The predominant religion of northern Nigeria is Islam. Nigeria first came into contact with Islamic education in the ninth century. It was however in 1800s that Islam was firmly established in north of the country following a successful holy war by Othman Dan Fodio who was of Fulani extraction. His war was waged against the Hausa people that predominantly inhabit the north. This led to the establishment of Sokoto town from where the religion further spread to other parts of the northern region.
Western education came to Nigeria in the mid-nineteen century. This was in the southern part of the country. It was only in 1907 that the first western-styled school was established in the north in the town of Zaria but lasted for only two years. An enduring western school was later established in 1909. There was, thus, a long period of maturity of Islam in the region between the 1800s when it was introduced and 1909 when the first conventional school found a foothold in the region.
Around the world, there is always rivalry between Arabic and Western cultures. In Northern Nigeria, this is not only the case but the rivalry appears very severe. This explains why introducing western cultural elements in the north has always been extremely difficult compared to doing the same in the south. The challenge in education is the same. The girl-child school enrolment rate according to a United Nations report of 2011 is as low as 20% and 25% in the northeast and northwest of the country respectively compared to 85% in the Southwest and Southeast.
The north of the country where there are these low school enrolment figures are among their poorest in the country. on the other hand, other states with high school enrolment figures are seen to relatively lower poverty rates and are also comparatively peaceful. Also nations with high level of educational enrolment and high literacy rates boast of high level of tolerance, progress and peace.
The fighting that broke out in Jos in 2001 was a result of a dispute over who should head the National Poverty Eradication Program (NAPEP) in Jos-North of Plateau State. The indigenous tribes felt a Hausa leader of the agency will not be fair to them while the Hausa settlers also felt an indigenous leader will not be fair to them. Thus poverty was the main drive that sparked the conflict that year. One of the most effective way of avoiding poverty and preventing conflict is by educating and empowering the people to find good-paying jobs.
Educational institutions like schools bring people across tribal and religious lines into one classroom. Sitting in a common class for many years results in better understanding and trust for people across these lines of division. Being in the same class also builds a feeling of fellowship and ‘brotherhood’ among people from diverse backgrounds and minimizing chances of conflicts. This underscores the significance of integration in avoiding conflict and disturbing the peace of a community.
People with education are in a better position to travel widely around the world. The exposure enables them to study other nations to see how an overwhelming level of literacy has helped to entrench peace and prosperity in those nations. This realization is also possible through studies of the developed nations. Only educated people are in a position to get involved in such studies that help people to see the connection between education and peace.
Education also enables people to understand the laws and policies of governments and to try to comply with these laws and policies. A recent incident that has, again, shown the linked between illiteracy and conflict was the killing of 23 policemen on May 9th, by a cult group named Ombatse in the central Nigerian state of Nassarawa. The group justified its action by saying that they were conducting their activities without bordering anyone and asked why the police should interfere with their activities by following them to their shrine with the intention of arresting their leader. Only education can help people to understand that nobody is above the law and that people are expected to cooperate with the police in its efforts to ensure safety and security in the land.
Education changes the mindset of people by making them disciplined, self-esteemed and orderly. Often they prefer to stay in quieter and peaceful parts of towns usually referred to as Government Reserved Areas (GRA). The experience in Nigeria is that whenever there is a conflict, such parts of town are usually not affected.
Educated people often have big dreams or ambitions. They plan their lives to enable them achieve such goals. They are aware that the absence of peace brings a chaotic atmosphere under which their dreams cannot be achieved. On the other hand, uneducated people are mostly despondent. This despondency is what often pushes them into causing disorder so that every one becomes a loser. At times criminal elements among the poor cause such disorders and use the disorderly circumstance to loot.
Prevention of conflict and engendering peace in northern Nigeria can only be achieved through serious and concerted efforts towards educating the people. This can be achieved through making education compulsory within the region and working hard to enforce the law backing such a policy.
One factor that has worked against educational progress in Nigeria is the lack of decent learning environments. Thus the Provision of the infrastructural base necessary for the improvement of education and constantly maintaining them to ensure a decent, attractive and conducive learning environment will go a long way towards encouraging school enrollment in the region.
Better education can also come from comprehensive curriculum. Thus upgrading the curriculum to improve the quality of education within the region will go a long way towards bringing the good returns of good education including peace.
Any ambition of providing education will not work in a society where the teachers lack interest in the job. teachers must be paid adequately and regularly to encourage them in their jobs and avoid a steady exodus of manpower in the sector as we have seen over the decades.
Nigerian electoral laws demands a candidate to, among other qualifications, possess a minimum of a School Certificate to aspire to any political position in the country. In view of the fact that the school system in Nigeria has been neglected for so long, many holders of such certificate are actually poorly educated. It is the reason why using education to build peace and prevent conflict must also involve the proper education of some of the leaders. Leaders must be educated to understand the significance of sacrifice by being contented with what is duly and legally theirs. It is the only way resources can percolate from the administrative offices at the top to the classroom at the bottom.
Since fairness and justice is imperative in peace building and conflict prevention, leaders must be educated to see the significance of non-interference in judicial processes when relations are involved. The steady pressure mounted on President Goodluck Jonathan by the northern leadership forum to grant amnesty to Boko Haramists that have killed about 4000 people in its bid to introduce Sharia Law in Nigeria from 2008 is seen by many as rocking the boat of justice, a situation which will only complicate the shattered peace in northern Nigeria.
Leaders must be educated to understand the significance of integration of people. In places like Kaduna and Jos where conflict has led to the segregation of living quarters and markets for instance, the local and national political leaders seem to be doing nothing to bring the people together. This represents stagnation in efforts for peace and should end.
Non-Governmental Organizations must continue to receive encouragement through funding to continue educating people on how to build peace and prevent conflicts that could occur in future.
It is only when these or some of these issues are earnestly addressed that a lasting peace could be attained in Northern Nigeria.