Country Profiles


Many schools were bombed, set on fire or attacked by militants in the north – and increasingly militants turned their attention to students and teachers. Dozens of school teachers were murdered, and at universities there were very heavy casualties in attacks by gunmen firing indiscriminately and in some cases also using bombs.1144



After Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999, it suffered ongoing inter-communal, political and sectarian violence which had claimed the lives of more than 15,700 people by 2011.1145 The unrest, which continued into 2013, was seen by observers as being underpinned by endemic corruption, poverty, poor governance, unchecked violence by the security services and discrimination against ethnic minorities.1146

Misuse of public funds was seen as having a devastating impact on education quality and on attempts to widen access to education.1147 Considerable disparities in access and quality existed among Nigeria’s states, with education levels generally lower in the north.1148 There remained an enduring distrust of Western education dating back to British colonial rule when missionary schools were largely kept out of the north and the few that did operate there were seen as vehicles for converting young Muslims to Christianity.1149

From 2009 onwards, violence spiralled across northern and central Nigeria.1150 Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group whose commonly used name means ‘western education is a sin’ in Hausa,1151 sought to impose a strict form of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the north and end government corruption. It launched hundreds of attacks against police officers, Christians and Muslims whom it perceived as opponents.1152

Attacks on education between 2009 and early 2011 most often involved kidnappings of students or staff for ransom in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, apart from a spate of attacks on schools during an uprising by Boko Haram in July 2009.1153 However, in 2011 and 2012, the targeting of education, particularly schools and universities, escalated, with increasing reports of killings by Boko Haram, and reprisals against Islamic schools and suspected Boko Haram supporters. Schools, universities, students and personnel also came under attack during fighting between Christians and Muslims.

Net enrolment in primary school was 58 per cent (2010),1154 gross secondary enrolment was 44 per cent (2010)1155 and gross tertiary enrolment was 10 per cent (2005).1156 The adult literacy rate was 61 per cent (2010).1157

Attacks on schools

During an offensive by Boko Haram militants in July 2009 in Maiduguri, Borno state, a number of schools were targeted, although the reported number varies greatly. According to the Sunday Trust newspaper, which provided the only detailed report, 57 schools were destroyed and that number was confirmed by the chairman of the state Universal Basic Education Board. Some of the schools were named: Lamisula School was destroyed, and at Damgari Yerwa Primary School, two blocks of six classrooms were burned down. Classroom blocks at Abbaganaram Primary School, Low Cost Primary School and Goni Damgari Primary School were also targeted.1158 The same newspaper reported that, a year later, only a few of the schools had been rehabilitated and none fully, and students were studying in temporary sheds. However, most media sources reported only one school destroyed in July 2009, the Goodness Mercy primary school, also in Maiduguri, which was reduced to rubble.1159

No attacks were reported in 2010 and only isolated attacks were reported in 2011. In Jos, in July 2011, a rocket was fired at a co-educational Muslim-owned school during student examinations, though responsibility for the attack was unconfirmed. The city has a long history of violence between Christian and Muslim communities.1160

On 27 December 2011, in an apparent reprisal attack following a series of church bombings by Boko Haram, a homemade bomb was thrown into the window of an Arabic school in Delta state while a class was in session, wounding seven people – six of them children under the age of nine.1161

Then, in January 2012, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was reported to have issued a chilling threat via an internet audio message stating: ‘You have primary schools as well, you have secondary schools and universities and we will start bombing them…. That is what we will do.’ This caused fear among parents, many of whom were reported to have stopped sending their children to school.1162 From January to March 2012, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the damage and destruction of 12 schools in and around Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, citing retribution for state security force attacks on a Tsangaya (Koranic) school and the arrest of Koranic students in January 2012.1163 At least 5,000 children were unable to attend classes as a result,1164 in a state with one of the country’s lowest primary school attendance rates.1165 The methods of attack varied and included burning buildings and using explosives. All of the attacks occurred at night or in the early morning when schools were vacant, and in several cases, watchmen were tied up or held at gunpoint to prevent their intervention. The schools targeted were either non-denominational or provided both Western and Islamic education.1166

