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August 2014: To teach my sisters

August 3, 2014

There are plenty of people I don’t like (mostly, but not exclusively, politicians), but there aren’t many people I actually hate. To get on that list, you have to be unremittingly vile.

Currently, the top of my hate list is Abubakar Shekau. In case you don’t recognise the name, he is the loathsome Boko Haram leader whose many crimes against innocent Nigerians finally attracted global attention after the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls.

Shekau is a power-mad, misogynistic zealot who has no interest in improving the lives of anyone in Nigeria.

Just as some world and religious leaders have for centuries perverted the teachings of Yeshua (Jesus) to wage wars and subjugate women, Shekau and his poisonous ilk are perverting the teachings of Muhammad. Following those teachings, Muslim women enjoyed unprecedented equality, having both property and marital rights that only later disappeared. (Just as the much admired role of women in early Christianity was written out of history, beginning, disgracefully, with false testaments that Mary Magdalene, one of the most important of the original disciples, was a prostitute.)

I’ve spent time in Nigeria and I can say this without equivocation: the problems of the people are not caused by the lack of some rabid form of Sharia law. The problems are caused by grinding poverty.

And, as everyone with half a brain from the World Bank on down knows, the most effective way to reduce poverty is to educate women.

Of course, you can’t just magic a school into a rural village. Teachers will not come if basic facilities do not exist. Children cannot go to school if they are sick. Girls cannot go to school if they have to help their mothers with the four-hour daily task of collecting water.

Meet three Nigerian women.

Bilki Ibrahim

Bilki Ibrahim is the hygiene educator in Alhazai, a small village on the border of Niger. She teaches the women that they and their children must wash their hands with soap and water after defecating and before and after preparing food. She knows this works because her children are much healthier. She and her husband were always in debt from borrowing money to pay for diarrhoea medicine. If they were lucky they’d have one debt of 600 naira paid off before another child got sick. (FYI: 600 naira is approximately $4.00.) When women complain to her about the 30 naira cost of soap, she reminds them of the cost of medicine.

diary 14 Haua Musa

Hauwa Musa is a formidable grandmother in Fikayi, another northern Nigerian village. For her, the most important thing about the well the village will soon have (and the latrines being built) is that they will be able to get a teacher. When I ask if girls will be able to go to school, she shrugs and says “Inch’allah”. Then she summons the chief’s son, the only boy currently attending a school many miles away. (He is also her grandson.) “What is your job?” she asks him. He looks from her to the translator to me, then back at Hauwa. “To teach my sisters,” he says.


Justina Gudam is a schoolteacher in Takkas, a village in the Christian state of Plateau. Before a well was installed in her village, it took her two hours a day to collect water from a stream. She was always tired, always feeling guilty, knowing the schoolchildren were not getting as much out of her lessons as they should. Her children were frequently ill and she and her husband were always in debt for medication. The time and energy saved from the well allowed her to take out a small business loan. She now employs five people and the extra money she makes is going towards higher education for her son and three daughters. “We cannot solve Nigeria’s problems,” she says, “without an educated population.”

I can also say this without equivocation to Abubakar Shekau: You are not going to Paradise, you deranged piece of excrement. You are going straight to Hell. Unfortunately even that will not be bad enough for you.

Give back our girls.

From → Columns

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