Mind The Gap: Education In The Colonial North

Image: Fox Photos via Getty Images

Image: Fox Photos via Getty Images

At a Memorandum of Understanding between the northern governor’s forum and Fundancion Profuturo, the Governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima revealed the irony of educational imbalance between Northern and Southern Nigeria. He disclosed that the North has a total of 41, 913 public primary schools, while the ‘South’ - made up of Eastern, Southern and Western Nigeria - has a total of 19, 978 public primary schools. He equally added that the North-East, alone, has a shocking 19,436 public primary schools.

What these statistics show, as Shettima noted, is that the problem with education in Northern Nigeria is not the lack of schools, but the absence of functional schools. Educational imbalance, in this light, is clear, but more cogent is the fact that the educational deprivation in Northern Nigeria has a much longer trajectory; one that has persisted for years, and stifled development in the North.

This deprivation is also known to have created and sustained a class system. It is, arguably, partly responsible for the negative dominant narratives and myriad crises that characterise Northern parts of the country. This, of course, is not to say that the Southern Nigeria has not had its own share of crises - it has. The difference between both regions can however be attributed to the lack of access to- and stunted growth of quality education in the region.


Keep The Culture, We’ll Take The Rest

In past times, many have tried, albeit unfailingly, to put an answer to the why stark margins exist in educational attainment. Despite differing suggestions, an argument commonly found at the hem of discussions is the dynamics of the region’s colonial past. That is, its British educational policy during the colonial period - one borne of a relationship of convenience between Northern traditional leaders and colonial masters; a convivial relationship chiefly responsible for the much vaunted success of indirect rule in the region.

This relationship of convenience, as Andrew Walker explains in Eat the Heart of the Infidel, was one where the British were being mindful of overly uprooting cultural practices, and equally making efforts at ‘‘dispelling the ignorance of the ruling class’’ through education, in order to create future administrators for the colony. The traditional rulers on the other hand, rejected the spread of schools so as to preserve their culture, and guard against Christian proselytisation.

In his bid to assuage these fears, Lugard - the then Governor of Nigeria - promised to keep the missionaries and their schools out of the North. This was, however, undertaken by Lugard as more of a political strategy to secure the loyalty of the Emirs, for the success of the British system of indirect rule. For the most part, the aim of colonial education in Northern Nigeria was to cater to the needs of the sons of Chiefs and Emirs.


From Exclusion To Haram

According to Tukur, colonial education in Northern Nigeria was aimed at “imparting some literacy to the aristocratic class, to the exclusion of the commoner classes.” By the 1930s, colonial education in Northern Nigeria had thus sufficiently created a class of future administrators for its model future ‘Nigeria’. The social and economic differences between the Western educated elites and the traditionally educated indigenes unwittingly sowed the seeds of animosity and resentment in this period, that would later bear fruits of biased attitudes towards education in Northern Nigeria.

This disparity and marginalisation, combined with the conflict between Western and Islamic education, can be said to have created an avenue for the emergence and evolution of Boko Haram in the North-East. Roughly translated to mean “Western education is unbelief’’, or forbidden, Boko Haram’s insurgency, in this light, was initially an outright rejection of education. It was built on an existing historical narrative of inequality and victimhood.

The group’s opposition to Western education fuelled their attacks on (non-Islamic) schools, students and teachers. The most damning of which have been the  infamous kidnap of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno in April 2014, and massacre of 59 schoolboys in February 2014 in Gujba, Yobe. These attacks have had a devastating impact on education, with more than 910 schools destroyed and at least 1,5000 schools forced to close between 2009 and 2015.


The Lost Generation

From deliberately targeting and killing teachers, school administrators, and education officials in late 2013, Boko Haram’s rejection of education has posed threats, intimidation and harassment to several communities. As of January 2015, the terrorist group had burnt 254 schools had been burned, and partially destroyed 276 institutions in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states. By October 2015, over 600 teachers had been killed in the Boko Haram conflict in Northern Nigeria.

In Borno state, alone, a total of 5,335 classrooms and other school buildings had been destroyed in across all levels of institutions. By early 2016, an estimated 952,029 school-age children and 19,000  teachers were reported to have  fled the area of violence, since 2009. The attacks have not only further widened the educational gap between the North and the South and clawed back gains that required decades of campaigns and enlightenment to achieve, but has also, deprived an “entire generation of children in northeast Nigeria of their education” as Mausi Segun states.

In a situation where about 14 million children of school age are now currently out of school in the Northern region, coupled with low enrolment rates and non-functionality of schools in a restive region, the race to reverse and rewrite colonial, postcolonial and contemporary narratives about the unsuitability or rejection of education by cultural supremacists or counter-elites cannot start at a better time. The importance of employing effective targeted measures to reverse these lost decades of educational deprivation and underdevelopment cannot be overstated.

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