Scapegoating the Usual Suspects? Pandemic Control and the Securitization of Qur’anic Education in Northern Nigeria
While insights into the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on formal schooling are still patchy, even less is known about the pandemic’s impact on nonformal education systems, including institutions of Islamic learning. In this paper, we explore the nexus between pandemic control and the securitization of Qur’anic education in northern Nigeria; that is, the framing of Qur’anic schools, teachers, and students as security threats that necessitate tough responses. Security concerns have long dominated perceptions of Qur’anic schools in this region, which has been plagued by sectarian and interreligious violence. Qur’anic students often have been cast as future hoodlums and easy recruits for radical groups and depicted as vectors of disease, even as epidemiological evidence remains scarce. In this paper, we argue that security framings have proven highly adaptable in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We examine how perceptions of Qur’anic students as dangerous legitimized the forced clearance of schools and student deportations. Drastic interventions have also bolstered perceptions of COVID-19 as a hoax and a plot by politicians to further their own agendas. Data for this paper come from 14 verbal diaries recorded in Kano, Nigeria, from April to June 2020, nine interviews with Qur’anic teachers and students affected by school clearances, and our analysis of Nigerian newspaper reporting.