News / Africa

Nigeria Islamists Hit Schools to Destroy Western Ideas

Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state, February 29, 2012.
Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state, February 29, 2012.
Reuters
They crept up to the school under cover of darkness, armed with petrol and automatic weapons.

Most of the teachers and pupils had fled, but some students, one teacher and headmaster Adanu Haruna were still in the compound, one of many rural boarding schools in Nigeria surrounded by forest and farmland.

“They made the students line up and strip naked, then they made the ones with pubic hair lie face down on the ground,” Haruna said, eyes wide with horror at describing the attack on the iron-roofed school built by British colonizers in the 1950s.

“They shot them point blank then set the bodies on fire.”

The Mamudo government school, charred and smelling of scorched blood after 22 students and a teacher were killed there in the July 6 attack near Potiskum in Nigeria's northeast, was the fourth to be targeted by suspected Boko Haram militants in less than a month.

Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, February 29, 2012.Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, February 29, 2012.
x
Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, February 29, 2012.
Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, February 29, 2012.
The attacks reveal much about the rebels who are fighting to revive a medieval Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria, the type of state they are seeking to establish and the impact of their efforts to do so on the African economic powerhouse.

In a video uploaded to the Internet on Saturday, Boko Haram's purported leader Abubakar Shekau denied ordering the latest killings, saying Boko Haram does not itself kill small children, but he praised attacks on Western schools.

“We fully support the attack on school in Mamudo, as well as on other schools,” he said. “Western education schools are against Islam ... We will kill their teachers.”

Boko Haram, a nickname which translates roughly as “Western education is sinful”, formed around a decade ago as a clerical movement opposed to Western influence, which the sect's founder, Mohammed Yusuf, said was poisoning young minds against Islam.

Yet security forces and politicians were the main targets of the armed revolt it started after Yusuf's killing in a 2009 military crackdown that left 800 people dead.

Since those days Boko Haram has splintered into several factions, including some with ties to al Qaeda's Saharan wing, which analysts say operate more or less independently, despite Shekau's loose claim to authority over them.

Before June, there had been only a handful of attacks on the Western-style schools it so despises.

An offensive against the insurgents since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three remote northern states in May, wresting control of the far northeast from Boko Haram and pushing its fighters into hiding, has changed that.

Across northeastern Nigeria, schools are emptying out, threatening further radicalisation and economic decline in a region left behind by the country's oil-rich Christian south.

Nassir Salaudeen, a teacher whose son was killed in a strike on Damaturu government school on June 16, the first of the wave of recent attacks, said he had put all his efforts into his boy's education in the hope he would get a good job.

“They killed him in cold blood, just because he was a student and his father a teacher,” a tearful Salaudeen said. “I regret ever being educated.”

“Soft targets”

For some, the school attacks are a sign the offensive has weakened the Islamist group, which is still seen as the main security threat to Africa's leading oil and gas producer.

“Given the security clampdown, many of the places like police stations or the military are getting harder for Boko Haram to hit,” said Kole Shettima, chairman of the Center for Democracy and Development. “Schools are soft targets.”

But the attacks also reflect a radical ideology that resents modernity and yearns to wind back the clock to an era before West African lands were conquered by Europeans.

Centuries ago northern Nigeria, like much of West Africa, was ruled by Islamic empires feeding off trans-Saharan trade routes connecting Africa's forested interior with its Mediterranean coast.

Boko Haram rarely gives statements to the media. But the little it has said suggests it wants to restore those glory days.

Last year, the sect said it wanted to revive the 19th century caliphate of Usman Dan Fodio, an Islamic scholar who threw off corrupt Hausa kings and established strict Sharia law.

When Britain established Nigeria as a territory, it agreed to spare the largely Muslim north's leaders the activities of missionaries, who brought Christianity but also education and literacy that gave the south a head start over the north.

The north was able to retain its Islamic culture but at the cost of suffering economically; political and economic power has shifted to the south and the education gap has played a role in that growing discrepancy.

A lack of education and high youth unemployment has also helped Boko Haram's Islamist ideology to thrive.

“Boko Haram think the secular school system has brainwashed Nigerians to accept the post-colonial Western order and forget the Islamic ways that existed before,” said Jacob Zenn, an expert on the sect at the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.

The attacks, which the U.N. children's fund (UNICEF) says have killed 48 students and seven teachers in the past month, aim to scare parents and their kids away from schools.

“It says: 'either take your children out of school or put them into an Islamist school we approve of',” Zenn said, one that teaches only in Arabic and omits courses like science.

He added that such schools need not necessarily be Boko Haram sponsored: there are conservative Islamic schools for children where they study under an Imam and the curriculum is all in Arabic and focused on the Koran. The sect accepts them.

“School deserted”

Many people are turning away from education altogether.

“The risk isn't worth it. These guys are just mindless,” said Mike Ojo, a mechanic in the northeastern city of Maiduguri who is taking his three children out of school.

Even if they stayed, many teachers have left, said teacher Ali Umar from a Maiduguri secondary school, and in many schools there are often too few teachers for the pupils who stay put, leaving them with little choice but to leave.

“I am not prepared to die for teaching. Time to start looking for a new job,” he said, shrugging. “Most of our schools are deserted anyway.”

The spot where Halima Musa's husband was shot dead at their home on June 16 -- in front of her and the children -- is still caked with his dried blood, the wall pocked with bullet holes.

They came at 3 a.m., guns blazing, demanding she open the door. She begged them to stop as they dragged the teacher out.

“They shot him three times in the head and told me that this should be a lesson not to marry a western educated person or any person that works for President Jonathan,” she said, choking back tears in front of three traumatized children.

Yobe state education commissioner Mohammed Lamin complained that the military had not done enough to protect schools from attack, even after they were targeted.

Before the murderous assault on the Maumdo school, there had been an earlier attack on May 8, in which some property was burnt. Headmaster Haruna said the security forces he called for help patrolled initially but stopped after a week.

The military was not immediately available to comment, but it has said in the past it is doing all possible to protect civilians while crushing the insurgents in its offensive.

Schools are a devastating target for an impoverished region suffering a high rate of illiteracy, but Lamin says he is determined that Yobe's children get educated.

“These terrorists are trying to stop western education but we cannot allow them do that,” he said. “We must do everything to ensure children are safe in the school.”

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs