality education leads to freedom.
A new generation of transformational leaders and independent thinkers must rise in Africa and promote enlightened education for this freedom to be realized.
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