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Book Review: Girl-Child Education in Northern Nigeria by Dr. Asmau Sani Maikudi

Book Review: Girl-Child Education in Northern Nigeria by Dr. Asmau Sani Maikudi

By Nasir el-Rufai

On Saturday the 30th of November, I was privileged to be invited to review a pioneering work on girl-child education in Northern Nigeria by a female academic that I have known from childhood. I was surprised at this invitation because I am neither an academic, nor an expert on gender issues and the subject of education.

Apart from my four- year stint as minister of Abuja, I have never even come across the challenges of girl-child education in a formally academic and experiential way. I thought it useful to share this book review on this column.

 

Let me first warn that I am likely to be a biased reviewer because the husband of the author, Sani Maikudi, has been and will remain one of the most important persons in my life, having been my mentor since 1972 when he began to look after me in Barewa College, Zaria. He has never ceased to look out for me. Once again, I thank my senior, mentor and professional guide Mallam Sani Maikudi, for being there for me always these forty-odd years and counting.

 

Without doubt, the disparity in access to education is both a national and global phenomenon. It is merely more serious in the North than other parts of the country. For many in my generation from the Northern part of the country, the issue of girl-child education (or lack of it) is something we have seen every day manifesting as street hawkers and child brides, and experienced in our families when our sisters do not go to school while our brothers do, and on reflection – we see half of our population that is being forced to live sub-optimally by not having access to education. And in spite of efforts by successive governments in Northern Nigeria, near equal access to education for both genders continues to elude us, among many other uniquely regional challenges like comparative under-development, human insecurity and escalating youth unemployment.

 

In point of fact it is plausible that one of the root causes of these regional challenges is to be found in illiteracy; especially that of the girl-child. This is because illiterate mothers tend to produce uneducated and vulnerable children that are willing recruits of insurgents, ethnic bigots and sundry criminals. Perhaps the most troubling statistic to this effect that was vividly depicted in the book is that the ratio of girls to boys in our schools is 1 to 2 at best and sometime as bad as 1 to 3 in the northern States. How do we come to terms with this in a population where girls outnumber boys?

 

The author must therefore be congratulated for being not only a forceful advocate and credible voice for girl-child education, but for being an example of the potentials of the Northern girl-child if provided a level-playing field in all social, economic and human endeavors. My favorite legal philosopher, late Ronald Dworkin believed that societies make progress only when the leaders exhibit equal concern for the welfare, development and happiness of every citizen under their dominion. The provision of equal access to basic education, healthcare and justice must therefore be the priority of every government and leadership at all levels.

 

Dr. Asmau Sani Maikudi must also be commended for carefully articulating an academic and popular treatise that presents the history, developments and challenges associated with the subject matter of girl-child education. The book is relatively short – about 160 pages and is both a rigorous textbook as well as being a popular narrative on the subject. It is replete with historical nuggets and trends and copious statistics, complete with pictures, bibliography and references, and an excellent index. It is written in simple language and the statistics explained such that those scared of figures will get the import of the story.

 

The book consists of eleven chapters, with a foreword by the then minister of education Dr. Ruqayya Rufai, another woman of great achievement and example of the heights Northern women can reach when given the opportunity to go to school! The former minister recommended the book not only as an academic text for researchers and educational policy makers, but to development partners and non-governmental organizations interested in understanding the problems and prospects of girl-child education in Northern Nigeria. On the basis of this foreword alone, this book should sell, even without a book review by a non-expert like me!

 

The book began with historical development of education in Northern Nigeria in pre-Jihad, pre-colonial, colonial and post-independence periods to the present day. It traced these educational developments with particular emphasis on the place of female education in the overall schema of an evolving Northern society. Certain policy pioneers like Sheikh Usman Danfodio, Nana Asmau bint Fodio, Muhammadu Dikko, the Emir of Katsina (who established the first girls’ school in 1929), Dr. Miller of the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) and the Northern Regional Government of Sir Ahmadu Bello are mentioned and their contributions to female education in Northern Nigeria documented and acknowledged.

 

Throughout the book, various policies and programs like the UPE, UBE, Education for All (EFA) and the Girl Education Project (GEP) were carefully described, and their achievements and challenges documented with facts and figures. The collaborative roles of development partners particularly UKAID (DFID), UNICEF, UNESCO, etc. and international NGOs like Action Aid, with the Federal and State governments are recorded, along with the achievements and constraints. I was amazed at the progress some of the Northern state governments – Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Kaduna and Kano – have made in narrowing the gap in access to education between our boys and girl in the last two decades. Without reading this book, I would not have realized that some concrete efforts existed and being pushed in this key area of societal progress.

 

In my judgment, the best chapter is the last one in which the author provided clear and detailed recommendations that will lead to equal access to education by all our boys and girls. It is a chapter that I will recommend to even our busiest policy makers as the adoption of some of the recommendations will go a long way in ensuring that we live in a fairer, more productive society – one that exhibits equal concern for the welfare and happiness of all – both male and female.
Having identified the best chapter, it is helpful to provide a balance by identifying the following areas for improvement in future editions; additional editing and proofreading to correct some of the typographical errors; updating the statistics to provide up-to-date data on population, GDP per capita and the like; and broadening the conclusions in Chapter 2 to make it clear that the traditional girl-child education system is merely a socialization process and therefore no substitute whatsoever for the formal school-based educational process.

 

Girl-child education is a subject that is very dear to my heart as I have gone out of my way to ensure that my daughters and those of my friends and relations are at least as well educated as our sons and even more for our willing and capable daughters. Indeed, if I have my way, I shall push for the entrenchment of right to education as an extension of the fundamental human right to life, while criminalizing pulling children below 18 years out of school for any reason! An uneducated life is almost a worthless life in this 21st century. Let us unite to bury illiteracy in our nation within the next two decades.

 

I therefore have no hesitation in joining the former minister of education, Professor Ruqayya Rufai in recommending this short book – I read the entire text in one day – and virtually everyone can read the whole book in a few days, to policy makers, legislators and executive branch officials involved in education and development. Our educationally-laggard region of Northern Nigeria will never take its pride of place in the management of our national affairs without massive investments in education, particularly that of our girls that account for half of our population.

 

The time for our state governments to copy the standard set by Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State of dedicating and spending at least 20% of their budgets on education for all, is now!  The only sustainable source of competitive advantage in today’s globalized world and information age is a healthy and intensively educated populace – not the oil, gas and minerals or other natural endowments that attract the attention of our hapless leaders. I hope Dr. Asmau Sani Maikudi’s book serves as a wake-up call for our political, religious and traditional leaders that the education of the girl-child trumps everything that a society can do to guarantee its future well-being.

 

I congratulate Dr. Asmau once again for an excellent second book, and encourage her to work on another edition that will measure the progress of current policies and programs in a few years.