In May 2012, suspected Boko Haram militants used explosives and gunfire to attack two primary schools in the northern city of Kano.1167 From September to November 2012, according to media sources, at least a dozen more primary and secondary schools in Maiduguri, Damaturu, Zaria, Barkin Ladi, Potiskum and Fika were set on fire or damaged by explosives, including in attacks by Boko Haram, but also during fighting between Boko Haram and state security forces, or in clashes between Muslims and Christians.1168

Attacks on school students, teachers and other education personnel

Prior to 2011, and in contrast with attacks on schools, most attacks on school students, teachers and personnel involved kidnapping for ransom and appeared to be carried out for criminal rather than political objectives. For example, in Abia state, in the south-east, a school bus carrying 15 nursery and primary school students to the Abayi International School was hijacked in September 2010.1169 Similarly, a head teacher at a primary school funded by ExxonMobil in Eket, also in the south-east, was abducted in October 2010.1170

Some shootings also occurred in the north, including at a military-run secondary school near Kano in December 2011, which left four air force personnel dead and two injured, but the perpetrators and motives were unknown.1171 Similarly, another shooting resulted in the death of the head teacher of the Government Day Secondary School in Potiskum, Yobe state, in October 2012. According to a witness, when he discovered the head teacher’s occupation, one of the gunmen said: ‘You are the type of people we are looking for.’1172

Later, in 2013, militants began targeting students and teachers (see Attacks on education in 2013 below).

In addition, one incident appeared to be linked to Boko Haram: the killing of Sheik Bashir Mustapha, a prominent Muslim cleric critical of Boko Haram, and one of his students, while he was teaching in his home in October 2010.1173

Attacks on higher education

Attacks on higher education facilities

Boko Haram was believed to be responsible for a series of threats to, and bombings of, universities in 2011-2012. In July 2011, during a spate of Boko Haram attacks in Maiduguri, officials shut the campus of Maiduguri University after receiving an anonymous letter warning that the student senate and examinations and records buildings would be burned down.1174 Hours later, two lecturers were reportedly killed during clashes that took place between Boko Haram and military forces near the campus.1175 In September 2011, at least 15 universities reportedly received an email message from Boko Haram, warning them that their campuses were on a target list for bombings.1176 Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on universities in Kano and Gombe in late April 2012.1177 The attack in Kano took place at Bayero University, where around 20 people were killed by explosives and gunfire while worshipping at two Christian church services on campus, one held indoors and the other outdoors; at Gombe University, a building was bombed but no one was injured.1178

Attacks on higher education students, teachers and personnel

At least 25 people, most of them students,1179 were killed when unknown gunmen burst into a university residence in the north-eastern town of Mubi, in Adamawa state, on the night of 1 October 2012, and shot victims or slit their throats.1180 Earlier, a demand to evacuate the university, widely believed to have been written by Boko Haram, had been posted on a women’s student hostel.1181

In addition to students, university staff members were also targeted for attack, mainly in the south. Seven university staff members were kidnapped from the Federal College of Education, Rivers state, between January and October 2012, and one of them died, allegedly from torture.1182 Between 2010 and 2012, six other higher education personnel were abducted in the south, including two professors at the University of Uyo; the Director of Continuing Education at the College of Education in Afaha Nisit, Akwa Ibom; the Provost of the College of Health Sciences at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University; the Vice-Chancellor of Enugu State University of Technology; and the Delta State Commissioner for Higher Education.1183 In the north, one lecturer from the University of Maiduguri was also shot and killed, reportedly by Boko Haram.1184

Violence also occurred due to sectarian clashes. During post-election violence in April 2011, on the outskirts of Zaria in northern Kaduna state, a mob of youths supporting former military leader Mohammadu Buhari, who backed the imposition of sharia law in the north, cornered four Christian students and a Christian lecturer in the staff quarters of the campus of Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic and beat them to death with sticks, clubs and machetes.1185

Attacks on education in 2013

Schools, universities, students and teachers were attacked in northern Nigeria. A majority of these incidents were suspected to be the work of Boko Haram, which claimed responsibility in several cases.1186 According to Amnesty International, more than 50 schools were attacked and partially destroyed or burned down in the first seven months of 2013, most of them in Borno state and a few in neighbouring Yobe state.1187 In the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, an official reported to Amnesty that at least five government secondary schools and nine private schools were burned down between January and April.1188 According to one Borno State Ministry of Education official, some 15,000 children in the state stopped attending classes between February and May as a result of attacks.1189

