A request to reopen Madobai Primary School was submitted in mid-November to authorities in Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina State.
It is one of the over two dozen primary schools forced to shut their doors to students following attacks by bandits on farming communities in the local government, leading to the desertion of dozens of villages by inhabitants.
Kankara, like a number of other local governments in Katsina and other parts of Northern Nigeria, is bedevilled by an impetuous security challenge which has resulted in mass displacement and made learning challenging in a region characterised as “educationally backward”.
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The school in Madobai was shut down at the onset of the rains, some six months ago, over escalating attacks meant to wade off the rural communities from their farms.
Residents of the tripartite communities of Madobai, Gidan Adu and Jaga came under incessant attacks orchestrated by a notorious gang leader called Likita.
Like in most areas facing similar security challenges, the people in these communities suffered days of sleepless nights as marauders routinely arrived at night, shooting sporadically.
The attackers’ major aims were cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom. To achieve these, they created a commotion by shooting at anyone at sight, thereby killing many.
One day, however, the emboldened attackers came during the daytime, throwing Madobai and its neighbours into pandemonium as they attacked residents near the primary school.
Villagers who had defied the night raids to remain in the area had to now seek refuge. The school shut down willy-nilly.
“A meeting was called recently, and at the end of the meeting we mandated the school’s headmaster to write the Local Education Authority (LEA) in Kankara to allow resumption of classes,” Ibrahim Lawai, a resident of Jaga, one of the beneficiary communities of the school, told Daily Trust.
With the communities’ outlaw, Likita, said to have been killed, attacks around the area have reduced lately making residents to settle back into their homes and pick up the pieces of their disrupted lives.
“Since most people are back, we feel our children should be back in school. We should not allow them to lose out,” said Lawai.
While Madobai prepares to reopen its school, many other schools in Kankara LGA have no date in sight on when to reopen.
Daily Trust gathered that while over 15 schools have remained shut, at least three others in the area run skeletal operations, with teachers and local authorities battling to keep the children in school by improvising strategies to ensure learning continues.
An education officer in the local government who spoke on the condition of anonymity explained how these schools have continued to operate.
“The schools in Dan Sabau, Santar Guraje and Tsamiyar Jinu are still open. But because of the security threats in those areas, no one outside can go in or out of those villages.
“So what was decided is for teachers from those places to be taking care of the schools,” he said.
The strategy, he said, is part of the larger resolve by local leaders, security agents and education authorities in the area to ensure that learning continues amidst the challenges.
Kankara was shot into greater prominence a year ago when dozens of gunmen raided Government Science Secondary School (GSSS), Kankara, overnight on December 11, and herded 344 students into the bush.
The mass abduction – the largest yet anywhere in the country, sent shockwaves to communities far and near and resulted in the closing down of schools in Katsina and some of its neighbouring states.
With the experience of that abduction still fresh in the minds of parents and authorities in the state, and with the unabated hostilities from the bandits, schools under threat are still shut to avoid a repeat of the dark day in December.
The situation is similar in Batsari Local Government, also in Katsina State, where a number of schools in the western part of the local government headquarters are disrupted.
Our reporter who visited the town gathered that any movement two kilometres outside Batsari on the western plank towards Jibia exposes one to danger.
Daily Trust learnt that aside some primary schools affected, a major secondary school, Government Secondary School (GSS), Ruma, has remained shut since the abduction of the school’s principal was abducted in May.
Many adjoining communities have also been either sacked or under constant raids by armed men.
Making worse a bad situation
Northern Nigeria has a heavy burden of out-of-school children. For decades, policymakers and other leaders have battled to re-route the region’s disinterest in modern education, chiefly called Western education –from its Western colonial heritage.
While localities move at different paces in their reception to this form of education, the gap between the North and the rest of the country remains wide.
It is the same with the statistics of out-of-school children, where the North takes the lion’s share of the national tally.
