Boko Haram is singling out geography teachers in its campaign of terror against Western education in Nigeria, it has been revealed.
Teachers of the subject have emerged as an unlikely top target for the group because their lessons contradict its bizarre worldview on how the Earth was created.
Boko Haram believes that the Earth is flat rather than spherical, and that rainfall is caused not by evaporation, but by God’s divine will.
As such, geography teachers are ranked alongside Nigerian security chiefs and senior politicians as prime candidates for assassination.
The threats to geographers are outlined in an extensive new report by Human Rights Watch, which lays bare the devastating impact wreaked by Boko Haram on Nigeria’s school system.
It says that a total of 600 school staff have been murdered by Boko Haram since 2009, and that 19,000 have quit their jobs due to threats and attacks.
“Boko Haram insurgents have shown particular distaste for certain subjects like geography.”
The report is timed to coincide with this Thursday’s two year anniversary of Boko Haram’s kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state in north-east Nigeria. They remain as hostages to this day.
The report says that in Borno, which is Boko Haram’s main stronghold, schooling in 22 out of 27 local government areas has been closed down, depriving hundreds of thousands of children of the right to learn.
“In its brutal crusade against Western-style education, Boko Haram is robbing an entire generation of children in northeast Nigeria of their education,” said Mausi Segun, Human Rights Watch’s Nigeria researcher.
The 86-page report, based on interviews with more than 200 teachers, students, parents and school officials, documents numerous attacks on schools by Boko Haram gunmen, some of which ended in abductions and some of which ended in massacres.
It notes: “Boko Haram insurgents have shown particular distaste for certain subjects like geography and science… Teachers of these subjects are targeted.”
One such attack took place at the Mafoni Government Day Secondary School in Borno’s regional capital, Maiduguri in September, 2012, when gunmen burst in and “set their sights” on the geography teacher, Malam Anjili Mala.
One witness, whose name was withheld, told Human Rights Watch: “I dived for protection, but the gunmen simply rained six bullets into the teacher and calmly walked away. No one else was touched.”
The principles of geography and social science contradict of the eccentric teachings of Boko Haram’s late founder, Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed by Nigerian police in 2009.
In an interview with the BBC in which he claimed that Western education was contrary to Islam’s values, he said: “We believe that rain is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.”
He also said he rejected Darwinism and the idea that the “world was a sphere”, which he claimed ran “contrary to the teachings of Allah”.
Ms Segun’s research found that many Boko Haram footsoldiers were recruited from “extremely poor homes”, and were easily lured into attacking schools in return for cash rewards.
One boy arrested by the military in 2013 said he helped Boko Haram carry out arson attacks on schools for the sum of $25.
The report also found that attacks on some schools were carried out former pupils with personal grievances against individual teachers.
“Teachers responsible for discipline or examination of students appear to have been especially targeted by Boko Haram insurgents,” the report said.
It spoke of one attack at Yerwa primary school in Maiduguri in March 2013 in which the gunmen went “directly” to the offices of the main “disciplinarian” in the school and shot him.
Later, when soldiers arrived at the school and killed one of the insurgents, he turned out to be to be a former student.
In total, some 952,029 school-age children have been forced to flee Boko Haram violence in Nigeria, with around 600,000 losing access to schooling.
Many now live in refugee camps, where education is limited to a few hours of lessons per day in makeshift classrooms under trees.
While the Nigerian government has made progress against Boko Haram in the past 18 months, depriving the group of most of the territory it used to control outright in Borno State, Human Rights Watch said officials had “failed to adequately protect schools”.
It also criticised the Nigerian army’s use of schools as makeshift military bases, which deprived children of the chance to use them, and legitimised schools as a target in Boko Haram’s eyes.