While most previous attacks on schools had targeted infrastructure and were carried out at night when schools were empty, there appeared to be a marked change in tactics with reports of teachers and school students increasingly targeted.1190 In March, at least three teachers were killed and three students seriously injured in a simultaneous attack on four schools in Maiduguri.1191 In June, two secondary schools were targeted in Yobe and Borno states: seven students and two teachers were killed when suspected Boko Haram militants attacked their school in Damaturu;1192 and the following day, gunmen attacked a school in Maiduguri while students were sitting their examinations, killing nine students.1193

In one incident in July, gunmen attacked a government secondary boarding school in Mamudo, Yobe state, at night, while students were sleeping. Sections of the school and dormitory were set ablaze, and a number of students were shot as they tried to escape. At least 22 students and one teacher were killed.1194

School teachers appeared to be targeted specifically, with some 30 reported to have been shot dead, sometimes during class, from January to September.1195 A number of teachers also said they had been intimidated by Boko Haram elements or subjected to close surveillance by the group in remote towns in Borno state.1196 In a video statement made in July 2013, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened teachers, saying: ‘School teachers who are teaching Western education? We will kill them! We will kill them!’; he also endorsed recent school attacks and claimed that non-Islamic schools should be burned down.1197

One major attack also occurred on a college in Yobe state in September. Unknown gunmen suspected to be affiliated with Boko Haram entered the campus of the Yobe State College of Agriculture in the middle of the night and began firing on students in their dormitories as they slept. While casualty figures varied, reports suggested that as many as 50 students were killed.1198 The gunmen also reportedly set fire to classrooms. Some 1,000 students were said to have left the campus in the wake of the attack.1199

Several other incidents involving higher education were reported. Students alleged that the police used tear gas and fired live ammunition to break up a protest against university transport prices at the University of Uyo in June, killing a student; police, however, denied this claim, saying that the students had brought the body to them outside the campus, which they were prohibited from entering. University equipment was reportedly destroyed in anger after the killing and 45 students were arrested, of whom 44 were charged with arson and murder.1200

In another incident, on 13 February, local police detained between 10 and 12 lecturers at Rivers State University of Science and Technology for holding a meeting of the local chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities on campus. They were held for five hours before being released.1201


1144 This profile covers attacks on education in 2009-2012, with an additional section on attacks in 2013.

1145 HRW, “Nigeria: President Should Make Rights a Priority,” 28 May 2011.

1146 HRW, World Report 2013: Nigeria (New York: HRW, 2013); and HRW, World Report 2012: Nigeria (New York: HRW, January 2012).

1147 See, for example: HRW, Chop Fine: The Human Rights Impact of Local Government Corruption and Mismanagement in Rivers State, Nigeria, vol. 19, no. 2(A) (New York: HRW, January 2007).

1148 National Population Commission (Nigeria) and RTI International, Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey
(DHS) EdData Profile 2010: Education Data for Decision-Making (Washington, DC: National Population Commission and RTI International, 2011).

1149 “Analysis: What will follow Boko Haram?,” IRIN, 24 November 2011.

1150 HRW, “Nigeria: Massive Destruction, Deaths from Military Raid,” 1 May 2013.

1151 Ibid.

1152 HRW, World Report 2013: Nigeria (New York: HRW, 2013).

1153 The full name is Jama’atu Ahli Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad but the group is commonly known as Boko Haram.

1154 The World Bank, “School enrollment – primary (% net),” The World Bank Data (2010).

1155 The World Bank, “School enrollment – secondary (% gross),” The World Bank Data (2010).

1156 The World Bank, “School enrollment – tertiary (% gross),” The World Bank Data (2005).

1157 The World Bank, “Literacy rate – Adult, total,” The World Bank Data (2010).

1158 “Counting Borno’s losses in Boko Haram crisis,” Sunday Trust, 9 August 2009; and “7 months after Boko Haram: Maidiguri still in ruins,” Sunday Trust, 14 February 2010.

1159 Katharine Houreld, “Nigeria survivors describe night of terror by sect,” AP, 4 August 2009, which includes a photograph showing pupils studying at benches in front of the destroyed school building.

1160 “Nigeria Muslim School in Jos Targeted by Rocket,” BBC News, 17 July 2012.

1161 “Bomb Wounds 7 at Nigerian Arabic School,” VOA News, 27 December 2011; and “Nigeria: Islamic School Is Bombed,” Reuters, 28 December 2011.

