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Rising insecurity as threat to governments' Safe-School Initiative agenda – New Telegraph Newspaper

The heightened challenge of insecurity in Nigerian schools is forcing many students out of school. KAYODE OLANREWAJU reports
These are really tough and challenging times for the education sector in Nigeria. Going to school is fast becoming a nightmare for students as a result of the frequent attacks on schools by bandits. Worse hit are schools in the North-West and North-East region of the country, where the increasing level of insecurity has led to the closure of some schools. For the ones that are still open, learning takes place under an atmosphere of fear. The situation has forced many parents to withdraw their children from school. Some teachers too have long abandoned the classroom not planning to come back. For a region that had been experiencing low school enrolment, the situation is now worse. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) now estimates the number of out-of-school children in the country at 13.2 million. The Northern region accounts for the bulk of that figure. According to UNICEF Nigeria, over 20 attacks have been carried out on schools in recent times, with over 1,436 children abducted and 16 killed. The organisation further reveals that of the 37 million school children in the county one million may not return to school, owing to attacks on schools by bandits in the North, even as the UNICEF Country Representative, Mr. Peter Hawkins stated that more than 200 children were still missing. Stakeholders have blamed the situation on lack of adequate safety measures in schools to protect students and teachers. One of such stakeholders is the Education in Emergencies Working Group Nigeria (EiEWGN), a group made up of civil society organisations, development agencies and government institutions. The group says children mostly in the affected states such as Kaduna, Kebbi, Borno, Niger, Zamfara and Katsina, the epicentre of banditry, now lag behind in education. According to the Director of the UN-backed fund, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a United Nations Global Fund, Yasmine Sherif, there are still approximately one million children including 583,000 girls, and 18,000 education personnel in need of support to either resume or sustain education in North-East Nigeria. He listed Zamfara, Katsina, Yobe, Borno, Kaduna and Niger specifically as states that are more vulnerable to school kidnappings due to proliferation of armed gangs in the region. According to another report by SBM Intelligence, Nigeria’s geo-political intelligence platform, at least 1,409 students have been abducted in the last 19 months, while over 20 schools have been invaded by the Boko Haram sect and bandits, leaving the teachers and parents worried, and children traumatised, depressed and hopeless. Unfortunately, since the infamous kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls at Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State in 2014, and 110 schoolgirls from Government Girls Secondary School, Dapchi in Yobe State in 2018, governments seem not to have learnt much. In another report, the United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that more than 1,400 schools had been destroyed, damaged, or looted in the North-East by Boko Haram insurgents, while an estimated 2,295 teachers have been killed, and over 19,000 teachers have been displaced by the crisis. No fewer than 17 teachers, SBM Intelligence reported, were kidnapped alongside their students in the last few months by bandits, while over N220 million was said to have been paid as ransom in the 19 kidnapping incidents before the Government Day Secondary School in Kaya in Maradun Local Government Area incident in Zamfara State, SBM Intelligence further reports. The attack on schools and kidnapping of school children, which began like a child’s play in North-East in 2014, has since reached a frightening dimension as terrorist activities have today spread to North-West, North-Central, South-West and other parts of the country with the attendant threat to school safety. Some of the schools that have so far been attacked since 2014 after the invasion of Chibok and Dapchi schools by Boko Haram and gunmen, include Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary School in Agunfoye-Lugbusi Village, Ikorodu, Lagos (2016) with three students kidnapped; the Nigerian-Turkish International School, Isheri, Ogun State (January 14, 2017) with eight people including five students and teachers kidnapped; Lagos Model College, Igbonla in Epe, Lagos on (May 25, 2017) with six students abducted (all in South-West). Over 344 pupils were abducted at Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State (December 11, 2020); 163 pupils and 27 teachers were abducted at Government Science Secondary School, Kagara in Niger State (February 17, 2021), two of the pupils later died in captivity. At Government Girls College, Jangebe, Talata Mafara LGA of Zamfara State, 317 pupils were forcefully taken away on February 27, 2021.Also, 102 pupils of Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State were abducted. In Kaduna, 140 students of Bethel Baptist High School were kidnapped, while the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization and one other school were also invaded in Kaduna State in March with 30 students abducted, among others by gunmen. These are apart from other schools invaded in the state. Schools that have not been attacked across the highlighted states seem to be helplessly waiting for their turns.
Government response
As a response to the incessant attacks and abduction of students, the Katsina State government ordered the closure of 38 boarding schools. More than 1,000 primary and secondary schools across some states in the North, especially Kaduna, Borno, Yobe, Niger and Adamawa have also been closed in the last few months. “This massive disruption to children’s education will, for a long time, impact negatively on the development of the region, going by the high rate of out-of-school children in this area,” parents had lamented. Given the harrowing experience and trauma abducted children and their peers go through, investigations revealed that they are scared to go back to their schools.
