Education Suffers Silently But Heavily As Terror Sweeps Through Northwest Nigeria

  • For a region already grappling with high numbers of out-of-school children, the emergence of terror gangs is making schools less conducive for learning and parents less able to afford the costs of educating their children.

At first, the staff and students at Sultan Muhammad Tambari Arabic Secondary School in Illela, Sokoto State, were disappointed when the government instructed them to close their boarding facility and merge with a different school in the metropolis. But then, something happened that changed their minds.

Towards the end of May, terrorists (described locally as ‘bandits’) had invaded the neighbouring village of Gidan Kamil, but vigilantes were able to repel the attack. As they left for a different community, the terrorists passed through the secondary school’s premises — minutes after midnight.

“If our students had been there, anything could’ve happened,” the principal, Abubakar Hassan, reflected about a week after the incident.

The students were panic-stricken and, before they resumed school, Abubakar had to travel down to convince them attending classes during the day was still safe. 

Shortly after the infamous abduction of over 300 pupils from their dormitories in Kankara, the Sokoto State government had closed 16 boarding schools. One of them was Sultan Muhammad Tambari Arabic Secondary School. The plan was meant to be temporary, pending an improvement in the security situation. But things have only gotten worse. In March, the government shut down other boarding schools outside the metropolis. And now, nearly a year later, students of the Illela school are still not back in familiar territory.

Abubakar Hassan, principal of Sultan Muhammad Tambari Arabic Secondary School, has had to move to Sokoto’s capital city since his school was merged with another. Photo: ‘Kunle Adebajo/HumAngle

Marriage of (in)convenience

In the past year, several states in Northwest and North-central Nigeria have closed many boarding schools to protect students from terror attacks and abductions. According to SBM Intelligence, at least 1,409 students and 17 teachers were kidnapped from schools in the region between March 2020 and Sept. 2021. Also, at least ₦220 million was paid to the terror gangs to secure their release. Sixteen of the victims died in the process.

The senior students of Sultan Muhammad Tambari Arabic Secondary School and those of Government Secondary School (GSS) Tureta are currently hosted by Sultan Abubakar College in the Sokoto State capital. On the other hand, those between JSS 1 and 3 and who are residents of Illela remain there as day students under the supervision of the Vice-Principal. Because both Sultan Muhammad and Sultan Abubakar are Arabic schools, their students simply attend the same classes. In contrast, students from Tureta have to receive lectures separately.

Since February, Sani Dingyadi Unity Secondary School, another institution in the state capital, has been hosting three other schools: GSS Sabon Birni, GSS Kore, and GSS Dogon Daji.

The mergers came with all kinds of inconveniences.

Abubakar Uthman Kalgo is the principal of GSS Sabon Birni, which in the recent past boasted of over 3,000 students, a third of which used the boarding facilities. Because of the combined student population of the schools, there is an unprecedented strain on resources at the host facility. Sani Dingyadi Unity Secondary School, for example, has only one borehole, making it difficult to get access to water.

Asides this, Abubakar says available classrooms, hostels, offices, and furniture are more than enough, with each of the principals, in fact, having his own office. More importantly, “the security situation is also improved unlike the place we came from.” 

This level of abundance is, however, not the case everywhere.

Sani Dingyadi Unity Secondary School, located in Farfaru, Sokoto, just like Ahmadu Bello Academy. Photo: ‘Kunle Adebajo/HumAngle

Students of Sultan Muhammad Tambari Arabic Secondary School say they are dissatisfied with the merger. “Even at a single school, there are issues; imagine combining three,” said Lukman Abu Sufyan, 18. “You already know things aren’t going to go well. We’re just getting by. This is why we are pleading with the government to take action on the issue of insecurity so that everyone can return to their place.”

His colleague, Nura Bello, chipped in that their sitting arrangements at the new school are not comfortable because of the inadequate resources.

“The facilities are not that enough,” confirmed their principal, Abubakar Hassan. “The dormitories are not that enough because other students are being merged. It is not 100 per cent convenient but we are actually managing.” He added that engineers from the education ministry visited the school a while back to inspect the toilets and promised to improve them. 

The fact that secondary schools operate different curriculums depending on whether they have an Arabic, Art, or Science focus also makes the mergers less practical. Boarding students who are asked to return to their home communities are oftentimes unable to find a similar facility close-by to continue their education.


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