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Schooling and conflict in Nigeria: Leveraging subnational data

By Charles Gale, Research Associate, Education Policy and Data Center


This post looks at conflict and schooling at the state level for Nigeria, using the most recent available data to discuss possible connections between the two. Our spatial and time series analysis shows that North Eastern and North Central states, particularly in recent years, have seen escalating levels of conflict while North Western states have been relatively peaceful. This has coincided with widely fluctuating access to schooling across the north, although the peaceful states of the North West have seen the greatest increases in access to schooling in the country.

Schooling and conflict in Nigeria

On December 18th, 33 people were killed and hundreds kidnapped, representing the worst mass abduction in Nigeria since 200 school girls were kidnapped in Borno state last April. Indeed, incidents of violence have been on the rise in Nigeria in recent years, with a number of groups known to target the education system. As the effects and reach of these different actors are diverse, so are the impacts upon the country’s education system. For example, recent episodes of school-related violence in the North Eastern region of the country have included a shift in tactics from emphasis on destruction of infrastructure to directly targeting stakeholders, including students and teachers.  The April 2014 incident in Borno is the most well-known example of mass kidnapping, however the oil-rich states of the Niger Delta have also seen abductions of students and education personnel in recent years. Education can also be disrupted indirectly through threats of general violence, such as that which reportedly kept 15,000 children out of school in Borno in 2013.

As researchers continue to explore the links between violence and education, there have been significant improvements in the availability, timeliness and breadth of data. In particular, an increase in the use of geo-referencing, or linking data points to specific geographic locations, has allowed for greater precision in analyzing links between education and conflict, as researchers are able to look beyond the traditional country-level unit of analysis. The dataset for this post draws from EPDC extractions of household surveys, as well as the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), which records episodes of political violence in sub-Saharan African countries as far back as 1997. 


The above chart (fig 1) overlays EPDC out of school children estimates from the three most recent DHS and MICS surveys, with conflict events[1][2]. Nigeria, which is reported to have the greatest number of out of school children in the world, has seen a rise in the rates of schooling exclusion since 2011. This rise happens to correspond with increased levels of violence. The bubble chart (fig 2) shows which states experienced the greatest number of conflict events between 2007 and 2013. Borno stands out as having experienced a disproportionately high degree of conflict relative to other states, particularly in recent years. It is also important to note that southern states in the Niger Delta region and Lagos have seen a large number of conflict events although this has dropped off, despite the overall increase in violence, between 2011-2013.


As can be seen in fig 3 above, states throughout the North East and North Central are among the highest conflict areas of the country. When looking at rates of out of school children, what stands out is that all states in the south have seen relative stability compared to the north, where levels have been fluctuating. In the second map shown above (fig 4), the states in light red saw the greatest increase in the percentage of out of school children, while those in blue saw the greatest decreases. It is clear that southern states have been relatively successful in maintaining levels of access to education; this is important because southern states, with the exception of perhaps Oyo in the South West, have low rates of out of school children. Also important to note is that despite the many high-profile attacks on education in Borno there was a large increase in school attendance over the period. High-conflict Yobe and Plateau states, however, saw some of the greatest increases in out of school rates. North-eastern states including Zamfara, Niger and Kwara, in contrast, saw large increases in access to schooling over the period, and were also relatively peaceful. Comparing levels of violence and access to education between states of the North East and North West/Central of the country may provide researchers with some clues as to links between the two.


It's also useful to compare the states that saw the greatest increases and decreases in rates of out of school children. The above (fig 5) shows the states with the largest increase in out of school rates and (fig 6) those with the greatest decrease. It is clear in comparing these states that levels of violence were greater where there were increasing rates of out of school children. In Kaduna, Plateau and Yobe these increases were greatest between 2011 and 2013, when violence peaked. In the states where school exclusion decreased there were relatively low levels of violence. Despite these observations, it is important to note that these states represent the most extreme cases of schooling exclusion in Nigeria, and the connection between conflict incidents and education presented here should not obscure other factors which could be contributing to high levels of both, such as poverty or political participation.


The value in looking at the relationship between conflict and schooling at the subnational level is in providing a greater degree of nuance than afforded by traditional cross-country comparisons. It is clear that southern and northern states in Nigeria face greatly different challenges in both the delivery of educational services and experience with conflict. The south, despite some sporadic political violence in Lagos and in the Niger Delta region, has seen relatively stable (and high) access to education. The north, in contrast, has seen escalating levels of violence but also widely fluctuating levels of access. Further avenues for research between conflict and education in Nigeria could be:

  • Comparisons between the North West and North East/Central areas of the country, as socio-political background conditions may be more similar here than with the southern states.
  • Even within the North East, the four "furthest" states from the political center of the country have seen widely differing levels of violence and rates of out of school children, and an in-depth comparison including spillover effects such as those from IDPs could provide some useful insights into the relationship between violence and schooling exclusion in Nigeria.
  • Further analysis of the relationship between schooling and conflict would be wise to take account of the rates of children attending non-formal schools, particularly in northern areas. 

You can obtain the dataset used in this analysis by clicking on one of the above visuals and downloading the Tableau workbook. Also see the following resources for more information on education and conflict in Nigeria; ACLED’s September 2014 Conflict Trends report, and a more comprehensive overview of recent violence in Nigeria (from 2013). The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack has a 2014 report on Nigeria which compiles information including attacks on students, teachers, schools and other recent events that have disrupted the education system. For additional education data on Nigeria, See EPDC’s recent Spotlight on Nigeria.

[1] Conflict event types exclude those where a “headquarters or base established” and “Non-violent activity by a conflict actor”

[2] See for more information on EPDC data extracted from household survey sources.


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