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Curbing Insurgency through Educational Policy (1)

The Nigerian Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai has been appointed the Force Commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF). He has assumed duties at the new Headquarters in N’Djamena, the Capital of Chad Republic. The reorganised MNJTF arrangement is in line with the decisions of member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) which include Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroun, with Benin Republic as a honorary member.  The arrangement has the backing of partners in the fight against Boko Haram namely; France, the UK and the USA.
The MNJTF has now been sectionised into 3 Sectors to achieve more effect in its operations with one of the sectors Headquarters retained in Baga. The MNJTF was formed as a result of the need by the LCBC member countries to pool their effort together in a bid to provide a common and coordinated solution to the security challenges in the Lake Chad Basin region, especially the security challenges posed by terrorists in the region and beyond. The MNJTF will work and collaborate with the forces of the member countries in the fight against terrorists.
While a lot have been done on military strategies let analyses the words of Albert Einsten .who once said “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. The challenge of terrorism and ostensibly faith and cult based intolerance, partly manifested in the Boko Haram insurgency, that we face in Nigeria was created at the level of political interest. The top commanders of Boko Haram are not doing anything new. They do not believe that western education is forbidden as prophase. If they really did would they be using Western weapons to fight? Would they be using Western media such as YouTube and other social media to communicate with journalists? So rather than spend trillions on security and militarization, the Federal Government has to look beyond the immediate and have a long term strategy to starve organized terrorist groups of the oxygen that feeds their fire. We must begin to educate the masses of the North so that they value their lives. Education increases their level of consciousness and when a man has a heightened level of consciousness he is no longer easily susceptible to manipulation using primordial sentiments. Education also expands the scope of how they can earn income and get to a level of self fulfillment that cannot make them available for ideologues fighting different agenda. But it should not be in the North alone. Similar levels of low literacy in parts of the south are also sources of the state of insecurity in the South East and South -South. This is why I have offered a liberal perspective on Paulo Friers’s Pedagogy of the oppressed. The pedagogy of the Determined, which I have proposed, takes a community based entrepreneurial approach to activist learning that can transform and empower in a short period of time.

Last year, the government used the same argument that previous administration used which is that the funds meant to subsidize fuel is not getting to its intended target which is the poor. So instead of subsidizing fuel, Nigeria has been subsidizing corruption. Rather than subsidizing fuel (or corruption) I am not too sure that the government will face too much resistance if it says that it will henceforth subsidize education. With half of the money that we are currently spending subsidizing fuel Nigeria can offer free and qualitative education up to secondary school level, using social enterprises, faith based agencies to complement and compete with direct government funding of educational institutions. This is the type of s. This is the type of long term strategy that will defeat the menace of terrorism as well as increase our Gross Domestic Product because an educated people produce potential man power, have fewer children and are healthier.

There is no easy fix to fighting terrorism. Ask the Middle East, ask Somalia, ask Afghanistan. To defeat terrorism, you must look much farther ahead than the terrorists. You must target the intending terrorist in a policy of catch them young. Rather than fighting terrorism with trillions of Naira spent on security we are feeding it by causing deep hatred in the hearts of the people of certain parts of Northern Nigeria for the military. Right now many of these people cannot decide who they hate most between Boko Haram and the Joint Military Task Force (JTF). Instead we must spend trillions on education and education will do what guns and bombs cannot do-make people value their life too much to be fodder for terrorism.

What has gone awry in Nigeria is not a faith dispute but a crisis of values. And the insurgency can be curbed with education laced with the right values. Anti-Boko Haram activism, although justified and commendable, is often animated by a facile understanding of the group and its entwinements in deeper societal realities. To understand Boko Haram and the foundations of its rage, one has to understand two phenomena associated with the group’s rise. One of these is historical, going back to the relationship of the Muslim Hausa, Fulani, and Kanuri peoples of Northern Nigeria with Western education and occidental modernity both initially conveyed to the region by British colonialism. The other is what one would call the de-legitimization of the Nigerian state, an acute postcolonial problem of which Boko Haram is one symptom.

Translated from Hausa, Boko Haram means Western education is forbidden. The name references the theological opposition of the group to Western education and other signs and symbols of Western modernity. The group’s theology an eclectic collage of beliefs cobbled together from controversial medieval Wahhabi and Salafi sources, from expedient idiosyncrasies, and from ideologies modeled by the Afghan Taliban forbids Western education. Boko Haram sees secular Western ideas, acquired in the formal setting of Nigeria’s Western education system, as the foundation of many sins and problems.

