A Dangerous Dream in Nigeria

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Education. For some, the word represents a frustrating stop on the way to so-called “real life.” But for others, education means so much more—it represents new beginnings, hope, and a better future.

Sometimes this hope is realized, but for persecuted communities around the world, academics are often nothing more than a wish; a subtle longing drowned out by the overbearing realities of everyday life under religious oppression.

This is the case for many Christian communities in Nigeria, where militant groups kill thousands every year. There, education often falls victim to the war of religious extremism being waged around it.

The media and governments tend to focus most of their attention on well-organized terrorist organizations like Boko Haran and the Islamic State. But think tanks and human rights watchdogs, including ICC, have warned for years that Fulani militancy—decentralized and harder to pin down than organized terrorist groups—actually present a far bigger threat to the civilian population, particularly within Christian communities.

Years of sectarian violence in Nigeria have put tens of thousands of Christian families into cycles of poverty that do not allow the luxury of formal education. Whether due to school uniforms, books, transportation, or tuition fees, education is costly.

Schooling is viewed as an optional expense for many in Nigeria, a luxury afforded to those with extra income. Spending money on education is not possible for some families, many of whom were kicked off their land or suffered the loss of valuable crops at the hands of roaming marauders.

However, a lack of resources is not the only problem facing Nigerian Christians trying to access an education. Security is also a problem, as seen most famously when Boko Haram kidnapped 276 mostly Christian girls from a school in Chibok in 2014. Other criminal groups have followed suit, targeting schools in particular since desperate parents are especially willing to pay ransoms.

Roughly 1,000 schoolchildren were kidnapped in the first half of 2021 alone from a range of schools, including government, Muslim, and Christian institutions. When attackers kidnapped more than 120 students from Bethlehem Baptist School in Kaduna, authorities shut down 13 mostly Christian schools in response, citing fears that they could be targeted next.

In the weeks following that kidnapping, parents of the children gathered funds to pay the roughly $1,200 USD ransoms demanded by the kidnappers. Sums like these can be devastating to the families, sending them into a financial tailspin and trapping them in a devastating cycle of poverty.

ICC’s work in Christian communities in Nigeria often focuses on this problem of cyclical poverty. Working with community leaders, ICC helps to establish sustainable sources of income. This often takes the form of communal farms or small businesses. Through these essential programs, persecuted Christians can regenerate income and provide for their families for years to come.

 

From the International Christian Concern here.