A signboard of the Government Girls Secondary School is pictured after over 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by bandits in Jangebe, a village in Zamfara State, northwest of Nigeria on February 27, 2021. – More than 300 schoolgirls were snatched from dormitories by gunmen in the middle of the night in northwestern Zamfara state on February 26, in the third known mass kidnapping of students since December. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)
• We’re Not Responsible For Security In Schools, Insists Education Ministry
• ActionAid Canvasses Overhaul Of Security Architecture
Recent and continued attacks on schools and abduction of staff and students, especially in the North, is gradually affecting academic activities in the region, as parents and students become wary of returning and remaining in the classroom.
This is a bad omen for a region that is already educationally-disadvantaged, causing many, including the students and parents to call for quick action and intervention by governments at all levels.
Since December, more than 600 students have been abducted from schools in northwest Nigeria, highlighting a worrying development in the country’s kidnap-for-ransom crisis.
The recent kidnapping of nearly 300 students from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State, which ended with their release, was the second mass kidnap from schools in less than 10 days.
About $30million dollars reportedly was raised for the safe school initiative, which started in 2014, with support from the United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, to help secure schools across the country.
Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Education, yesterday, insisted it was not its responsibility to provide adequate security for schools across the country.
Director, Press and Public Relations, Ben Goong, said the ministry currently does not have plans or policies and programmes to prevent further mass abduction of students, adding: “Find out from the Commissioner of Police and Commander of civil defence in Niger, Zamfara and other states where there were cases of kidnappings. We are not in the scene there and it is not our responsibility to provide security.
“Even in our own ministry, we don’t provide security; it is the Police. So, if you start asking us what we are doing to ensure security, it means you are not being fair to us.”
Asked what the ministry was doing to ensure the safety of students, he responded: “How do we give assurance to people on what we are not responsible for? Such clarification cannot come from us; it should come from the Police, it should come from the civil defence.
“It is for the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to say from now, every school in Niger, Zamfara state or wherever else will have a certain number of policemen on ground. It is the responsibility of the Police to make an assessment and determine the type of security and number of security personnel they want to deploy.
“The ministry cannot deploy policemen, because they are not directly under our control.”While lamenting the effect of the abductions, the UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Peter Hawkins, said: “The incident in Zamfara, which affected 279 girls, is yet another example of insecurity and attacks against schools.
“This will directly not only impact the girls themselves, who would have psycho-social needs, but also their parents, who might prevent them from going back to school, parents of other children in other schools that might withdraw their children from schools, students and teachers all around the country who would protest that the educational and academic centres are being attacked and used.
“This is extortion, it is the extortion of worst kind, it is targeting children and institutions that are there to promote the well-being of all children, especially girls, and it is targeting the most vulnerable girls you can find.”
He stated that the 279 girls abducted, but later freed, in Zamfara State, are in that school because it is for girls and has served the purposes of two councils in the state.
“Some of the girls board at the school because of transport to go to the school from their houses might be quite a distance away. They are ordinary girls, going to ordinary school and the only one they can go to in those councils that serve their purposes.
“If they are too scared or too affected to return or their parents do not want them to return, that will be catastrophic, that will mean that their aspirations and dreams, their learning outcomes for the rest of their lives will be thwarted and constrained.
“It means that they will resort to other means of survival, that means early marriage, so from a situation they were thriving and developing in a school, which gave them a clear direction to be able to aspire, to not having anything at all, they are the innocent victims of extortion of the worst kind,” he noted.
He said it is very difficult to advise parents of any child regarding schooling or security or insecurity, as it is a very personal decision. But he added that it is incumbent upon the state, the media and the local authorities to create an atmosphere where students, parents and teachers to feel that their academic environment is safe.
“They have to encourage communities, parents and the authorities to take steps to ensure that all has been done to ensure that the security of those sectors are of the highest priority.”
To stem the tide and encourage students to return to school and parent to release their children, Hawkins said: “First, the governors in their areas, whether is Northeast, Southwest, South-South, need to come together and share intelligence around security, share each other’s experiences, share information that could be valuable for early intervention, share with the security agencies information that will allow them to either prevent an attack or to respond in a timely fashion and adequately to the attract.
“Secondly, each state should come up with a state educational security plans to safeguard the security of their state, not to close down the schools, but ensure that the security of the schools are paramount.
“The third is that schools should better integrate within the local community, communities can act as security for the schools, they can act as early warning system. Many of the people from the local communities should be involved in this kind of activities to forestall any attack.
