A portion of the $120 million the Obama administration is infusing into Nigerian education programs fund Islamic schools that exclusively teach students “the recitation and memorization” of the Quran, government documents reveal.
The Northern Education Initiative Plus, or NEI+, project seeks to broaden access to education while strengthening literacy skills of the predominantly Muslim population of northern Nigeria, according to procurement documents WND located through routine database research.
Obama wants to increase the number of schools that offers an expanded “core” of subjects, including Islamic schools that currently offer little or no academic options.
Among other primary objectives of the five-year program is the modernization of these educational institutions by increasing the quality of teacher training and promoting the use of proven, internationally recognized teaching methods.
Northern Nigeria, however, is home to the Islamic jihadist group Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated “Western education is sin” or “Western education is forbidden.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, mentions the role of religious conflict in disrupting regional education efforts yet fails to identify Boko Haram and its violent jihad, such as the group’s kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls earlier this year.
The Obama administration initially declined to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, despite the group’s frequent attacks on government as well as civilian groups.
The attacks included multiple incidents of murdering Christian worshipers during church services.
Indeed, as WND reported in 2012, the administration once took the position that northern Nigerian violence was mistakenly characterized as a religious conflict, classifying it as a tribal dispute over land.
Last year, however, in response to congressional pressure, the State Department relented and slapped the terrorist label on Boko Haram.
The administration likewise has since sought to deploy advisers to Nigeria to assess and improve safety conditions of U.S. consulates, personnel and recipients of $1.2 billion in U.S. government-aid programs currently in operation
USAID acknowledges that persistent conflict, particularly in the northern region, has contributed to Nigeria’s poverty and overall national fragility.
Religion, politics and ethnicity, intertwined with corruption, poverty and insecurity, “have shaped the education system in Nigeria and altered access to and quality and delivery of education.”
The USAID contractor, therefore, must integrate a “conflict-sensitive approach” to changing the culture of education-delivery in northern Nigeria, making sure to “avoid reinforcing stereotypes and exclusion” when designing the NEI+ program.
“Education can help promote social cohesion, contribute to identity formation, build peace, and bridge the gap between humanitarian assistance and sustainable development,” it says.
“However, education can also undermine these processes. When it is not provided responsibly, education can be exclusionary, oppressive, exploitative and corrupt, and it can propagate extremism.”
U.S. policy objectives
Bringing an end to extreme poverty and creating a democratic Nigerian society – particularly one willing to work with the U.S. government on matters of global security and prosperity – “is critically important” to the Obama administration, according the project’s Statement of Work, or SOW.
“The U.S. and Nigeria share extensive economic interests, represented by the $8.1 billion of U.S. foreign direct investment in Nigeria in 2012 and the $11.6 billion of Nigerian crude oil that the U.S. imported in 2013,” the SOW says.
“This highly profitable bilateral trading relationship will only be strengthened by the ascension of growing numbers of Nigerians out of extreme poverty and into the middle class.”
Overall annual aid to Nigeria has grown incrementally since Obama’s first term, rising from a fiscal year 2009 total of about $600 million to $721 million under the administration’s fiscal year 2015 request.
Schools, Islamic and secular
The NEI+ endeavor will utilize a prime contractor to partner with a wide variety of Islamic and secular institutions in Bauchi, Sokoto and one other northern state yet to be selected, the agency said last week in response to contractor questions.
A combination of government-controlled public schools, non-formal learning centers, or NFLCs, and religious institutions of various designations – including schools labeled as Quranic, Islamiyya and Tsangaya, respectively – could receive assistance.
Islamiyya schools, like their Quranic counterparts, teach students to memorize and recite Islamic religious texts but differ by also offering advanced religious studies in “scriptural” and legal subjects.
Some Islamiyya facilities also offer a government-sanctioned academic curriculum that includes English, mathematics, social studies and science, “whereas others are informally supported extensions of Quranic schools,” an amendment to agency Solicitation no. SOL-620-14-000012 says.
“Tsangaya” in the Hausa language means “learning center,” and Tsangaya schools typically are associated with male-only boarding institutions. But in some northern Nigerian states, “no distinction is made between Tsangaya and Quranic schools,” USAID acknowledged in the amended document.
In addition to seeking cooperation from influential religious and community leaders such as the Sultan of Sokoto, Islamic NGOs and state religious-affairs committees, the contractor simultaneously will coordinate efforts with existing educational endeavors led by UNICEF and other organizations.
Educational systems nationwide have produced abysmal “education outcomes” for Nigerian children, many of whom cannot recognize – even after spending time in elementary school – printed words in their native Hausa.
Nigeria has more elementary level “out-of-school-children,” or OOSC, than any other nation in the world, with about 10 million nationwide and 3.7 million OOSC in the northern states alone, USAID says.
Conflict and lack of equitable access to education have worsened the already substandard quality of education in the largely Muslim states, according to the agency.