Boko Haram and the Nigerian School-Girls: Applying a Rights Centred Approach in Change

Last month, when over 200 girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in Nigeria Western social media was alive with pledges to stand with the families driving the #BringBackOurGirls campaign but now, a month later, the hashtag is no longer trending as our attentions are invariably turned instead to the FIFA World cup and other such ‘pressing’ matters.  The time has come to shift our focus back to the human rights situation in Nigeria and to deliver results.

 If you have a Twitter account, watch the news, listen to the radio, or just talk to people in the UK, then the news of the kidnapping of more than 200 girls from a boarding school in a remote North-Eastern Nigerian village will not have escaped your attention, and nor will the BringBackOurGirls hashtag.  What you may not know, however, due to the fickle nature of the British press, is that on Monday the 2nd June authorities in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, issued a statement banning further rallies around the campaign, stating ‘security fears’. A day later this statement was overturned and denied.

 You may also not know that on 12th June British Foreign Secretary, William Hague hosted a sideline event on how to ‘tackle’ Boko Haram as part of the ‘End Sexual Violence’ global summit in London.  The discussions, attended by representatives from several West African governments, including Nigeria and Cameroon as well as a number of Western countries looked at ‘terrorism’ in Nigeria. There was a particular focus on the activities of Boko Haram. 

Speaking at the summit, William Hague announced a ‘package’ for Nigeria, which would include further investment in and training for the military, education programmes and development programmes.  It was also announced that the response must be “fully in accordance with human rights”. 

Following on from this statement, the governments of the UK, the USA and France, who pledged this support should ensure recognition of the various actors involved in the situation in Nigeria and should take an inclusive attitude to the provision of assistance, which must place human rights at its centre.  The rhetoric sounds positive but it was also lacking substance and understanding of the situation on the ground in Nigeria. 

In light of recent events in Nigeria the obvious human rights topic up for discussion is the right to education and while this was touched upon, security and the provision of military training were the main focuses.  There was no mention of the abducted school-girls, or what would be done to ensure their safe return to their school and families, nor any mention of their human rights.  No mention of the violation of these girls’ right to education, their right to liberty or security of person. Nor was any mention made of how the programme would work in accordance with human rights, or how it would ensure an inclusive approach, based on local expertise.  For any programme to be successful in Nigeria, it must not only place human rights at its centre, but also consider the social situation in Nigeria and why it is a precursor to Boko Haram’s strength.

Boko Haram purportedly translates into English as ‘Western education is forbidden’.  With a reputation as an Islamist group, Boko Haram are alleged to be seeking to overthrow the Nigerian government, who they believe to be ‘corrupting Muslim values’.  In attempts to create an Islamic State, wealthy Boko Haram leaders have built Islamic schools, which many poor families have enrolled their children at.  With chronic poverty rife in rural Nigeria, these schools are an accessible alternative to state-run secular schools for many.  Until the situation of poverty and accessible education is addressed and social and economic rights are respected in Nigeria, Boko Haram is likely to continue gathering support, as it provides a perceived avenue for education and poverty alleviation in the country.


Laura Tyrrell

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