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

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora