Gender and Development

The Impact of Boko Haram’s Insurgency On Girls’ Education in Northeast Nigeria

Boko Haram threatens girls’ access to education as it is a core component of their modus operandi. Timi Akegbejo writes that the Nigerian government is working to improve the situation through a new initiative and policies, but still has significant work to do.


Beyond the loss of lives and damages to property, Boko Haram’s terrorism, which has lasted 9 years now, has severely affected education in northeast Nigeria, especially that of the girl-child.

Girls’ education in the northeast and the wider northern Nigeria society is terribly low and falls short of the national average despite improvements. A conspiracy of religious, social, and cultural factors like early marriages (often forced) represent the biggest obstacles for girls’ education. Only girls who are able to circumvent these barriers have a shot at completing a secondary education. Commenting on the issue of girls’ education in northern Nigeria, the Emir Of Kano, HRH, Mallam Muhammad Sanusi II said the following, “I am just tired of people coming to me to say I want to build a mosque. You know we keep building mosques and our daughters are illiterates. So my appeal is that if you really want to help Kano, don’t come to me with a request to build a 300-million-naira mosque because I have enough mosques everywhere. And if I don’t have a mosque, I’ll build it myself. If you really want to help, go and educate a young girl in the village.”

In order to understand why girls’ education has been affected by the humanitarian crisis in the northeast, one must understand that Boko Haram translates literally to ‘Western Education is forbidden.’ Deliberate targeting of schools and abduction of female students are at the heart of Boko Haram’s modus operandi. According to the Kudirat initiative for democracy, over 900 schools in the northeast have been either burnt or closed down by the insurgents. The aim of these attacks is to discourage parents from sending their girls to school.

In February of this year, Boko Haram kidnapped 94 girls from the Government Science and Technical secondary school, Dapchi town, Yobe state, northeast Nigeria. When the girls were eventually returned after negotiations with the Nigerian government, the parents were warned by Boko haram not to enroll them in school again.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has reduced girls’ attendance in schools and increased the number of internally displaced persons as both students and teachers flee for safety. Boko Haram also exploits the situation by deceiving school girls, many of whom are separated from family members and suffering emotional trauma, into carrying out suicide attacks.

Between January and July 2017, Boko Haram used 145 girls for suicide attacks across the northeast. The resultant effect of these is a large scale humanitarian crisis that has left many living in an internally displaced persons camp.

All hope is not lost, however, as the Federal Government of Nigeria seeks to improve security in schools with a Safe School Initiative and school feeding policy. The aim of the former is to ensure safety of schools for girls and boys alike by making the environment conductive for learning, while the latter seeks to attract students to school by feeding them. As these policies are in the infant stage, their impacts have yet to be seen.

One thing is clear, the Nigerian government in conjunction with humanitarian agencies still has a lot to do in reversing the effects of insurgency on girls’ education in the northeast.

Timi Akegbejo is a Nigerian writer based in Lagos, Nigeria. He is passionate about public policy, political economy and technology. You can engage him on Twitter. This piece is published as part of the #BeFREECampaign, a student-led initiative at Princeton University that is raising awareness about Nigeria’s humanitarian crisis and funds to support women, children and families affected by the conflict in Northeast Nigeria. 

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

Photo Credit: Global Partnership for Education/Kelley Lynch

The #BeFREECampaign at Princeton University is raising funds to support women, children and families affected by the conflict in Northeast Nigeria. All donations will support the Foundation for Refugee Economic Empowerment in providing humanitarian relief to people affected by conflict in Northeast Nigeria. Click here to make a donation today.

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