1162 The Associated Press, “Nigeria: Militant Leader Pledges Bombing Campaign,” New York Times, 27 January 2012; and Mark Lobel, “Kano Schools Empty after Nigeria Attacks,” BBC News, 28 January 2012.

1163 HRW, “Nigeria: Boko Haram Targeting Schools,” 7 March 2012.

1164 Ibid.; and “School Attendance Falls in Northern Nigeria after Boko Haram Attacks,” The Guardian, 24 April 2012. For media reporting on specific incidents, see also: Agence France-Presse, “Gunmen Burn Schools in Restive Nigerian City: Official,” Relief Web, 23 February 2012; “Nigeria School Set Alight in Maiduguri,” BBC News, 23 February 2012; “Suspected Boko Haram Members Burn Schools in Northern Nigeria,” Pan African News Agency, 28 February 2012; “Suspected Islamists Burn Down Seven Nigerian Schools,” Thomson Reuters, 1 March 2012; Camillus Eboh, “US to Nigeria: Develop North to Beat Boko Haram,” Thomson Reuters, 5 March 2012; and Adam Nossiter, “Wielding Fire, Islamists Target Nigeria Schools,” New York Times, 25 March 2012.

1165 National Population Commission (Nigeria) and RTI International, Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) EdData Profile 2010: Education Data for Decision-Making (Washington, DC: National Population Commission and RTI International, 2011), 165.

1166 IRIN, “School Attendance Falls in Northern Nigeria after Boko Haram Attacks,” The Guardian, 24 April 2012; and “Nigeria school set alight in Maiduguri,” BBC News, 23 February 2012.

1167 “Bombs Target Nigerian Primary Schools,” Thomson Reuters, 17 May 2012.

1168 “Boko Haram Militants Burn Down Primary School,” Sahara Reporters, 4 September 2012; “Nigeria Phone Mast Attacks Kill 15, Schools Burnt,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 7 September 2012; Jon Gambrell, “Bomb Explodes Near North Nigeria Islamic School,” Associated Press, 30 September 2012; Onimisi Alao, Lami Sadiq and Abdulkadir Badsha Mukhtar, “Nigeria: Two Killed, Islamic School Destroyed in Barkin Ladi,” All Africa, 12 October 2012; Agence France-Presse, “Fresh Blasts, Gunfire Put Tense Nigerian City under Lockdown,” Relief Web, 16 October 2012; Agence France-Presse, “Attacks, Clash in North Nigeria Kill Several, Burn Buildings,” Relief Web, 19 October 2012; Hamisu Kabir Matazu, “Nigeria: Another School Burnt, Principal Killed in Potiskum,” All Africa, 24 October 2012; Aminu Abubakar, “Nigeria Gunmen Burn Police Station, School in Restive North,” Agence France-Presse, 4 November 2012; and Ahmed Usman, “Nigeria: Curfew Slowly Strangling Potiskum,” All Africa, 8 November 2012. 

1169 “Nigeria Gunmen Kidnap 15 Children – Police,” Reuters, 28 September 2010;and James Butty, “Nigerian Police Vow to Rescue Kidnapped School Children Unharmed,” Voice of America, 28 September 2010.

1170 “Indian Teacher Kidnapped in Nigeria,” AFP, 14 October 2010.

1171 “Nigeria Attack on Kano Air Force School,” BBC News, 16 December 2011.

1172 Hamisu Kabir Mata u, “Nigeria: Another School Burnt, Principal Killed in Potiskum,” All Africa, 24 October 2012.

1173 Adam Nossiter, “Killings in Nigeria Are Linked to Islamic Sect,” New York Times, 18 October 2010.

1174 “Nigeria Boko Haram Attacks: Thousands Flee Maiduguri,” BBC News, 12 July2011; and Tunde Fatunde, “NIGERIA: Terrorist Threats Close Universities,” University World News, Issue No: 181, 24 July 2011.

1175 Tunde Fatunde, “NIGERIA: Terrorist Threats Close Universities,” University World News, Issue No: 181, 24 July 2011.

1176 Tunde Fatunde, “NIGERIA: Campus Security Reviewed after Threats, University World News, Issue No: 190, 25 September 2011. 

1177 “Nigeria’s Boko Haram Militants Claim This Day Attacks,” BBC News, 2 May 2012.

