The Girls In Rural Nigeria Defying All Odds For An Education

In Borno State’s rural areas, where the echoes of insurgency reverberate and poverty casts its long shadow, the education dreams of girls like Fatima Ali and Falmata Muhammad face formidable challenges. How do they navigate these turbulent times? HumAngle finds out.

Education was not a priority for Fatima Ali’s parents. But to her, it was. 

The family struggled financially. They also did not believe in girls’ education. These were the initial hurdles she needed to overcome in order to achieve her dream of going to school. 

Fifteen-year-old Fatima lived in London Ciki in the Jere local government area of Borno State, North East Nigeria, with 14 siblings, none of whom had set foot in a classroom until she and her brother, Mustapha, later defied the norm.

Breaking the norm

In Fatima’s family, girls are typically married off at 18. But Fatima had a different plan for her life – she wanted to become a teacher. For a girl who had memorised parts of the Qur’an, she was determined to become an example that formal education, especially for girls, is paramount. 

“In 2020, after COVID, my brother and I were able to join a free lesson class conducted every evening in Shehu Sanda Kyarimi Primary School. Impressed by my quest for education, the headteacher spoke to my father, admitted us into primary four and gave us uniforms,” she recounted.

But this development came with some challenges. They have to walk to school and often on an empty stomach. This meant they got to school late due to the distance. Then there is the struggle to pay some fees, which turns Fatima’s quest for learning into a daily battle.

“While in school, we faced several challenges, including going to school on foot and on an empty stomach because our parents don’t have the means to provide us with the normal three-square meal daily. Also, they don’t have the means to give us transport fare. It often takes us at least an hour to get to school, which sadly results in lateness, missing out on class activities and being behind schedule,” she told HumAngle. “We also sometimes lack the means to pay examination fees and other levies, which is up to ₦2,000 per term.”

Then there is still the mindset that Fatima’s father holds on to – that education, particularly that of a girl, is not important. This stands as a threat to her dream. “They have this mentality that they were never enrolled into school when they were children.”

Her parents would rather have their children enrolled into Tsangaya, the Qur’anic education system, which the parents were familiar with as children. 

When, impressed by Fatima’s thirst for formal education, the headteacher of Shehu Sanda Kyarimi Primary School convinced her father with great difficulty to let her and her brother enrol, he agreed with a condition. “He said he cannot sacrifice what is meant to feed the family in order to send us to school. Therefore, we should bear it at the back of our minds that being in school is entirely dependent on us,” Fatima recalled.

The way up

In Fatima’s family, while the girls are mostly married out when they get to age 18 or 20 after they have memorised some portions of the Qur’an, the boys go into trading, become water vendors or offer loading and off-loading manual services, HumAngle gathered.

Fatima’s friends, like her, attend both Tsangaya and formal schools. However, unlike her, they were enrolled on time. “Their parents are not like mine. All of them are either in Senior Secondary School One or Two. They will be due to go to higher institutions in a year or two,” Fatima said with a tinge of sadness in her voice. 

A close-knit group of six, Fatima and her friends often advise each other “to ensure we study up to a higher level and become successful in life. We vowed that even if we are to be married off, we must continue with our studies even in our husbands’ home,” she said.

To support their education, Fatima and her brother craft and sell caps, pooling meagre funds to navigate their financial hurdles. Despite these odds, she holds tight to dreams of a future where education transforms lives.

Others struggle too

Like Fatima, Falmata Musa Muhammad, a 16-year-old primary five pupil, has her own struggles, but there is a bright side to it. She is fortunate to have her parents’ support. They had Falmata and her two sisters enrolled into the Mohammad Laminu Modu Mega Primary School in Ngomari, Jere local government area. However, poverty looms large in their family of 19 children. Yet, Falmata’s father insists on educating his daughters.

“The major challenge I am facing is poverty. There are several things my father could not afford. We always go to school on foot, which takes us at least 30 minutes,” Falmata said.

Falmata Musa Muhammad holds a cap she made in front of her parents’ bedroom. Photo: Al’amin Umar/HumAngle.

“No one in my family gets to further their education beyond primary school because our father could not afford education beyond that. The girls are married off once they come of age while the boys will go into business.” 

At the age of 10, Falmata started making caps to help with her education. Because her dreams stretch beyond the boundaries of primary education, she makes each cap with the hope that it will come true. 

The community steps in

Bulama Mustapha Gambo Kura, the community leader of London Ciki, believes that girls’ education is instrumental to the development of society at large. “It is with education that girls become doctors and lawyers and help women like themselves,” he said.

However, poverty, exacerbated by the Boko Haram crisis, stands as a formidable barrier to education for girls. Parents struggling to feed their families often resort to sending their children to hawk items, thereby disrupting their education.

“Most of their parents are poor. It is very difficult for some families to enjoy the normal three-square meal. Some homes eat once in a day while others once in two days. No one can study on an empty stomach.” 

Bulama Mustapha Gambo Kura, the community leader of London Ciki and HumAngle’s reporter, Al’amin Umar after the interview. Photo: Al’amin Umar/HumAngle.

To encourage girl’s education, Kura and his team carry out sensitisation aimed at emphasising the importance of education. They do these in mosques, homes, and other gatherings. “We often advocate that the girls should not be sent out to hawk because once a girl is sent out to hawk, she becomes vulnerable and a victim of predators of rape and other sexual assaults,” he pointed out.

However, the leadership often faces resistance. Some parents see formal education as a foreign influence and resist the enrollment of their daughters in schools. Despite this, Kura is relentless in encouraging the parents to at least let them complete secondary education before considering marriage. 

Government’s efforts

London Ciki has only one public school –  Ngomari Gana Primary School and Ngomari Gana Junior Day Secondary School. The lack of a senior secondary school means students must travel long distances on foot.

Attempts to speak with the Borno State government or its officials at the ministry of education, including through a letter and a follow-up, proved futile.

However, Kura explained that as a means of supporting education in the community, the Borno State government, under the Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) programme, had made certain provisions. These included writing materials, school bags, sandals, and uniforms for the girls and boys in both the primary and junior secondary sections.

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