By Folasade Folarin
Education is the right of every child, irrespective of tribe, religion or class. Therefore, it is an incontrovertible fact that education, not only propels a child’s development but also stimulates the growth of any human society.
This, perhaps, explains why governments across the world strive to key into the Education for All (EFA) programme of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
EFA has six specific goals, all aimed at meeting the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015.
However, concerned citizens say that such aspirations may not be realisable in some states in the northeastern part of Nigeria, where the Boko Haram insurgents are making it difficult for children to acquire education.
In specific terms, Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states have since been under a state of emergency, following terrorist attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents, thereby causing the closure of many schools.
The helplessness of the people of the region in the face of the growing menace of the insurgents, perhaps, reached a crescendo on April 14, 2014 when more than 200 female students of Government Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno were abducted from their school premises.
The girls were ferried away by the insurgents to an unknown destination, which some reports later confirmed to be Sambisa forest.
The girls were preparing to sit for the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), in spite of the obvious security challenges in their neighbourhood; tacitly signifying their love for education.
After the girls’ abduction, Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau, threatened in a video clip that he would sell the girls off into forced marriages.
Since the onset of the insurgency, the Boko Haram group has killed many citizens, while kidnapping several others, as part of its machination to dissuade the youth from acquiring Western education, among others.
As part of their campaign of carnage, the insurgents have destroyed many schools and killed several students.
However, one of the major questions which people often ask is: “Did the hapless Chibok girls commit any offence by choosing education over ignorance; light over darkness?
Although many pleas have been made by several national and international organisations for the release of the abducted girls; the insurgents have been keeping them in custody for more than 100 days now.
The continued incarceration of the Chibok girls has elicited the concern of many groups and individuals across the world, as pressure is mounting on the Federal Government to expedite action in efforts to rescue of the girls.
For instance, Oxfam Nigeria, an international organisation, has joined several other groups in pressing for the liberation of the kidnapped girls.
Its Country Director, Dr Chichi Okoye, stressed that the security challenges facing Nigeria had the potential of destabilising the entire West Africa sub-region, adding that the challenges should not be viewed as a Nigerian problem alone.
‘We, therefore, strongly urge the Federal Government to use every available resource in liberating these girls and ending this conflict,’’ she said.
However, Safiya Akau, the Communications Officer of Oxfam Nigeria, underscored the need to promote girl-child education, saying that tangible emphasis must be placed on girl-child education in all the country’s development efforts.
“In Oxfam, women are at the heart of everything we do, and girl-child education is a critical tool for girls to escape deprivation and inequality.
“This act of terror against the Chibok girls goes beyond their abduction. It strikes at education; the core of efforts to address poverty and discrimination among girls.
“Girl-education must, therefore, be protected and promoted by all available means,’’ Akau added.
To drive home the importance of girl-child education, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl-child education campaigner, made a 200,000-U.S.-dollar donation (about N32 million) from the Malala Fund toward child-girl education in Nigeria.
During her three-day visit to Nigeria, Malala said that her 17th birthday wish was “to see every child go to school.
“I want to see my Nigerian sisters being released from their abduction and I want them to be free to go to school and continue their education,’’ she said.
Malala called on the Boko Haram insurgents to stop misusing the name of Islam by preventing young girls from going to school.
“I ask Boko Haram to stop misusing the name of Islam; Islam is a religion of peace; Islam allows every girl and every boy to go to school and get education. Education is compulsory in Islam.
“The word Islam means peace, and the first word, which was revealed to Prophet Muhammed was ‘Iqra’ (read).
“Islam gives the message of tolerance, patience, harmony and humanity.’’
Malala appealed to the Boko Haram insurgents to lay down their arms and release the abducted girls.
“I ask the Boko Haram people to think about their own sisters; if they suffer in the same brutal and harsh situation, how would you feel?
“If your sisters are homeless, if they are under the captivity of someone who is so violent and cruel, how would you feel?
“Those girls who are under your imprisonment are like your sisters; Islam preaches a message of brotherhood; we are all sisters and brothers.
“Release the daughters of this nation; let them be free; they have committed no crime,’’ Malala added.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has given an assurance that the Chibok schoolgirls would not remain in captivity for much longer, saying that the Federal Government was intensifying efforts to ensure their release.
“We promise that wherever these girls are, we’ll surely get them out. I really sympathise with the parents, relatives and guardians of these girls; it is traumatising and painful but we assure them that we will get their daughters out,’’ he said.
However, a statement by Dr Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, said that the government’s efforts to liberate the girls were constrained by the overriding imperative of ensuring their safety in any rescue attempt.
“Terror is relatively new here and dealing with it has its challenges. The greatest challenge in rescuing the Chibok girls is the need to ensure that they are rescued alive.
“The time taken to achieve that objective is not a question of the competence of the Nigerian government.
“We have teams from the U.S., Britain, France, Israel and other friendly nations working with us here on the rescue effort, and they all appreciate the challenges and the need to tread carefully to achieve our purpose,’’ he said.
Besides, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance, conveyed the Federal Government’s commitment to rescuing the Chibok girls, vowing that the government would never leave the girls to their fate.
Expressing the government’s concern about the plight of the girls, Okonjo-Iweala pledged at a recent function in Ilorin that the government would never relent in its efforts to secure the girls’ release.
“We promised that we would not forget the girls and we will surely not forget them.
“The reason why I wanted to mention the girls is that whenever we speak about what happened to them, we always feel sad,’’ she added. NAN