Boko Haram is a vicious sideshow - Nigeria's self-serving elite is the real culprit

The teenage girls abducted in Borno state were part of a tiny minority making it to secondary education

Share

Vigils will be held around the world today to mark the 100th day in captivity of over 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from a school in northern Nigeria. The anniversary is a poignant reminder of the wider threat to girls' education posed by Islamic extremism. Yet the greatest threat of all comes not from gun-toting Jihadists, but from the failure of political elites to provide universal education.

No country illustrates that failure more comprehensively than Nigeria. The teenage girls abducted in Borno state, northern Nigeria were exceptional. They were part of a tiny minority making it to secondary education. That's why they were targeted by Boko Haram. Girls in Borno average less than half-a-year of schooling - and just one-in-twenty make it beyond primary school.

While much of Africa has made progress in education Nigeria is slipping backwards. Over 10 million primary school age children are out of school, two-thirds of them girls. Behind the headline numbers are some of the world's deepest education inequalities. Children from the poorest 20 per cent of households get three years of schooling, compared to over 12 years for those in the richest households. Being born a girl in northern Nigeria is a passport to illiteracy and a life of diminished opportunity.

Depressing as the out-of-school figures may be they tell only a partial story. The quality of education delivered in Nigeria's  classrooms is woeful. Half of the children who get through six years of primary schooling emerge unable to read a simple sentence or add two digit numbers. There's a good reason for these outcomes. Most of Nigeria's teachers are unable to pass primary school exit tests. Add to this a chronic shortage of textbooks and you get a recipe for schooling without learning

Chronic under-financing is at the heart of the crisis. Nigeria allocates just 3 per cent of GDP is allocated to education - one of the lowest levels in the world. Inadequate public spending leaves parents to foot the bill - and many are too poor to pay.

Hopes that a decade of economic growth would change the financing picture have proved illusory. Nigeria has now overtaken South Africa as the region's largest economy. Thanks in part to the generous allocation of oil trading and import licenses under President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria has one of the world's fastest-growing populations of millionaires and billionaires. Luxury goods markets are booming - as is the market for private jets. Unfortunately, systemic tax evasion and endemic corruption have limited collection of the revenues needed to finance education and other basic services.

Financing is just one part of a wider political failure. Early marriage is a major barrier to education in Nigeria. Some 40 per cent of all girls in Nigeria marry by the age of 18 - and just 2 per cent of these children attend school. Yet successive governments have failed to tackle the issue.

For all its moral depravity Boko Haram understands the power of education. There is a reason the group attacks school children, assassinates teachers, and destroys schools. Its leaders know that the literacy, opportunity and hope that come with education are the enemies of religious extremism and intolerance.

Nigeria's government should be doing far more to bring back the girls abducted from Borno. But the country's political elite needs to rethink its neglect of education. National security, stability and shared prosperity cannot be built on a school system that destroys the potential of so many of Nigeria' children.

Kevin Watkins is Executive Director of Overseas Development Institute

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Harvey Proctor's home was raided by the Met under a warrant investigating historical child sexual abuse  

Harvey Proctor: A gay sex ring in Westminster? I don't believe it

Harvey Proctor
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk