Why Nigeria’s new president must prioritize girls’ education in his fight against Boko Haram

Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s op-ed in the New York Times this week is welcome news, especially to girls in the north of the country. Buhari rightly emphasizes the Nigerian government’s duty to protect its citizens from Boko Haram attacks as well as the importance of ensuring education is delivered to all its children.

The kidnapping of the 200 Chibok girls 12 months ago captured global attention and spurred global outrage with the grassroots movement #BringBackOurGirls. However, both before and after that horrific incident, attacks on girls’ education have been prevalent throughout the north of Nigeria. Frequently, schools—even those that have not been attacked—are closing as parents fear for the safety of their girls and do not send them to school.


Nigerian girls face limited education opportunities


Girls’ educational opportunities in the formal government system have been limited for some time in northern Nigeria; the region has regularly had some of the worst education statistics in the world. According to UNESCO’s 2010 Monitoring Report, in Nigeria five years ago a boy who lived in an urban area and was from a family in the top 20 percent of the socioeconomic ladder received an average of 10 years of schooling, whereas a girl who lived in a rural area and was from a family in the bottom 20 percent of the socioeconomic ladder received on average two years of schooling. Worse yet, if that girl happened to be from the Hausa minority she only received a few months of schooling on average in her lifetime.

Some have argued that the traditional Koranic education system that has a long history in the north of the country is much more effectively run than its government school counterpart. The Koranic system focuses on learning religious and cultural history and values and ultimately prepares girls to play the socially important role of mother or wife in their communities.


Next steps for Nigeria’s new president to deliver girls’ education


To truly do what he has stated he would like to do, President-elect Buhari must seriously invest in building the capacity to effectively deliver government schooling in northern Nigeria. This will take strong political leadership not only from him but all the way down the chain. And, it will take a sustained commitment to ensuring the north’s education system receives its fair share of resources.

It will also take a commitment to listen to and closely partner with girls’ education advocates and educators in northern Nigeria who have been working tirelessly for years in their communities to find creative ways to support girls’ learning opportunities. Often these advocates are working quietly through civil society networks and have a deep insight into the girls’ education strategies that will be the most successful. Ensuring these voices play an important role in designing, executing, and monitoring a strategy to strengthen the government education system will be important for Buhari’s success.

Delivering safe and quality schooling opportunities to all young people in the north will undoubtedly be a long-term endeavor. However, demonstrating sustained progress within a smart strategy can go a long way toward rebuilding the hope that Buhari rightly says parents and young people, especially girls, so desperately need.