“Everybody knows the North is at a disadvantaged position educationally. In the North, school abductions will have multiplier negative effects on our school system,” said Ibrahim Katsina, a security expert and adviser to Katsina governor on security.
According to the World Bank, by 2013, 13.2 million school-age Nigerian children were out of school, with “overwhelming majority” of them in the North “where out-of-school children rates are also higher among girls in rural areas and from poor families.”
The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, had blamed the staggering statistics on increased activities of insurgents, abduction of students and general insecurity, which he said collectively contributed immensely to the growing number of out-of-school children in the country.
The minister, who spoke at the 65th National Council on Education (NCE) in Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, in August, mentioned culture, politics, poverty and religious beliefs as fundamental factors that are keeping out pupils and students from the classroom.
In October, President Muhammadu Buhari, while opening the fourth International Conference on Safe Schools Declaration in Abuja, said more than 12 million children, mostly girl child, were currently traumatised and afraid of going to school.
A stopover at Government Day Secondary School (GDSS), Yandaka, in Batsari LGA provided a clear picture of how displacement as a result of insecurity affects school enrolment and attendance in troubled communities.
Our reporter observed a sparse student population during the visit on a Tuesday afternoon, with few students straddling the school’s vast unfenced premises.
A teacher at the school who craved anonymity said since the worsening security challenge in the area, the school’s population had dropped by about 50 per cent.
“The population of SS3 students has dropped from 50 to less than 20 now. In the whole of SS3, we have no female students currently, and as of today, we have only one girl in SS2.
“Today is particularly bad because many did not come due to attacks on some villages last night.
“For example, no student from Yan Gayya is in school today, and that is one village where we have many students. The bandits attacked the village yesterday,” he said.
A traditional leader in the area, the Magajin Garin Ruma, Alhaji Sani Tukur Ruma, said the sacking of communities and fear of attacks have made parents to scamper away with their children, thus affecting school attendance.
Aside from the indirect role insecurity is playing in tampering with learning, education in Northern communities has faced more direct attacks in the forms of attacks on schools which are often tinctured with killings of both students and teachers and kidnapping for ransom.
A tally conducted by this reporter shows that 1,893 students have been abducted from schools in northern Nigeria since the first recorded abduction at Abba Ashigar School of Business and Administrative Studies, Konduga, Borno State, in February 2014, where 20 female students were abducted.
Campaign against schooling
While insurgents loyal to Jama’atu Ahlul Sunnah Lidda’awati wal Jihad (JAS), popularly known as Boko Haram, leave no one in doubt about their anti-modernity campaigns, they have been particularly hostile against modern school systems.
Their campaign of violence led to the mass killing of students – the infamous being the massacre of 29 students in Buni Yadi, and the abduction of hundreds of others. Those attacks had necessitated the closure of hundreds of schools in the region.
In Borno State, the epicentre of the insurgency, a 2016 Human Rights Watch report indicated that: “Schools at all levels have been closed in 22 out of 27 local government areas for at least two years, and public secondary schools in the state capital, Maiduguri, only reopened in February 2016, after Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who occupied most of the schools were relocated elsewhere.
“Education might have grounded to a standstill in even relatively safe Maiduguri if it were not for some private schools that remained open when state authorities shut down public schools in March 2014.”
While the situation has improved relatively since the report, still hundreds of schools there remain shut as many communities are inaccessible or yet to be occupied again by residents who had deserted them.
True to its sobriquet which points to anathema for Western education, Boko Haram has been particularly ravenous in ensuring that learning is truncated. From around 2010, the group embarked on a series of attacks in the North East and other parts of the country.
Bombs were planted in schools that killed students and others in places like Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Kano and Niger, especially between 2012 and 2014. Several schools in Maiduguri were razed in late-night attacks.
Some 2,295 teachers, according to the education minister, were killed and 19,000 displaced in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in the last nine years. Similarly, he said 1,500 schools had been destroyed due to the insurgency.
