Why a national safe school policy is imperative
The rising wave of violent crimes in the country, has found expression in many unpleasant incidents. Schools and educational facilities have not been spared this menace, as reflected in the spate of kidnappings and killings involving students and their teachers. Assistant Features Editor, ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, writes that with the recent abduction of a vice principal, a teacher and four pupils, the need for a national safe school policy is looming.
Except for an infinitesimal number of elite private schools that have invested heavily in security, most schools in the country be they public or private are without any form of security arrangements.
Public schools across the country are the worst in this respect, as they are largely without basic security features like perimeter fencing, or security personnel. Where there are security personnel, they, more often than not, are aged retirees, whose capacity for swift movements, has been impaired by natural causes.
Even when the security guards are young, they are mostly incapable of understanding the advanced skills deployed by modern-day criminals, including kidnappers.
Catalogue of security breaches in schools
Last week’s abduction of the Vice Principal, Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, Epe, Lagos State, Mr. A.O Oyesola, English teacher, Lukman Oyerinde and four pupils – Abu, Emmanuel Okonkwo, Jeremiah Ruth and Isaac Adebisi, has only added to the growing list of similar incidents in the recent past.
In that incident, a group of gunmen stormed the school, shot into the air to cause commotion, and thereafter abducted the vice principal, a teacher and the four pupils from the school, which is about three decades old, and located in the swampy area of the riverine town.
The abducted principal, teachers and pupils were, however, released Tuesday night by their captors.
This incident is coming after unknown gunmen in February 29, 2016, abducted three students of the Babington Macurley Junior Seminary (BMJS), Ikorodu, Lagos.
The rampaging gunmen suspected to be dislodged pipeline vandals stormed the school premises located at Agunfoye-Lugbusi village at about 8pm, and took three girls away, having gained entry into the school by breaking the perimeter fence.
On February 25, 2014, the world woke up to what represented a new nadir in the annals of savagery in human history, when Boko Haram insurgents invaded the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, where they slit the throat of over 40 boys, all under 16 years of age. Buni Yadi is the Headquarters of Gujba Local Council of the state.
The religious bigots also razed down 24 buildings in the school as a result of the attack.
On May 12, 2016, two Junior Secondary School (JSS) III pupils of the Federal Government College, Okposi, in Ohaozara Local Council of Ebonyi State, Tochukwu Eneh, and Chukwuemeka Ugwu, were abducted.
Tochukwu was from Obioma while Chukwuemeka hailed from Nsude, both in Udi Local Council of Enugu State.
The pupils, who had just finished their final examinations that day, were preparing to go home the next day when they were snatched.
A few days after they were declared missing, spokesman of Ebonyi State Police Command, ASP George Okafor, issued a statement saying they had been found dead. Their bodies were discovered at a bamboo grove in Ata River, about half a kilometer from the school premises.
The abduction of over 200 student of Chibok Girls’ Secondary School, which has since become an international issue, hence an albatross for the Federal Government, is still yet to be resolved, even after some of the abductees have allegedly become wives and mothers in captivity.
Cry for secured schools
The National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), after a meeting of the South West Zone, which took place at Lagooz Schools, Agege, Lagos, called on the Federal Government to step up security in and around educational facilities in the country, in order to forestall loss of lives.
A release endorsed by its deputy national president, Yomi Otubela after a meeting read, “We appreciate the recent effort of the Federal Government in combating the menace imposed by the insurgents in the country. However, we want the Federal Government to also put some form of security measures around schools to protect lives of these young ones. The recent attack witnessed in Pakistan is instructive on this issue.
“NAPPS is therefore suggesting that government should make use of uniformed men to provide security around streets where schools are located. Uniformed men such as police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps etc.”
In the wake of the murder of the two students in Ebonyi, the Unity Schools Old Student Association (USOSA), also urged the Federal Government to take practical steps in its bid to curtail the incessant attacks on students of these schools.