Cost of school kidnappings
Parents have spent billions of naira in ransom payment to secure the release of their abducted children. Last year, a report by a group, SB Morgen’s Research estimated that about USS$18.34 million had been paid as ransoms to free victims of kidnapping. According to Bulama Bukarti, Senior Analyst in the extremism policy unit of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, in a zoom presentation with the Deputy Director of Nigeria’s intelligence agency, the Department of State Services, $4.9 million have been collected as ransom this year alone, while “about $3.7 million was paid to free some of the Chibok schoolgirls.” Although there are varied estimates of ransom paid to free the school children, a report from an Intelligence Tracking Company in Nigeria said that over N20 billion had been raked in by bandits in 500 attacks across the country in the last few years, while the families of the released students of the Greenfield University said they parted with N280 million to secure the release of 14 of the students who were kidnapped on April 14, 2021. Parents and guardians are now scared to allow their children to go back to school, resulting in overwhelming low school attendance and enrolment. A non-governmental organisation, Street Child, operating in some Northern states corroborates this. It listed some of the negative impacts of attacks on schools and child kidnapping to include poor attendance at schools, decline in student’s enrolment, diminished quality of education and learning, lower rate of transition to higher education levels, overcrowding and reductions in teacher recruitment.
Why attacks on schools persist
The spate of kidnapping of school children has been blamed on lack of political will, concerted effort and deliberate commitment on the part of the government at all levels to initiate adequate school safety measures that will protect schools from banditry. In 2014, as part of efforts to tackle the menace, the Federal Government launched the Safe School Initiative (SSI). Also in March 2019, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) ratified the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD), aimed at bringing about solution to the crisis. But these policy initiatives are yet to make any meaningful impact in addressing violence in schools. Under the Declaration, the Federal Government and other partners made a commitment of $20 million to improve security in schools, especially in the North-East by building perimeter fences around them. In similar instance, the Safe School Initiative launched under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, following the attack on the Chibok School, has since remained unimplemented, without any legislation giving the policies a bite. Investigations reveal that if the policies had been implemented, they would have tackled attacks on schools and opened the doors for concerted efforts at beefing up security within and around school environments across the country. The Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari has not taken any tangible action to forestall the menace as Nigerians only experience repeated assurances that no school would be attacked again.
Policy efforts at stemming attacks on schools
Between October 25 and 27, 2021 Nigeria will host the Fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration in Abuja. But will the summit galvanise the needed support for the Declaration and review progress in achieving the commitments to protect schools and children from further attacks? That’s the big question. On the feasibility of deploying police and military personnel to schools across the country to provide protection for students, teachers and school infrastructure, opinions are divided over this.
While some argue that it is the best measure under the circumstance, many others say the current strength of the Nigerian military and police personnel is limited to go around the schools in the face of the war security agencies are prosecuting in the North against the bandits and Boko Haram terrorists.
On his part, a retired Security Officer, Mohammed Musa, said the best solution to address this menace is to put in place adequate intelligence coverage of schools and to be reviewed on a weekly basis. He condemned the lack of deliberate action by the Federal Government to tackle the menace of insecurity in the country, saying this has led to the sharp increase in school children’s kidnapping in the last six months, resulting in the relocation of students and teachers to other schools in safer environments.
One major challenge posed in achieving safety at schools is lack of deliberate funding policy or budgetary allocations either by the Federal Government or the various state governments for this purpose or special funds to prosecute security measures in schools.
The Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) Secretary General, Comrade Mike Ene, however, condemned state governors for not making judicious use of the ‘security votes’ especially in the North, where war had been declared on education by the Boko Haram sect. “We also encourage parents and Parent Teachers Association (PTAs) to contribute towards hiring day/night guards and security personnel to guard the schools at night since bandits invade the schools mostly at night,” Ene said. He condemned the closure of schools in some states due to banditry saying this would never be the solution to the insecurity challenges facing the schools, but would only distort academic activities in the system.
The Nigeria Country Director for Amnesty International (AI), Osai Ojigho also expressed dismay that there had not been any tangible progress made in this direction, lamenting that the government’s failure to protect school children from incessant attacks and abductions clearly shows that no lessons had been learned from the Chibok and Dapchi tragedies.
“The government’s only response to attack on schools by closing down such schools is increasingly putting the right to education at risk,” Ojigho said. Vigilantes to the rescue? As part of measures towards ensuring school safety, some state governors, school authorities and owners of private schools have resorted to the use of local hunters, vigilance groups like Amotekun, Oodua People’s Congress, trained guards and professional security guards to guard and protect their schools.
But despite the proven collaboration between host communities and schools to protect the students, findings further show that the security agencies are usually not proactive enough to complement the little efforts being provided by communities. Another major limitation observed in school safety measures is that school managers are yet to introduce security drills or integrate security skill programmes in the school curriculum to equip students for selfprotection in cases of emergency. The Lagos State Education Commissioner, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo, however, said the state has been training students and teachers on school safety by giving them security tips. Recalling the two attacks on Lagos schools a few years ago, the state government, she added, had left no stone unturned in ensuring that schools in the state are adequately secured and safe for learning.
