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Boko Haram violence creates education crisis in NE Nigeria

More than two years after being attacked by Boko Haram, piles of blackened furniture, iron bed frames and computers still litter the burnt-out shell of the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi.

The corrugated iron roofing has caved in and the eerily silent school compound in Yobe state, northeast Nigeria, is overgrown with shrubs and grass.

Boko Haram fighters stormed the boarding school on February 25, 2014, killing at least 43 students as they slept, and destroying classrooms, offices, laboratories and dormitories.

Five months earlier, 40 students were shot in their beds at an agricultural college in Gujba, 23 kilometres (14 miles) away.

After the second attack, public officials in Yobe closed all schools. But local residents say their children have yet to resume classes, even with relative peace restored in the state.

“Some parents who have the means have sent their children to schools elsewhere,” Husseini Idi told AFP from under a tree outside his burnt-out house overlooking the deserted school.

“Most of us are poor and can’t afford to send their children to schools in other places.”

– Massive attack –

The situation in Buni Yadi is reflected across northeast Nigeria and a reminder of the challenges facing those charged with reconstruction of the devastated region.

The insurgency exacerbated problems in a region already grappling with low levels of education.

According to a report published last year by the Africa Health, Human and Social Development Information Service, some 52.4 percent of men and boys over aged six and 61.1 percent of girls and women had no education in the northeast.

In Yobe, it said the figure was 83.3 percent of the 1.4 million males.

More than one million children have been kept out of school because of the violence since it began in 2009, the UN children’s agency said in December.

In Yobe, Boko Haram, which opposes so-called Western education, killed 128 students in five public schools, burning down hundreds of classrooms, the state government said last week.

Next door in Borno, the authorities said at least 350 teachers have been killed and 512 schools destroyed, including in Chibok, from where more than 200 girls were abducted in April 2014.

At least 18,000 of the 130,000 people to flee when Boko Haram attacked Buni Yadi again in July last year have now returned, according to one military officer in the town involved in documenting returns.

But one of those to come back, Ibrahim Kampani, said: “For two years our children have not been going to school and this worries us as parents.”

– Town v country –

One school that has reopened is the Government Comprehensive Secondary School in Yobe’s commercial hub, Potiskum, where a suicide bomber disguised as a student killed 58 on November 10, 2014.

“The advantage we have over schools in the countryside is that we are located in the town where Boko Haram have no base,” said vice-principal Jubril Muhammad.

“Most of the students are based in the town and could come for classes from their homes while repairs were carried out on facilities destroyed in the attacks.”

Schools in hard-to-reach rural areas, however, face greater difficulties, with Boko Haram remnants still said to operate in the bush.

In Chibok, for example, there have been promises to rebuild the school, which was the only one in the town and surrounding villages.

But despite global outrage at the mass abduction that brought worldwide attention to the conflict, so far nothing has been done and the compound is in ruins.

– On alert –

In Buni Yadi, residents say the security situation is still too precarious for schools to restart, despite military claims of success.

“We don’t want to take any chances,” said one government official, who asked not to be identified. “It is still not safe for schools to reopen in the Buni Yadi district.”

Muazu Usman hasn’t been able to pick mangoes from his farm several kilometres outside the town since he returned last month. He said nearby countryside is “still infested with Boko Haram”.

The bush outside Buni Yadi leads to Sambisa forest, a former game reserve in Borno which Boko Haram has turned into its stronghold.

Soldiers and civilian vigilantes patrol Buni Yadi’s dusty, potholed streets in pick-up trucks.

“We are always on alert,” said one vigilante at a checkpoint, holding a hunting rifle in one hand and a machete in the other.

“We have pushed Boko Haram out but we are not relaxing our vigilance.”


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