When Amina, 20, secured admission to study Political Science at the Yobe State University, – now Bukar Abba Ibrahim University, Damaturu — she hoped that her time at the institution would not exceed four years. A year later and unable to write her second semester examination, a requirement for promotion to 200 level, Amina has started considering the advice of one of her lecturers before the strike commenced.
“One of our lecturers told us [the girls] to go get married and have babies because we will be staying at home for a long time. Since the Federal Government is yet to meet the demands of the lecturers and there is no guarantee that the strike would end soon, I’m seriously thinking of getting married and having babies,” she said.
Asked what would happen to her dream of becoming a graduate and top politician in her state, Amina said: “I may return to school if my husband permits me. If he doesn’t, I will have to obey him and forget about going back to the university.”
Amina hails from Adamawa State, northeast Nigeria. The culture of early child marriage and over a decade-long Boko Haram insurgency have forced back efforts by the government and civil society organizations to get more girls, in the region, to go to school.
Sadly, with the ongoing strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), more girls like Amina may not return to school.
According to the United Nations Education Fund (UNICEF), there are about 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria. These are children between ages 5-14. Of this figure, over 60 million are girls. In northern Nigeria, most of the girls who can complete primary school do not go beyond this level as they are married off. The picture becomes bleaker when it gets to the secondary and tertiary levels.
In the end, the gender inequality gap increases with more men in leadership positions. These men are also able to defend their rights and make laws that, often, negatively affect women and children. The story is almost same across the country.
Experts have established a connection between illiteracy and gender-based violence. From our intervention in tackling sexual and gender-based violence, we have observed that most uneducated girl are unable to defend their rights or seek help in times of an abuse unlike those who are educated.
As a front line civic organization championing women’s political participation in Nigeria, we also know that with fewer girls in school, the number of females in elective and leadership position reduces overtime.
Prolonged strike actions, especially in the education sector, benefits no one. Young males are affected as most of them become willing tools in the hands of some enemies of the state.
As a rights group, we believe that education should be the priority of the government. The lip-service currently being paid improving to this important sector would impact negatively on our national life.
If the lingering issues that has led to these recurrent strikes are not met as quickly as possible, the shutdown of tertiary institutions by ASUU would have devastating effects on the nation’s political and socio-economic life.
These strikes further take us back in terms of efforts to ensure gender equity and equality. Massive efforts by both local and international organizations to ensure the rights of women and girls in the country will continue to face a huge setback if more girls, who are willing to go to school, are forced to stay at home due to the insincerity of those elected to protect their right to education.