Nigeria’s schools live in fear of Boko Haram

Deutsche Wella

Nigeria’s government has promised to protect schoolchildren. It has been six months since 200 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram and Nigeria’s northern states continue to live in fear.

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“The only thing we desire is that we want them back”, said Bukky Shonibare, barely holding back his tears. “At this point we are begging, we are pleading that they should do all that is needed and let the girls come back.”

Shonibare is a member of the #BringBackOurGirls group, which has been campaigning for the release of the school girls who were kidnapped in Chibok six months ago. For the relatives of the more than 200 girls who are still missing, the uncertainty has become unbearable.

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram – which translates as “western education is forbidden” – has continued to target schools in northern Nigeria. In the state of Borno, the group has reportedly killed over 70 teachers and destroyed 900 school buildings since 2011.

The kidnapping of the more than 200 secondary school girls on April 14, 2014 was no isolated case. Yet it caused an international outcry, propelled by the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls, with personalities like Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai demanding the girls’ release. In the weeks after the kidnapping, reports emerged that Nigerian and foreign security forces had information of the girls’ whereabouts. Yet six months later, the Nigerian government seems to have made little headway in the search.

A fund for safe schools

In May, Nigeria’s business community launched an initiative to protect schools and their students from further Boko Haram attacks. Both the business community and Nigerian President Good luck Jonathan pledged US$ 10 million (7.9 million Euros) to the “Safe School Initiative” and a fund was set up with the support of the UN Special Envoy for Education, former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

In an interview in July, Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told DW that the government planned to install better lighting and alarm systems in schools. She also explained that newly constructed schools would be built with fire-resistant material and that the surrounding villages would also profit from the fund. The Nigerian government was, however, unable to provide information on which schools had already profited from the initiative.

Campaigners remain skeptical

The #BringBackOurGirls campaigners remain unimpressed by the project. “We can’t be talking about the ‘Safe School Initiative’ if we don’t have the Chibok girls back,” argued Bukky Shonibare. There should be a security task force with a specific focus on school girls, the group demanded. In northern Nigeria, a large percentage of the girls no longer attend school. “Girls are still afraid to go to school in the North-East,” Shonibare added. Former education minister and backer of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Oby Ezekwesili, agreed and said that rescuing the girls would be the best proof that schools were now safe.

In Adamawa State, which has often been the target of Boko Haram attacks, the government has implemented some of the new security measures. A school in the town of Mubi, about 100 kilometers from Chibok, now has security guards patrolling its grounds. The only the problem is that they are unarmed. “The government should provide the guards with weapons and protective gear,” one of the students told DW. “I will only be able to concentrate on my studies if we are protected properly.”

The teachers are also concerned. “Every time the students go home, I hope that they will come back safely the next day,” Alhaji Muhammad Garga admitted. He would like the government to build a fence around the school.

Yet even if the government were to meet all the demands, security analyst Kabiru Adamu remains skeptical about its ability to protect Nigeria’s school children. “We have a situation where military formations with all the infrastructure they have and the posts that they have in place have been attack and have been subdued by the insurgents,” he told DW. “I cannot foresee a situation, where schools would have such a security presence as military barracks do.”

Adamu does not believe that the “Safe Schools Initiative” can achieve much, unless the government manages to defeat Boko Haram itself. Repeated attacks by the militant group indicate that Nigeria still has a long way to go in its battle against the Islamists.