What drew the most agony and rage, however, were the series of abductions of students from schools which started with the Abba Ashigar School of Business and Administrative Studies, Konduga, on February 11, 2014.
Two months later, 276 schoolgirls were abducted from Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS), Chibok, on April 14, 2014, which drew international outrage.
An international human rights group, Human Rights Watch, documented that over 300 pupils were abducted from Zanna Mobarti Primary School, Damasak, also in Borno State, in November of that year.
In all three cases, according to reports, most of the students are yet to be accounted for as the abductors have held on to most of them.
There was a three-year hiatus in school abductions between 2015 and 2017, which was disrupted on February 19, 2018, when insurgents in their numbers abducted 110 students overnight from Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC) in Dapchi, Yobe State. Exactly a month later, in March, the gunmen released 105 captives, with five students reported dead.
The Dapchi abduction is the last recorded school abduction in the North East.
The trend of mass abduction shifted to areas afflicted by banditry, mainly in the North West and Niger State in the North Central, with the first-ever school abduction in the region recorded on December 11, 2020.
That night, gunmen led by a bandit leader, Auwalun Daudawa, stormed GSSS Kankara in Katsina and moved away with 344 students.
Subsequently, abductions occurred in the same fashion, but on lower scales at Government Science College, Kagara, Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State (February 17, 2021); Government Girls Science Secondary School, Jangebe, Talata Mafara Local Government, Zamfara State (February 26, 2021); Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi LGA, Kaduna State, (March 11, 2021); Greenfield University, Kasarami village, Chikun LGA, Kaduna State (April 20, 2021); and Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School, Tegina, Rafi Local Government Area (May 30, 2021).
Other cases of abduction are those at the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Yauri Local Government Area, Kebbi State, (June 17, 2021); Bethel Baptist School, Mararaban Rido, Chikun Local Government Area, Kaduna State (July 5, 2021); College of Agriculture and Animal Science, Bakura, Bakura Local Government Area, Zamfara State (August 15, 2021); Kaya Day Secondary School, Maradun Local Goverment Area, Zamfara State (September 1, 2021); and Government Day Secondary School, Birnin Yero in Shinkafi Local Government Area (September 22, 2021).
Like in the cases of the abductions in the North East, not all students abducted from schools in these other states have been fully accounted for as some were killed or have been kept by their captors despite payment of ransoms.
Raided schools, empty schools
Two armed policemen were on sentry at a security post by the gate of GSSS, Kankara, when our reporter visited on November 17. Beside them, the brown main gate conveys the sign of long time disuse.
The school’s vast compound sprawls out with zinc roofs glimmering under the sun. The classrooms and dormitories lie desolate in the silence of the compound, which is occasionally tinctured by distant sounds of lizards rambling through drying shrubs.
For 11 months, since the abduction, the school, which housed over 1,000 students at peacetime, has remained deserted. Since the ugly incident of December 11, no student has stepped into a classroom there.
“We had to close down the schools, first to study the situation and strategise,” Katsina Commissioner for Education, Dr Badamasi Lawal, said.
In nearby Zamfara, authorities also announced closure of 10 boarding secondary schools in the state to stop “what happened in Katsina to happen in Zamfara State”, as the state’s Commissioner for Education, Dr Ibrahim Abdullahi, said at the time.
That notwithstanding, Zamfara went on to record the highest cases of school abductions in the country – four.
With the abduction of students from GDSS Kaya, a day school, in early September, the Zamfara State Government shut down all government-owned schools in the state and their gates have remained locked up.
The trauma of keeping children from school spoken about by President Buhari in his October speech manifests in Salihu Tanko Islamiyya School, Tegina, where half of the population of pupils have not returned to school two months after the school reopened, after the hullabaloo generated by the abduction that occurred in late May.
The Head Teacher of the school, Alhaji Abubakar Alhassan, told Daily Trust in a recent interview that, “Some parents have completely withdrawn their children from school because of fear of insecurity.”
He added that, “Some children, even if their parents ask them to go to school, they don’t because of the previous experience.