National president of the body, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, who spoke at a press conference, recalled that: “These murders endanger education in our country, threaten our unity as a people, and undermine the very purpose of the unity schools.
“In 2013, three students of FGC Kano were killed, after Boko Haram members attacked their school and shot students randomly. Many students were injured and had to withdraw from the school. In 2014, at least 49 students of FCGC Buni-Yadi in Yobe State were killed after their school was attacked by Boko-Haram elements disguised as armed servicemen.”
Stakeholders canvass national safe school policy
Ikenna Francis, a parent, awaits the arrival of his three kids from school daily with baited breath, in view of the porous nature of the school they attend, as well as its location.
“My kids attain a school, which is close to a motor park as well as a market. Even though it is a good school because of the quality of teachers that they have, my heart is always skipping once I get a call from the school because you cannot be sure of the type of information they are going to give to you until the message is delivered.
“As a person, I genuinely fear about some crazy characters storming the school and carting away innocent pupils, only to ask for ransom afterwards. If I had the means, I would have long moved them to a secured school, but with the spate of kidnapping of students, I would definitely be forced to act fast.
“I am fully of the opinion that this is no time to leave the security of pupils just in the hands of school owners because it has come to a point that even school heads are incapable of protecting themselves. The government must draw up a minimum security criteria that every school must meet before they are allowed to operate. And it is important for the government to show seriousness in doing so,” he concluded.
A school owner who craved anonymity is also worried at the spate of attacks in schools. But he says low-end private schools would be forced to jerk fees if they must create any elaborate security architecture in their schools.
“Security gadgets including scanners and CCTV don’t come cheap. Hiring a reputable security outfit to provide services does not either. So in this recession, pulling out so much to upgrade security arrangements would come at a cost, and that would definitely be transferred to parents,” he explained.
Penultimate week, stakeholders at a “Safe School Summit” in Abuja, advocated the development of a national safe school policy to address the issue of insecurity in schools.
The event, at the behest of the Nigeria Safe School Association (NISSA), and Safe School Academy International (SSAI), had as its theme: “Mainstreaming Lessons of Successful Anti-cult and Safe School Initiatives into School Security Best Practices,”.
Chief Executive Officer, Consultancy Unit, Nigeria Defence Academy, Major General Mathias Efeovbohkan (rtd.), in his remarks said there was an urgent need for the formulation of a policy on protection in schools since Nigeria is among the worst hit when it comes to school attacks in the recent times.
He maintained that such policy would address the challenges of insecurity, and increase security consciousness among Nigerians.
“Children are missing everyday, and 30 per cent of attacks on schools are not reported; therefore, we have to make security our culture… Our Children are our cash cows for tomorrow; but unfortunately, our children are the least looked after in this country. Children are kidnapped, children live under bridges and many children are not in schools.”
He said between 1970 and 2013, there were more than 3, 400 attacks targeting educational institutions just as he expressed concern that schools had become vulnerable to terrorists.
Chairman, Examination Ethics Marshal International, Mr. Ike Onyechere, said that attacks and violence in schools at all levels had become worrisome.
Onyechere therefore lent his voice to the enunciation of a safe school policy, stressing that doing so would go a long way in addressing the menace.
While calling on lawmakers to pay attention to the issue by reviewing extant laws and promulgating new ones that would simplify enforcement and prosecution processes, he added that NISSA would play strategic roles in promoting safe schools and stop the spread of cult activities.
For Chief Executive Officer (CEO), GoldWater & RiverSand (GWRS) Consults, a defence and national security resource and solutions outfit, Captain Aliyu Umar Babangida (rtd), it is time the country steps up its policing because, “We have had our fair share of baptisms and wake-up-calls, as far as threats and crime against our children and youths are concerned. It is, however, seemingly apparent, that in our habitual way, we almost always dilly-dally between a mesmerised populace, and overwhelmed public security and law enforcement agencies.