In Boko Haram’s heterodox theology, Western education begets mannerisms, institutions, technologies, and forms of recreation and entertainment that are haram antithetical to pious Islamic living and outside the moral and judicial permissions of Sharia law. This implacable opposition to secular education throws up a contradiction. Although Boko Haram decries the expansion of Western education in its Northeastern Nigerian stronghold and blames this for all of society’s undeniable ills-corruption, maladministration, and poverty -these problems are more plausibly connected to the paucity of Western education in that part of the country, not to its influence.

Access to Western education for Northern Nigeria’s youth has not kept pace with population growth. Boko Haram’s complaint about the ubiquitous evils of Western education is thus rather ironic, since large swathes of Muslim-majority states in the region have actually escaped the influence of Western education and the modernity associated with it.

One could stretch this point even further. Preeminent in Boko Haram’s leadership are men without Western education, men possessing only Quranic learning. Given this reality, it is easy to see the source of the group’s ideological insularity and cultural parochialism. The acquisition of some Western education might have moderated the group’s disdain for it or caused its leaders to appreciate its instrumental usefulness even in a Muslim-majority society such as Northern Nigeria. At the risk of advancing a counterfactual, then, one could argue that there might not be a Boko Haram as we know it if these men had been exposed to Western education.

Moreover, Boko Haram’s foot soldiers are largely young men without Western education, who were driven to the insurgency by economic disenfranchisement in a society where credentialed Western education and secular knowledge are requirements for upward socioeconomic mobility. It is thus doubtful if these young men could be in Sambisa Forest camping Chibok girls, if they had had the opportunity to acquire Western education, its credentials, and its trappings.

It is no coincidence that Northeastern Nigeria, Nigeria’s least Western-educated region, is also arguably the country’s poorest constituency. This makes the area a fertile ground for both the populist and nihilist messages of Boko Haram. Educational deficit, the resulting poverty index, and extremism are intricately connected in a causal cycle, reinforcing one another.

Contrary to the claims of Boko Haram then, Western education is not the problem but part of a menu of solutions to problems such as unemployment, poverty, and crime, which the group’s leaders highlighted during its preaching, proselytizing phase. A legitimate question to pose then is whether extremist ideologies like Boko Haram would find positive reception and recruits if Western education had been more democratized and access to it subsidized for Northern Nigeria’s poor Muslims.

The dearth of Western education afflicts all Muslim-majority areas of Northern Nigeria, where a combination of British colonial policy on education and a strong suspicion of both secular and Christian missionary Western educations severely restricted the spread of secular schools.

Northern Nigeria became a British Protectorate in 1900 and colonial control was consolidated between then and 1907. Unwilling to offend the Muslim populations of many provinces, and wary of alienating Muslim elites the colonizers were cultivating as allies in their rule, British colonial authorities decreed a ban on Christian missionary activities in the Muslim emirates, cutting off these regions from the missionary educational enterprise, the major instrument for the spread of Western education in much of Nigeria and Africa.

The British went even further, establishing a two-tiered educational system that made colonial education an elitist affair, reserved for a few privileged Northern Nigerians. The first school system, exemplified by the prestigious Katsina College founded in 1921, catered exclusively to the sons of Muslim aristocratic allies of the British. The declared aim of the school was to educate potential emirs and aristocrats who would succeed their parents and continue to help the British administer their constituencies while British officers supervised — a colonial system called indirect rule.

The other branch of the colonial school system consisted of a few schools reserved almost exclusively for the sons of non-Muslim chiefs and big men who also played a supporting role in colonization. This group of schools was designed to train teachers, clerks, and workers for the colonial civil service.

While missionary education was restricted to a few non-Muslim provinces of colonial Northern Nigeria, and the exclusive state-funded schools educated a select group of privileged boys, the vast majority of Muslim Northern Nigerians remained without any form of Western education. This educational lag also persisted because there was suspicion in the Muslim emirates that Western education was a vector for ideas and practices deemed un-Islamic.

The region’s educational disadvantage remained until independence in 1960 when its leaders began to play catch up. To this day, the educational gap between Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria is visible and is captured in Nigerian policy parlance by the designation of many Northern Nigerian states as Educationally Less Developed States (ELDS). The educational needs of these states remain huge.

This educational heritage, or lack thereof, provides an important context for understanding the rise of Boko Haram. Boko Haram’s name and mission suggest that the root of Northern Nigeria’s many challenges is Western education. The truth is that the problem is inadequate Western education, not its presence.

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