“Community relations are critical to help the schools develop their own security and develop their contact with the community and ensure that students and parents feel confident that the school is delivering.”
Piqued by the spate of insecurity in the country, especially institutions of learning, ActionAid Nigeria also called on the Federal Government to completely overhaul and restructure the country’s security architecture.
It stressed the need to revise funding of security agencies, provide more equipment and also boost the morale of the men in the field, adding that community ownership is key to winning the insecurity battle
The organisation, in its ‘State of the Nation’ report, signed by the country Director, Ene Obi, while decrying the alarming rate of school children’s abduction said this would further disparage stakeholders’ efforts at reducing the rate of out-of-school children in Nigeria, particularly, the girl-child.
While lamenting that schools are seemingly unsafe for girls, as the abduction would give parents undue justification to force their girl-child into an early marriage, it called on government to prioritise improved security for children in schools, stressing the need for security agencies to adopt intelligence, power and non-financial negotiation to bring back the remaining Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu.
One of the freed students of Government Science College, Kagara in Niger State, who identified himself as simply Umar, said during his captivity, all he was thinking was how bad and dangerous Nigeria’s educational sector had become.
A parent, Ibrahim Mohammed, lamented that only poor men’s children attend government-owned schools, alleging that children of government officials go to private schools; hence government schools are neglected.
He said Nigeria’s elite do not like the common men, advising parents not to be discouraged in sending their children to school, but strive to educate their children by all means.
Mohammed accused elites of marginalising the poor in all spheres of endeavour, vowing that attack and abduction of students by bandits would not deter him from sending his children to school.
Fatima Isah, on her part, said: “I was demoralised; I felt bad with the attitude of those in authority. They must do the needful by protecting our children we entrusted in their hands by accommodating them well, protect the school environment and provide adequate security.”
Suleiman Awal, an Education Officer in Niger State, assured that government was putting in place necessary measures to curtail frequent attacks on the schools, particularly boarding schools.
“As a stakeholder, it baffled me seeing our schools taken over by armed bandits for reason best known to them. But I believed very soon everything would be history,” he enthused.
For Danjuma Manshekafa, a parent, added: “I cannot prevent my children from going back to school, because education is only legacy I will leave behind for my children.
“Therefore, I must support my children’s education, no matter how much it will cost me. I call on government to secure all the school environments by fencing them and also providing security personnel in all the boarding schools, so as to protect the students.”
To Yahaya Usman, an Imam at Kafintela Mosque in Minna, kidnapping of school children is a disaster and affecting the citizens, even movement by people became difficult, as every citizen is moving with fear of the unknown.
He stated: “Armed bandits attacked on citizen is an act of God, but government at all levels must protect the lives of citizens. From all indications, government has not done enough. Government has all the security apparatus at its disposal to eliminate criminals, so we expect government to stand on its feat and confront the bandits in their hideouts.”
But Mr. Sunday Masun of the Assemblies of God Church in Minna said: “First of all, we need to understand what education is. The Bible says we should seek for wisdom, knowledge and understanding. If we sit at home, we cannot get them; we must allow our wards go to school to acquire knowledge and understanding.
“So, it is important we support our children’s education, because education is power. This ugly situation in our boarding schools of recent is pathetic in all aspects and it calls for sober reflection and prayer.”
He charged government to improve security situation in all the boarding schools, because closing down public schools while private schools are in season is not proper.
Commissioner for Education, Hajiya Hanatu Jibril, reassured that government would provide adequate security in all the schools across the state to protect them from criminals and allowed students and pupils pursue their education.
While appreciating parents for their patience during the trying times and appealing to them to remain strong in trusting God, the commissioner enjoined parents not to be discouraged by what had happened by stopping their wards from going to school.
Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Kebbi State chapter, Issa Umar, while decrying the alarming spate of kidnapping of students, urged government to put more efforts in the security situation across the country and schools.
He advised federal and state governments to close boarding schools until the situation normalised and improve on the security architecture to save the lives and properties of the people.
Also speaking, a parent, Alhaji Abubakar Usman, equally condemned the recent attacks on students, saying if the situation prevails, no parent will want to take their children to boarding schools, an opinion supported by a student of Basaura Secondary School in the state capital, Mohammed Sheriff Ahmed.
He said if the spate of kidnapping continues, nobody will be willing to go to school, appealing to governments at all levels to intensify efforts at securing lives and property.