By Lillian Okenwa
By April 14, 2014 when Boko Haram terrorists abducted 276 girls aged between 12 and 17 from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno state, North East of Nigeria, they were preparing to write the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE). What many found hard to believe however, was that not one of them could speak English. It is not certain whether the girls who are still in captivity can communicate in English language but none of the 107 girls that were either released by the group or those who escaped could at that time acquit themselves as persons about to write School Certificate Exams.
The question then was – how were they going to write the exams? The examination is conducted in English so how were they going to write it?
Aside from the distress which greeted the abduction, the fact that kids who were almost graduating from High School could barely communicate in the official language of interaction in the country is indeed worrisome. It goes to show the level of premium most leaders in the Northern part of the country place on education. Over the years standards have been lowered in National Examinations for students in Northern states to the point of ludicrity.
The National Common Entrance Cut Off Mark For Unity Schools 2020/2021 provides that a child from Anambra state for instance must score 139; while candidates from Yobe state require – 2 for males and 27 for female to secure admission into Unity Schools. The standard is even lower for males.
Similar standards are also in place for admission into tertiary institutions. The argument throughout the years has been that these states are educationally backward and need to catch up.
But if in 2021 a child who scored 2 is given the same opportunity as one who worked hard enough to nail 139, then something is terribly wrong. Why a whole region would deliberately allow the faulty assumption that its children are educationally challenged begs for explanation.
The absurdity of this notion and the fallacy that kids from the north are not academically smart once again shone through a couple of days ago when Mary Katambi, who escaped Boko Haram captivity in 2014, told her story. Mary’s story is a clear testimony that under the right circumstance, students will learn. A girl who was educationally challenged by all standards got admitted to a university which created a special programme for people like her and in two years she aced her School Certificate Exams and went on a few years later to graduate from the American University of Nigeria (AUN) with a 2.1 degree in accounting. There was no need to pretend she was good enough to compete with other students. There was no need to lower the standards for her. All that was required was groom her and she caught up. Today she’s better off. She can hold her head high.
Mary’s intriguing story began seven years ago when she came to AUN as one of the first set of Chibok Girls after being kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.
“I could not graduate with first-class honours, but I am delighted to say my determination, consistency and hard work has paid off. I have graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting (2’1).
“When I came to AUN, I did not know how to speak English nor read well. AUN created a program called ‘New Foundation School’ for the Chibok Girls and the purpose was to prepare us for the future. It was tough, rough and challenging to me because coming from a poor background to receive that level of education, seemed impossible. I stayed in the program from September 2014 and then took my JAMB, WAEC and NECO in 2016,” Mary wrote on her Linkedin page.
On April 30, Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu, also ex-students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok graduated from Southeastern University in the United States. They were among the 276 girls kidnapped in the first mass student abduction witnessed in Nigeria. The duo escaped captivity by jumping off the truck while they were being ferried away by their abductors. Bishara graduated with a degree in social work, while Pogu earned a degree in legal studies.
Surely Nigeria’s leaders know what to do. Why they have chosen to play dumb beats imagination.
▪︎Lillian Okenwa, a legal practitioner and Editor-in-Chief/Publisher of Law & Society Magazine, writes from Abuja, and sent this via WhatsApp