“Are the areas where [the teachers] are to teach secure?”

In the second in a three-part series on education in emergencies with a focus on the northeast, this interview with Abiola Sanusi, Education Specialist at Riplington and Associates, a Nigeria-based training, advocacy, research and policy organization that uses qualitative and quantitative data to aid their educative work in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. Sanusi discussed from her civil society perspective the challenge of providing education in conflict-affected areas in northeast Nigeria, how much more is needed, the military’s role, what government has and had not done, and how local organizations can help. 

Read the first installment from this series, an interview with Education Officer and Coordinator of the Education in Emergencies Working Group Nigeria Dr. Judith Giwa-Amu, here

Can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Abiola Sanusi, and I’m an Education Specialist at Riplington Education Initiative. We are a national NGO based in the FCT.

I’m curious to know what non-government actors are doing with regards to education improving access for displaced children in the northeast. It feels like it ought to be a very government-centred thing.

Just to clarify, we don’t just work with IDP children; we also work with conflict-affected children more generally. Concerning the education sector, we focus on children aged 3-17 and on early childhood education in formal primary schools. We also work in non-formal education, which focuses on basic literacy and vocational skills training. In our work, we have prioritized the three states: Adamawa, Yobe and Borno States.

We are working within the structure setup by the federal government in which we have the inter-ministerial task force, and below them we have the various working groups. So you have the education sector, which is led by the Federal Ministry of Education, UNICEF and Save the Children. These working groups are in the FCT, Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. We also work in Kogi and Benue States because of the floods and the impact thereof, but for this discussion we are focused on the three states I mentioned earlier. With regards the northeast, though, one should also forget Bauchi, Taraba and Gombe States, because they also deal with the IDP spill-over.

According to the Humanitarian Response Plan, they have identified that 2.9 million children the ones – that I talked about between ages 3 -17 years old – are in need, but we are targeting 1.6 Million children in our interventions. The funds required to reach them, based on the various activities we are doing, is 56.3 million dollars. As of last week, only 9% of that amount has been reached. According to Dr Judith Giwa-Amu of UNICEF, she told you they have reached 88,000 people and we were supposed to reach 1.6 million by the end of December.

And the 1.6 million is not just IDPs but also the conflict affected children.

Yes. You also have children that, due to the insurgency, could not access to education but were not displaced. Borno schools were closed for 2-3 years, for example, and schools were destroyed in Adamawa State.

Abimbola Fayomi (head of the Education Hub at the Presidential Committee on the Northeast Initiative), when I interviewed her, talked about the skills gap among local society organizations. Dr Judith Giwa-Amu also talked about the need for international organizations to support these local organizations. What kind of skills are these? I’m sure you’ve witnessed the skills gap in your work.

Let us talk about the technical aspects of emergency education. Emergency education is different from education you provide during normal peace time and from education in development. You also have children who have never been to school, so you have to start with literacy and numeracy skills. For those children, you need a curriculum that can help transit them to a normal curriculum.

There are not many people that work in education that are skilled in this area. You could have a teacher that is trained to deal with out of school children but is not trained to avoid mines, conflict resolution or even in terms of providing psychosocial support.

The other skills gap is having to provide organizational development, how do you manage your organization so there are something that when you are talking about you need to have not just the technical aspect but your human development, how to keep financial records all those things into place.

And this curriculum with an emphasis on life skills is already created? And you just need to practice?

Yes. You have the State Mass Literacy Agency, which is the state agency for mass literacy and adult education. They have a non-formal curriculum, because we are talking about a region that has one of the highest number of children out of school, and about 74% of children that have not had access to education before. There is a curriculum already on the ground, but the issue is that we have to bring it all together and design something that fits the purpose for Nigeria.

Does this skills gap have an impact on these local NGOs’ ability to access funding?

It does, but I also think it’s not an excuse. In an emergency, we need to get people assistance that they need, and we can’t keep doing that while we do not develop the local NGO. We are the ones that are left here, because we don’t have an exit strategy; they do. There are some local NGOs that are ready to work, and I have met some incredible organizations that lack access to funds.