“The state government has been proactive in ensuring that schools with boarding facilities across the state are safe and secured. The state government is not resting on its oars in putting in place top-notch security measures in both private and public schools in the state,” she added. The Commissioner, however, sought public support for the government in every way possible. She also said the state Police Commissioner has had sessions with school owners in the state, where he gave them security tips on how to manage school safety. Aside from that, she noted that the government is also working with a firm towards fortifying security infrastructure especially at boarding schools in remote locations. She said this will be rolled out before the new session resumes.
Stating that perimeter fencing of all schools in Lagos is capital intensive due to the locations and the land size, Adefisayo added that the state was already constructing fences in schools where necessary. She added that security training, instructions and tips concerning children should be topmost on the mind of every parent or guardian, as well as schools as measures for school safety. To beef up security around schools, especially in the remote areas, the state Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Odumosu, said that the State Police Command had taken certain proactive steps, including identification of schools, threat analysis, intelligence gathering, multi-agency collaboration, community policing and deployment of adequate police personnel to the schools towards ensuring utmost safety in schools.
But our investigations reveal that there are no police personnel deployed to schools in the state. The CP added that the incessant kidnapping in the country has stimulated the Lagos State Police Command to assess the general security of schools in the state with a view to taking hands-on measures on their safety, particularly schools located in rural communities.
However, investigations in some parts of the state, especially in Idi-Araba, Agege, Ajah, Agbado and Mushin, among others, indicate that most schools are not immune from activities of hoodlums who still take over the premises after school hours and at weekend to perpetrate their nefarious activities. And this is largely due to the absence of perimeter fencing or damaged to the fences by the miscreants in order to have unhindered access to the schools. States claim on perimeter fencing of schools Many state governments claim that they have constructed perimeter fencing in schools in their states. But our findings show several schools are yet to be fenced. Some that have been fenced have either low fences or broken down fences and gates.
Besides, there has been argument among stakeholders that perimeter fencing alone is not enough to protect schools from attacks. Apart from the challenge of perimeter fencing, investigation also showed there is also the problem of using old people as security men or guards in most public and private schools, and who are without arms.
The Chairman of Ekiti State wing of the NUT, Comrade Goke Emmanuel and his Ondo State counterpart, Comrade Victor Amoko, while expressing displeasure over insecurity in Nigerian schools, queried the use of old men as security guards in schools.
To them, what schools needed at this period are young men, who are Information Technology (IT) compliant and who could use social media effectively to communicate or alert the security agencies and concerned authorities whenever the need arises. “The era of hiring old men as either day or night guards/security personnel in either public or private schools has gone given the level of sophistication of the invading bandits,” they said. Amoko added that as a union, the Ondo State NUT has been educating its members on the need to be security conscious, insisting that the issue of providing security depends largely on the government.
The union challenged the state governments on the urgent need to construct perimeter fencing and deploy security personnel including officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), para-military and other vigilance groups to guard schools. Though the Ondo State government declined comments on the various security measures put in place to secure schools across the state, claiming that “security is a sensitive issue and should not be made public,” it was gathered that security of schools has been a top priority in the government’s agenda. The state government had in July, this year, organised a week-long seminar of all relevant stakeholders, including security agencies and experts, opinion molders, government departments, traditional rulers, community and religious leaders, as well as various unions on how to ensure effective security in schools across the state.
On the measures put in place by the state, sources close to the government said about 80 per cent of public primary and secondary schools across the 18 local government areas of the state had already been fenced. But this is contrary to findings during visits to some of the schools, mostly schools in rural communities. Different strokes: Public vs Private schools The Ondo State’s chapter of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) said the deployment of security personnel such as the police, Amotekun, NSCDC and military to beef up security across the state had gone a long way in improving security in schools.
Its President, Chief Derick Ijidakinro, noted that several measures had been put in place by proprietors/owners of private schools, which he listed to include proper fencing of schools, hiring of day/night guards to oversee the coming in and going out of students and visitors to their schools.
“We don’t allow loitering by anyone within the precinct of our schools’ premises, while bushes around our schools are constantly cleared; we also do not allow anyone to come to pick our children without concrete evidence and proper identification,” he noted. A teacher at Bethany College, Nursery & Primary School, a private school in Akure, said the management was conscious of the need for adequate security and has prioritised this by engaging night guards/security personnel from a reputable security firm, which is collaborating with the Civil Defence, especially in case of emergency to ensure security in the school.
It is however a different story for public schools in the state. A public school teacher, who did not want his name mentioned, bemoaned the state of security in state schools, saying “it is only God that is protecting us and the students when it comes to the issue of school safety measures.”
“The state government is not ready to do anything in this regard to secure the students and teachers. What will it cost the government to provide adequate security in schools by hiring or engaging armed security personnel to be deployed to all schools, but this has not been done. Looking at the wave of kidnapping and banditry in schools in the Northern part of the country, it can still spill over to other states in the South-West, especially through states that share boundaries with the Northern states,” the teachers added.
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