Three days ago, I returned from my second visit to Nigeria.
Nigeria is the richest country in Africa, but it has the highest number of out-of-school girls in the world. When I first visited the country in 2014, the government spent 9% of its budget on education. This year it’s only 6%. (The international benchmark for spending on education is 20% of the overall budget.)
When planning where I would travel on my Girl Power Trip this summer, I knew I needed to return to Nigeria and advocate again for the millions of girls fighting to go to school.
In some states, particularly in northern Nigeria, extremism terrorises communities and makes education impossible for many children, particularly girls.
During my trip, I travelled to Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram. In a camp for people displaced by terrorism, I met girls like 15-year-old Fatima, who have faced so much violence and fear in their young lives but are still determined to go to school.
“Boko Haram abducted me and wanted to marry me,” Fatima told me. “I later managed to escape. I was not in school until I came to the camp here.”
Leaders in this area, like Borno State governor Kashim Shettima, are working against extreme challenges to keep children in school. When we met, Shettima told me he’s determined to “rewrite history through education” for children who suffer so much under Boko Haram.
In other regions of Nigeria, inadequate government spending, corruption and poverty keep girls from getting an education and pursuing their dreams.
Kehinde and Taiwo are 14-year-old twins living in Lagos. In the poor community where they live, there is no public school. When their mother contracted a serious illness and couldn’t work, the family could no longer afford to pay $70 per term for their private tuition. Today, Kehinde and Taiwo work 12 hours a day grinding peppers. They earn $2 a day or less, and use the money to feed their family.
Taiwo loves mathematics and wants to be a banker. Kehinde says she’d like to be a nurse and help sick people like her mother. But neither of these sisters – or millions of Nigerian girls like them – can achieve their dreams without education.
Nigeria has the means to help these girls — but the government hasn’t prioritised education. That’s why I met with the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, and asked him to declare an education state of emergency in Nigeria. I urged him, the minister of education and other leaders to triple spending on education, make budgets transparent and encourage all states in Nigeria to pass the Child’s Rights Act.
Osinbajo said leaders would meet again in the next two weeks to address the education crisis – and he agrees Nigeria must “invest significantly” in education.
Malala Fund and I will keep monitoring Nigeria’s progress. I hope my next visit to the country can be a celebration of many more girls going to school, learning and preparing for a brighter future.
My ambitions are high, but so are those of Fatima, Kehinde, Taiwo and all the girls I meet on my travels. I will keep speaking out until all girls can go to school. My sisters and I are fighting for a world where all girls can learn and lead without fear. I hope you will join us.