Nigerian Islamic scholar shares misleading information about girl-child education policy

On Friday, 19th November, a popular Kano-based Islamic scholar, Muhammad Uthman, made certain claims about the Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE).

AGILE is a World Bank-assisted project of the Federal Ministry of Education geared at improving secondary education opportunities for adolescent girls aged between 10 and 20.

During a short commentary after delivering the Friday sermon at the Indimi Juma’at Mosque in Maiduguri, Borno State, the cleric claimed that the AGILE project targeted Northern Nigeria and Islam to erode religious beliefs and instil moral decadence.

In the commentary, in Hausa, that lasted about seven minutes, the cleric, popularly known as Shaykh Muhammad Bin Uthman, also suggested that the inclusion of many northern states in the pilot implementation was deliberate and part of a clandestine plan.

“Now, there’s a programme they brought, called AGILE. And Borno is selected among the few states where the implementation begins,” he said through the microphones that echoed his words to the mosque filled with worshippers as shown in a video clip of the sermon posted on his Facebook page.

AGILE Project
AGILE Project

The video has been watched over 9,000 times and shared over 400 times on his Facebook Page. Short clips of the video have also gone viral on Facebook, TikTok and Twitter.

“Do you know the meaning of Agile?” the cleric continued. “We sat and discussed it in the council of clerics in Kano – It means Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment. You see it’s from the word ‘agility’. It’s an acronym, meaning ‘we want young girls between the ages of 10 and 18.’ ‘They are the only ones we want’.”

Mr Uthman specifically claimed that component 2.1 of the project aims to separate young girls from the fundamentals of the Islamic religion and culture.

“In what they call Component 2.1 –I read it– they said what they particularly want is Northern young girls so as to separate them from the fundamentals of religion and culture such that a father cannot say to his daughter, ‘put on the Hijab’ (to which she would reply) ‘Baba, I am free’,” he claimed.

Nigeria is believed to have one of the highest numbers of out-of-school children in the world, according to the several agencies of the United Nations. While the actual figure is subject to debate as there’s no official national figure, stakeholders believe the problem has worsened over the years, partly due to insecurity.

Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Education said the AGILE project being implemented with funding from the World Bank, is to help more adolescent girls complete secondary school education and reduce the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria.

Knowing that Islamic scholars in the Northern part of Nigeria wield a large amount of influence which they can use to enable the success or failure of the project, PREMIUM TIMES decided to fact-check the claims made by the cleric.

CLAIM 1: The Implementation of AGILE targets Islam and Northern States.

Mr Uthman claimed in his short commentary that the implementers of AGILE chose six northern states to start the implementation as part of a clandestine attack on the Northern part of Nigeria and the Islamic religion.

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He said: “They said they’ll take seven states, calling them implementing states…When they wanted to select the implementing states for this ‘misery’, because that is what it is, six of these seven states are from the North.

“They selected four states from our geopolitical zone, North-west: Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi. They selected one from the North-east: Borno. That’s five. Then they picked one from the North-central: Plateau – they are all North. Then one in the South-west, Ekiti.

“There’s none from the South-east and South-south,” he emphasised, asking why none of those were selected for the implementation of the project.

“The questions we are asking you the ‘owners’ (implementers) of AGILE, answer us, is why did you select these states from the North alone? Why? And what do you mean by rescuing them from the clutches of religion?”

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The Federal Ministry of Education has a page on its website dedicated to information about the AGILE project.

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Information on the page showed that the current implementing states are: Borno, Ekiti, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, and Plateau states.

The Ministry of Education also stated on the website that the implementing states were selected through a ‘consultative process’ involving the education ministry, state governors and the state ministries of education as well as the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget, and National Planning.

The ministry added that the criteria for selection include “the number of out of school Girls, secondary school transition rates, the existence of enabling policies on Girls education as well as the States’ engagement and commitment to improving Girls’ educational attainment and empowerment.”