“We reopened a month after the kidnapped pupils were released. But some of our pupils have stopped coming. Almost half of the population of our pupils have stopped schooling. Parents say they are scared because there is no security in the school.”
He further said the school’s authority was working out plans to meet with parents to enlighten them to see the need for their children to continue with their education regardless of security challenges and past experience.
“Apart from trying to enlighten the parents, we are also teaching some of the pupils who are coming to respond to security threats,” he noted.
Elsewhere, in Kaduna, Greenfield University is forced to operate away from its elaborate campus at Kasarami, along the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, to a smaller building in the city centre, as terrified staff and students showed no desire to go back to the site, seven months after the abduction of its 20 students with two of them killed.
Spokesperson of the university, Kato Joseph, told Daily Trust Saturday that not all students were back to the school as some parents withdrew their wards.
In Katsina, a source at the privately-owned Al-Qalam University told Daily Trust that the number of applicants for the school had dropped this year in what could be directly linked to safety concerns by the parents. This is despite that no incident was recorded in the school.
Defying the terror
Students in their numbers trickled into the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma, Katsina, when our reporter visited. Though there was no recorded attack on students there, but the university’s community has had instances of targeted kidnapping.
Learning continues in the university despite constraints like telecom shutdown Imposed by the state government, which affected Dutsin-Ma, as one of the troubled local governments as part of the government’s containment measures for the security challenges.
This had made educational and social life had for staff and students of the university who would have to undertake a journey towards Katsina city to access telecom services.
In more major towns visited, our reporter witnessed bustling atmosphere as in Nuhu Model Primary School and Lawal Primary School in Kankara, and some others in Batsari. With many primary schools on the outskirts shut, there is surge in student population in schools located within these densely populated communities.
The Education Secretary of Batsari Local Government, Dr Salisu Garba, said many displaced parents were enrolling their children in their newfound settlements.
“We encourage them to take the children to nearby schools, and we have directed all headmasters to accept any of those children brought to them,” he said.
In both Kaduna and Katsina states, the governments had taken a decision to move children away from schools in vulnerable locations to safer locations to continue learning.
The Kaduna State chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Ibrahim Dalhatu, said though the approach may help keep children in schools, it has inadequacies, especially because of distance which may hinder many students and some teachers unable to endure shuttling long distances to the new destinations.
To address safety concerns, the Katsina State Government, according to the governor’s Special Adviser on Security, Ibrahim Katsina, had “re-adjusted the school curriculum, the concept of the security management and introduced the various measures that assisted us to be on top of the situation”.
The state’s Commissioner for Education explained the measures thus: “Each boarding secondary school has five armed policemen, in addition to local vigilantes provided by the community.
“Parameter fencing were enhanced and barbed wire installed. Security lights have been installed in all the boarding secondary schools. We also have surveillance towers installed to monitor threats.”
He further said the government had also provided local dogs in the 41 boarding schools to aid policing and had directed principals to conduct special congregational prayers twice daily to seek divine protection.
To address the menace of the out-of-school children, which Nigeria is said to have the highest global number, the federal government, in January this year, constituted an 18-man Presidential Steering Committee on Alternate School Programme (ASP) to work on modalities of closing the learning gap, though the committee’s work is yet to manifest concretely.
Under the federal government’s Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) Programme-for-Results funded to the tune of $611m by the World Bank, 13 of the 19 Northern states are among beneficiaries.
The intervention is aimed at bringing out-of-school children into the classroom, improving literacy and strengthening accountability for results in basic education.
However, with insecurity and other systemic bottlenecks afflicting the system, it is unclear how much result the project will achieve its main goal of mopping up kids off the streets into classrooms in the troubled region.
“The government’s effort, no matter how laudable, will only succeed if the people support it, and that is what we are doing; to complement the government by encouraging parents to make sure the children remain in school,” said Magajin Garin Ruma,
This story is funded by the Daily Trust Foundation with support from The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.