Nearly 70 schools in Cameroon’s Far North Region have been forced to close, are damaged, or operate intermittently as a result of the recurrent cross-border raids by Nigerian Boko Haram insurgents, officials say.
The 69 affected schools (mostly primary schools) are in Logone and Chari, Mayo-Sava and Mayo-Tsanaga departments of the Far North Region, which lies across the border from Nigeria’s northeastern heartland of Boko Haram. In Mayo-Sava, for instance, 20 out of 30 schools are not operating since the start of the new school year in September, said deputy-prefect Ibrahim Koulagna.
“Boko Haram attacks on villages and schools have forced students and teachers to flee. There are many displaced families in the region. This displaced population is now occupying other localities like the central towns of Kolofata and Mora,” Koulagna told IRIN.
Boko Haram militants have repeatedly attacked northern Cameroon, abducting foreigners and locals as well as raiding police and border posts. Yaoundé authorities have beefed up their military presence in the region and the army recently claimed killing over 100 of the group’s fighters. The military in September said it had killed Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau - a claim dismissed by the insurgents.
“We are losing students each time there is an attack on a village even if it is several kilometres from here,” said Christophe Barbah, a school master in Kolofata area in the Far North Region.
Dire education standards worsening
Just a handful of government teachers assigned to the Far North Region remain in their posts. “In 2014, more than 200 trained teachers did not take up their posts in these localities and many seek transfer to other places due to insecurity,” an official of the Ministry of Basic Education told IRIN.
The official, who did not want to be named, voiced worry that education in the Far North was in serious jeopardy not only because schools in the region were being shunned by teachers, but that no additional funding was being given to schools absorbing pupils from other establishments.
“I am the only government teacher left here on a regular basis,” said Barbah. “Because of my status as the head teacher, I cannot leave my post…
“We have resorted to seeking assistance from some educated young men and women in the communities to teach the children. But we have to motivate them with money if we want to keep them committed to the work. This is not always possible because most parents in this region are very poor and can barely afford food for the children to stay in school.”
Joseph Ampoam, a teacher who fled violence in Fotocol area near the Cameroon-Chad border, said he has decided to stay in Maroua (the Far North Region capital) rather than risk his life by going to work in the community.
“We had no peace at work because the fighting was not far from us. The recent attacks extended right up to the village where I was working so I escaped to Maroua town. I learnt that students do not want to come for school and my school has not been operational since the start of the school year [in September],” he said.
Migrating for safety
In Mayo-Sava Division, hundreds of students and their families have fled from schools near the border to those in Kolofata and Mora urban centres. Deputy-prefect Koulagna said that in August they registered over 3,600 internally displaced people, but many more could not be reached for registration, he noted.
“Most of the displaced families are now living in towns and the number of children in [some] schools has doubled, but there are many others who cannot access schools,” Koulagna said. “Education has been targeted by these attacks because Boko Haram has often left messages warning school authorities in the region.”
Boko Haram literally means “Western education is forbidden.”
Military spokesman Col Didier Badjeck told IRIN that a recent creation of an army division in the Far North, and military equipment received from the US, Germany and Israel, would bolster the fight against Boko Haram.
But the brutality being unleashed by the insurgents on communities is likely to have a deeper impact in Cameroon’s most deprived region.
“The short- and long-term implication will be enormous. The quality of education is bound to worsen and many youths will miss out on the opportunity to be at school and may end up being brainwashed into joining militant groups as a result of idleness,” said Mahamat.