Does culture play a role in impacting the level to which children in the North East have access to education?

Yes, it does, but that’s not a barrier. We have to be flexible to if they want to have Islamic education, they will have it with the formal and none formal education.

So it should not be a problem?

No. I believe that if a parent insists on having Islamic education, we should infuse it into the formal and non-formal education. We should see this as an opportunity to get children to school in an area where they have not had access to education. We should recognise that religion plays a role in our society.

I must ask why is it that we never seem to achieve scale. We have roughly 88,000 children reached in 2 years, I was told about school transfer program for children that were already going to school previously that were operating in schools in other states.

We have only got 9% of 56.3 million as of July, but this is why I am very hopeful for PCNI to help fill the gap.

What would you say we need from government right now?

We need government to lead the way. We talked about children accessing education, but we should not forget about the teachers. What support is being given to them? Are the areas where they are to teach safe and secure? we do not know. What role should the military play when it comes to education. Because right now the military are providing the bulk of education.

Yes, they do.

Yes, they do, and that is because of the situation, but that creates its own issues as well.

Can you go into some detail about what type of issues does that dynamic bring?

Nigeria signed on to the Safe School Declaration in 2015, which is different from the Safe School Initiative. With the military in armed conflict, the military providing education in the camps can turn the learning centre or school into a target.

The other issue is that previously the military teachers used to carry their guns to the classrooms; that’s not going on now, but they still wear their uniform and we really don’t want them wearing their uniforms while teaching. Because they are teachers in the classroom, not soldiers.

The other issue is that there are some child protection issues. The military is not used to dealing with children, and the way they view the children in these conflict zones is different; some children are child soldiers, so the military needs some training about child protection.

Also there’s an issue about violence, gender based violence for the girls. Military in schools could also mean that parents may not want to send the girls to school for fear of military.

There are also have issues where you can have children who will be used to run errands passing messages around, so they are caught up in the act of conflict. Then you also have what happens when the military are ready to move on: what are the minimum standards that we have in place?

And after you have secured an area, we need to be clear as to when the military should actually leave the school.

We need to figure out what should be the minimum standard regarding security in these areas.

How would you rate coordination between state and federal government on a scale of 1-5? 5 being the highest. I would also want you to grade between federal government actors and donor’s agencies

Between federal and state, I will give it 1, because PCNI only just started.

Between donor agencies and international or government actors?

I will give them, when you talk about coordination is it?

Communication lines being open…

They are very good at that one, so I will give them a 5.

So they are good at communicating with each other.


So it’s the implementation that is the problem?

Yes, they have structures that are in place it’s just for them to communicate, so they communicate regularly. The problem is that there’s not a place in the structure for the local organizations.

So between local non-state actors and the state government?

I will give them 3 or 4. I think it’s because everybody just thinks there’s such a lot to do and who has time to build capacity of local non-state actors. I understand that there are some international NGO that tries to do that but there are not may like them.

Is this just a matter of organisational condescension? People assuming “I can’t talk to these people” or is it a matter of people saying i can’t do it right now?

I think it’s the latter, and we appreciate them bringing in the international expert consultants because we do lack the capacity, but there is indeed a need to help build the local capacity as well.

How is the work on access to education being shaped by the gender gap in education? For example, access to toilet facilities is important to improving girls’ access to education.

For the education working group, gender is given a very high priority. We were encouraged this year to develop program that focuses on that particular issue. For instance, when you are talking of water, sanitation and hygiene, you cannot just support a school now or a learning centre without a facility. We are also encouraged to do dignity kits for girls and boys. The issue really is ensuring the safety and security.

So when the parents of these children ask local actors what do we do concerning their security or local actors if their children will be safe, what’s the answer?

We are guided by areas that are deemed safe or not. Again, that’s a decision that Ministry of Defense and the Federal Government can make, not us.

What is your vision for success in the next five years, what are you hoping to see?

Regarding Borno State, I’m hoping to see more urgency.

In Education?

Yes, regarding education, a lot more urgency to see girls in school and a lot more remaining in school and most importantly none of these is going to happen without peace that’s what we keep coming back to.


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