1178 Agence France-Presse, “Around 20 Bodies Seen near Site of Nigeria Attack,” Relief Web, 29 April 2012; and Salisu Rabiu and Jon Gambrell, “Nigeria: Gunmen kill 21 attending worship services at university campus, church in Kano,” Huffington Post, 29 April 2012..

1179 Some sources suggest that the number may have been as high as 40. See, for example: “Federal Polytechnic Mubi Students Killed in Nigeria,” BBC News, 2 October 2012.

1180 Aminu Abubakar and Robyn Dixon, “25 Killed in Attack at Nigerian College Dormitory,” Los Angeles Times, 3 October 2012.

1181 Haruna Umar, “27 Students Killed in Northeast Nigeria,” Associated Press, 2 October 2012.

1182 Jimitota Onoyume, “Kidnapped Lecturer’s Colleagues Beg Govt, Police to Recover Victim’s Corpse,” Vanguard, 29 October 2012.

1183 “Students Protest Kidnap Of Lecturer,” PMNews, 25 August 2010; Nwanosike Onu, “Varsity Don Kidnapped in Anambra,” The Nation, 1 June 2012; Nwanosike Onu and Odogwu Emeka Odogwu Awka, “Nnamdi Azikiwe Varsity College Provost Abducted,” The Nation, 2 June 2012; Ozioma Ubabukoh, “Gunmen Kidnap Enugu Varsity VC,” 16 August 2012; and Festus Ashon, “Nigeria: Gunmen Abduct Delta Commissioner,” All Africa, 30 September 2012. 

1184 Abdulsalam Muhammad and Ndahi Marama, “Nigeria: Varsity Lecturer, Two Others Killed,” All Africa, 14 November 2012.

1185 HRW, “Nigeria: Post-Election Violence Killed 800,” 17 May 2011.

1186 Amnesty International, “Keep away from schools or we’ll kill you.”: Right to education under attack in Nigeria (London: Amnesty International, 2013), 5.

1187 Information supplied by Amnesty International, 4 December 2013.

1188 Amnesty International, “Keep away from schools or we’ll kill you.”: Right to education under attack in Nigeria (London: Amnesty International, 2013), 6.

1189 IRIN, “Boko Haram attacks hit school attendance in Borno State,” IRIN News, 14 May 2013.

1190 Amnesty International, “Keep away from schools or we’ll kill you.”: Right to education under attack in Nigeria (London: Amnesty International, 2013), 6; IRIN, “Boko Haram attacks hit school attendance in Borno State,” IRIN News, 14 May 2013.

1191 Amnesty International, “Keep away from schools or we’ll kill you.”: Right to education under attack in Nigeria (London: Amnesty International, 2013), 9; IRIN, “Boko Haram attacks hit school attendance in Borno State,” IRIN News, 14 May 2013.

1192 Lanre Ola, “Nigeria says 11 killed in Islamist sect school attack,” Reuters, 17 June 2013.

1193 “Nigeria Islamists kill 9 students in school attack: medic,” Reuters, 18 June 2013; and “Nigeria militants kill school children in Maiduguri,” BBC News, 19 June 2013.

1194 “Nigeria school massacre: Yobe secondary schools closed,” BBC News, 7 July2013; AP, “Militants Attack School in Nigeria, Killing Students and a Teacher,” New York Times, 6 July 2013; and “‘Dozens dead’ in school attack in Nigeria’s Yobe state,” BBC News, 6 July 2013.

1195 Amnesty International, “Keep away from schools or we’ll kill you.”: Right to education under attack in Nigeria (London: Amnesty International, 2013), 9.

1196 Ibid., 11.

1197 Michelle Faul, “Nigerian Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau Threatens Group Will Burn More Schools,” AP, 13 July 2013.

1198 Isa Sanusi, “Nigerian students living in fear,” BBC News, 1 October 2013; and “Nigeria to boost school security after deadly attack,” BBC News, 30 September 2013.

1199 “Nigeria to boost school security after deadly attack,” BBC News, 30 September 2013.

1200 Scholars at Risk, Academic Freedom Monitor, 12 June 2013; and Kazeem Ibrahym, “44 UniYo students face murder charge,” The Nation, 24 June 2013.

1201 Scholars at Risk, Academic Freedom Monitor, 13 February 2013.