Early this year, AGILE said 11 state governments indicated interest to join in the project.

In November, the 11 states –Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara– were co-opted into the project and the national steering committee was inaugurated.

The committee comprised executive secretaries from the States’ Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Commissioners of Education from the 18 participating states and relevant Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

Verdict: Mr Uthman’s claim that the AGILE project targeted Northern states and the Islamic religion is misleading as there’s no evidence to support the hypothesis. Publicly available information shows that stakeholders including the state governors and the state ministries of education were involved in deciding the implementing states.

CLAIM 2: AGILE is aimed at stripping young girls from the fundamentals of religion and culture

The cleric also claimed that component 2.1 of AGILE is aimed at stripping young girls from the fundamentals of religion and culture such that parents cannot control their children.

“They said, in what they call Component 2.1 –I read it– they said what we want is particularly Northern children, to separate them from the fundamentals of religion and culture such that a father cannot say to his daughter, ‘put on the Hijab’ (to which she would reply) ‘Baba, I am free’,” Mr Uthman claimed.

“‘Girl, we’ll give you money to go to school in Oxford, Yale, Massachusetts or Princeton, some of the biggest universities in the world. But your father cannot have a say in your life. Then what morals is that?” he continued.


The AGILE project has three major components, according to the information on the education ministry’s website. Each of these components also has sub-components, as can be seen on the AGILE information page.

Component one is ‘Creating Safe and Accessible Learning Spaces’. It is meant to address the supply-side constraints to girls’ education such as the construction and rehabilitation of classrooms, expanding existing Primary and Junior Secondary Schools, (JSS) to include Senior Secondary Schools (SSS) as well the provision of Teaching and Learning Materials, (TLMs) to make schools functional, safe, inclusive, and more conducive to teaching and learning.

Component two is ‘Fostering an Enabling Environment for Girls.’ This component is aimed at seeking support for girls’ education and empowerment among families, communities, and schools.

Component three, ‘Project Management and System Strengthening’, aims to support institutional capacity building at the federal, state and local levels to manage, implement, and provide oversight for promoting girls’ education.

Component 2.1

Sub-component 2.1, which Mr Uthman referred to, is aimed at “promoting social and behavioural change through communications, engagement with traditional rulers, and advocacy.”

The three main activities under sub-component 2.1 are; communications campaigns at the National level; State-level community engagement and awareness campaigns, and National and State level engagement, advocacy and sensitization.

The three activities aim to “promote a shift in social and cultural norms and perceptions which act as barriers to girls’ schooling through communication campaigns and advocacy to promote girls education and empowerment.”

It also seeks to address the cultural, social and religious norms that impede girls’ access to education as well as emphasise the need to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for all children and state-level awareness campaigns to promote social acceptance.

Sub-component 2.2 is aimed at empowering girls with critical life skills and knowledge for navigating adulthood and digital literacy skills. Subcomponent 2.3: Providing financial incentives to the poorest households

PREMIUM TIMES also reached out to the AGILE communication office for an explanation of what component 2.1 entails.

In its response, the project’s communication office said the component is aimed at disabusing parents and communities from certain erroneous beliefs affecting girl child education in selected states.

It said: “The project (AGILE) realised that parents/guardians fail to allow their female children access and complete secondary education due to some misplaced or misunderstood socio-cultural beliefs and norms.

“To tackle this, this Component tries to dissuade them from these beliefs by highlighting the benefits of Girl child education, through various communication and behavioural change campaigns at the federal and state levels.

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The project said it “works closely with religious and traditional leaders, community heads, NGOs/CSOs, school authorities, opinion leaders, media, etc. to sensitise their followers of the need for them to allow their adolescent daughters/wards access and complete secondary education.”

Verdict: There’s no evidence to support Mr Uthman’s claim that the project has a mandate of stripping beneficiaries of fundamental religious or cultural beliefs as the component stressed that it aimed at sensitising communities against beliefs that hindered girl child education.

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