“Put succinctly, a security crisis of sorts persists between our teeming populace, and a largely manual law enforcement methodology. Some 170m people, 102m or thereabouts of whom are youths, and by extension, perpetrators and victims of most crimes, including kidnapping, cannot possibly be policed manually. Whatever we do, there is no gainsaying e-policing is the way to go as far as data available is concerned.”
He said national safe school policy, as canvassed by stakeholders, to address crimes against children, particularly kidnapping, is in order, save for the fact that it very likely would go the way of so many other abeyant policies, which we have become notorious for as a nation.
However, “Our propensity to craft elaborate nay dormant policies, which are mired by poor follow-ups, inept and sometimes obsolete implementation practices, within the public security and law enforcement sector space, raises concerns for the intended or impending national safe school policy.
“Our nation remains long over due for a policy as canvassed by stakeholders, provided the same stakeholders will drive its successes by walking the talk. I draw this position from security-trends and security-response/reaction analysis available to us at GWRS, where we see a skew in data, of the citizenry’s inclination of sorts, which tends to pitch the intended beneficiaries of security policies and measures against the policy and its enforcers as it were. This we have observed, is largely informed by poor communication and change management process-practice by agencies, and stakeholders, prior to pronouncement and enforcement of such policies,” Babangida stated.
“Suffice it here to say, a national safe school policy must be anchored, managed and delivered by relevant resource leads, who are not necessarily solely law enforcement agency officials. Post enactment, it must be tracked, and results measured periodically; defaulters handled decisively, with no less decisive handling of kidnappers, who are caught in the act. Whether this can be achieved is left to be seen, but the policy as canvassed, remains a welcome idea.
While maintaining that no nation is greater than her children or youth, who in turn are only as good as the quality of education the nation invests in them, he maintained that, “Our youths and Children are ‘tomorrows people’ and as such must be availed quality education. With a youth bulge of some 120m, a large percentage of whom are products of failing educational systems, as have persisted for almost three decades, there is no gain saying our education sector is beleaguered and in dire straits. Add to that, the security challenges as posed by kidnappings, terrorism and other allied vices that threaten the education sector and you begin to see a silent, but salient national security crisis in the brew.
“The security threats that prey on our schools and education in general are perpetrated by youth against youths. Kidnappers and terrorists are youths, not less so their victims, as in school students, who are either slaughtered as happening in the North East or kidnapped for ransom in other parts of the country. While youth remain attractive options for criminal act, they are also its first victims, and that is putting it mildly.”
He said a situation, where “Tomorrow’s people are gradually becoming an endangered specie in their homeland; they are being used to self-destruct themselves via kidnapping or whatever means, schools being the trending target; our future and guarantee for a future are self-destructing. This will get out of hand unless it is nipped in the bud, at the education sector level, and across board.
“Regretfully, there are more severe indicators and their implications within the next 10 years span, will do our cause as a nation no good if made mention of here. That does not in anyway diminish their portends for our well being,” Babangida stated.
Are there specific roles that parents should play in curbing the regular killing and abduction of pupils in Nigerian schools? He responded: “Put simply, self help. Parents must learn to police their children closely. Kidnappers do not just pick on any child. They profile prospective victims and look out for particular traits and attributes… they do background checks of prospective targets. In most cases, the parents actually unwittingly make a child “kidnap-able,” albeit unconsciously.
Our study two years ago showed unguarded lifestyles, frivolous and extravagant endeavours, a propensity to take on avoidable and unnecessary show of affluence courts danger for the siblings and children of the ‘showman or woman’ as it were.
“While lifestyles are varied and a private concern, those who flaunt it should also endeavour to take commensurate security measures. We also observed most children are kidnapped on transit, between home and school; kidnappers are usually persons not far from the family or in close affiliation with the victims’ family or even aggrieved relatives. The advice to all and sundry, particularly parents, is this simple security and insecurity are invisible; leave nothing to chance.”