Last week, several girls, some as young as 10 were dispatched, ostensibly by Boko Haram to launch suicide attacks and kill as many people as could in Kano and Katsina states. Two of the targets were telling: one bomb exploded at the Aminu Kano School of Legal Studies, while another bomber blended into a group of students at Kano State Polytechnic and blew herself up along with several students.
The resort to female suicide bombers could be an indication that Boko Haram is under pressure and is running out of available young men who have been thoroughly brainwashed to believe that indiscriminately killing people – whether Christian or Muslim – will land them at the Gates of Paradise and into the arms of Heavenly Damsels. It could also reflect a change of tactics, since it is easier for women and young girls to deflect suspicion and escape scrutiny at security posts.
At any rate, that people would be gullible enough to fall into the trap of the most blood thirsty terrorist group in the world, then dispatched to murder as many people as they can in cold blood is the worst form of illiteracy. And illiteracy in this instance does not mean literacy and numeracy skills in western instruction, but also about Islam as well: Anyone with a genuine understanding of Islam knows that the Quran values human life and forbids the shedding of innocent blood.
If members of Boko Haram, particularly the suicide bombers who volunteer or are coerced into carrying out mass murders know anything about the religion they claim to profess, they would know that unjustly killing any human being, regardless of faith, is a first-class ticket to the depths of hell. Their tragedy is, having lived deprived lives on earth, they might find that the heavenly bliss they dreamed of may be the opposite.
At a less esoteric level, the origins, growth and murderous philosophy of Boko Haram were born and borne of ignorance and illiteracy. When a region has, as does the north, nearly 11 million people out of school, what should we expect? That they will become model citizens and contribute to the development of society? More evocatively, what should we expect when 93% of the women in northern Nigeria lack something as basic as a secondary school education?
The threat of illiteracy is real and urgent. Nigeria has more out of school children than any other country in the world – including China and India which have several times our population. Nearly all of the estimated 11 million children that are out of school are in the north. The north – east, already the poorest and least educated, has had its educational institutions and systems ravaged by Boko Haram.
It is not an accident that Boko Haram has reserved its most brutal attacks on schools and students, including the systematic slaughter of 59 students in a secondary school in Buni Yadi. Even the mass slaughter was not enough; the bodies of the students were set ablaze and burnt beyond recognition.
One consequence of the calculated destruction of education in the north, especially the north east, is the widening of the already huge gap between the north and south in terms of education. As it stands, several states in the south have more private universities than ALL the states in the north combined. But that is taking it too far; Imo state alone has nearly as many JAMB candidates as some zones in the north.
Even the number of private universities and the huge disparity in the number of candidates writing JAMB does not tell the whole story: the education systems in several states in the south are so far ahead that even if Boko Haram were to end their terror campaigns today and peace returned to all parts of the north, it may take more than a decade for the region to cobble some semblance of functional education systems together.
The current gap between education in the north and the south is typified by Rivers State, where even opponents of Governor Rotimi Amaechi give him credit for the educational reforms he has implemented. They are better seen to be believed. The public schools in Rivers State are probably better equipped and managed than most private schools and the teachers better motivated.
No state in the entire north – including Kano where the current government has made some solid strides – can compare with the progress being made in Rivers, Bayelsa, Osun, Lagos and other states in the south. Within the next decade or so, the educational gap between the north and south of Nigeria will be so wide that we might as well live in two different countries.
This is not time for lamentation, but action: until the north, as a collective, urgently confronts terrorism through education and enlightenment, we may continue to breed more ignorant and brainwashed damsels of death who will not hesitate to waste their useless lives – just to kill our few educated ones.