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Education on the Brink? – Nigeria


In 2022, Nigeria’s out-of-school children are estimated at 18.5 million, according to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). The figure is a sharp rise from 10.5 million recorded in 2021. According to UNICEF and other sources, Nigeria’s out-of-school children statistics are fuelled by northeast terrorism, banditry in the northwest and northcentral regions, incessant sit-at-home orders and attacks on non-compliant residents in the southeast. The continuity of these security challenges and their implications on safe schooling is telling. Beyond insecurity, other enabling factors are ethnoreligious limitations that constrain access to formal education.

Unsafe schools are one of the symptoms of violent conflicts in Nigeria. Many Nigerian schools are vulnerable to attacks by non-state armed groups. Education represents what the jihadist campaign is against in the northeast region, “western education”. Hence, the brazen attacks on schools, the abduction of school children, enslavement, forced marriages, recruitment and use as child soldiers. Schools face attacks in banditry-rampaged northwest and northcentral zones because the attackers have a large pool of potential kidnap victims they can use as bargaining chips for a ransom payment. Over 1,500 school students were kidnapped in 2021. In the southeast zone, attacks on schools are relatively less fatal. Reports show that attackers mainly disrupt school activities while enforcing sit-at-home orders. However, this trend and the broader violent conflict incidents in the region affect all aspects of human endeavour.

Nigerian children are one of the major losers in the era of increasing security threats. Attacks on schools limit access to education. According to UNICEF, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is from Nigeria. Sixty per cent of out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls. The country already has a poverty crisis, with about 83 million people living on less than $1.90. It is also argued that there is a poverty polarity, with figures from the northern region higher than the national average (Institute of Security Studies report). Continued constraints in accessing education will worsen the poverty statistics. The younger population are denied educational opportunities, which will affect their self-development, productivity, self-reliance and vulnerabilities. Given the proliferation of non-state armed groups, recruits are needed to fill up their rank and file. Hence, out-of-school, unskilled and unproductive demographics are vulnerable to the antics of violent entrepreneurs.

Nigeria must develop a new form of educational services. Education remains a critical tool for human capital development and the economic growth of a country. However, terror has increasingly made schools unsafe. Therefore, the Nigerian government must work with development partners to increase intervention programmes to provide basic education to conflict-affected children. In addition, delivering education in a crisis has become vital for the Nigerian government to ensure continued access to tutoring. For instance, curricular activities in displacement camps should be increased to ensure that displaced children can still access education. Interventions should also be made in host communities to strengthen the capacity of educational infrastructures and resources to meet the increased needs.

Education in crisis should include new roles for relevant actors. The uncertain crisis environment has increased the propensity for violence, killings, injuries and abductions. Therefore, communities, caregivers, teachers and other school management staff need to undergo security awareness and emergency preparedness training to identify and react to security threats. The training, which security experts will administer, should involve tactical strategies to evaluate and escalate security threats. It will help the relevant actors be vigilant to changes in their environment and work with security organisations to prevent attacks. This effort should involve community members where schools are located. Security should be marketed as a collective effort. Therefore, it will be essential to get the buy-in and collaboration of the communities in creating a new form of resilience and response to security threats.

Addressing violent conflicts in Nigeria will end the ripple effects. Unsafe schools and increasing out-of-school children significantly result from rising violent conflicts. The Nigerian government must increase combative and non-combative efforts to tackle escalating violence. Beyond education, violent conflict affects all aspects of human endeavours. Addressing the root causes of the various conflict issues in Nigeria will help prevent its implication on education and other socio-economic activities. Meaningful development cannot happen in the absence of peace and stability. Managing conflict in Nigeria will help the government and development partners’ effort toward development assistance across the nation. Unaddressed out-of-school children will create new problems for the country in future.



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