The popular narrative surrounding the insurgency in northeastern Nigeria often centers on the phrase “Boko Haram,” commonly translated as “Western education is forbidden.” However, new research reveals a more complex reality behind this oversimplification.

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A study conducted in Borno State between 2021 and 2024 interviewed former members of insurgent groups, shedding light on their motivations and changing perspectives on education. Contrary to widespread belief, most respondents did not join the insurgency out of hatred for Western education.

Instead, they cited various reasons for their involvement, including material incentives, religious beliefs, peer pressure, and fear of retaliation. Surprisingly, many interviewees expressed positive views toward Western education, recognizing its importance for employment, daily life, and societal progress.

The research uncovered a stark contrast between the insurgency’s public stance against Western education and its practical reliance on Western-educated members. Those with Western education often held higher positions within the organization, operating essential technology and providing crucial services like medical care. This disparity did not go unnoticed by rank-and-file members.

One former insurgent noted, “They came and misled us [in the area of] Islamic [studies]; maybe next time they will use Western education to mislead us. If I know, no one can do that.” This sentiment reflects a growing awareness among former members that education can serve as a shield against manipulation and indoctrination.

The study’s findings highlight the potential role of education in peacebuilding efforts. By making Western education more accessible and addressing its current shortcomings, authorities may be able to reduce the appeal of extremist ideologies and provide alternative paths for youth in the region.

However, challenges remain. Many respondents pointed out the difficulties in accessing education and finding employment without financial resources or connections. One interviewee stated, “You cannot seek knowledge without a penny in your hands,” underscoring the economic barriers to education in the region.

The research suggests several policy recommendations:

1. Ensure truly free and accessible Western education, including covering costs for exams, uniforms, and books.

2. Create meaningful job opportunities that align with acquired skills.

3. Promote dialogue and exchange between individuals from diverse educational backgrounds.

These findings come at a crucial time for Nigeria’s northeast, as the region continues to grapple with the aftermath of years of conflict. By addressing the root causes of the insurgency and leveraging education as a tool for peace, there may be hope for a more stable future.

The study also serves as a reminder of the importance of looking beyond surface-level narratives in conflict situations. While the “Boko Haram” label has dominated discussions about the insurgency, the reality on the ground is far more nuanced.

As Nigeria moves forward, policymakers and aid organizations would do well to consider these insights. By focusing on education as a means of empowerment rather than a point of contention, they may find new avenues for promoting peace and stability in this long-troubled region.