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Onyechere: Schools should be designated high-risk areas

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Founding Chairman, Exam Ethics Marshals International, and Convener, Nigeria Safe School Association (NISSA), Ike Onyechere MFR, told ENO-ABASI SUNDAY that from the rate of attacks on schools and the casualty figures, every school should by now be designated as high-risk area.

Would the Dapchi schoolgirls kidnap have been prevented if the Federal Government had implemented the Safe School Initiative?
It is difficult to say if it would have been prevented. But there is no alternative to building capacity of school communities in Nigeria on safety and security awareness, and risk assessment and emergency preparedness. The scale and impact of emergencies can’t be mitigated if they are not prevented. I encourage all state governments to set special task teams to implement the Safe School Empowerment Project.

Should Schools in the country be designated high-risk areas in view of their constituting soft targets to kidnappers and insurgents?
From the rate of attack on schools and the casualty figures, every school in Nigeria should by now be designated as high-risk area. As Mr. President rightly pointed out, it is a national embarrassment that criminals can still walk into a Nigerian school at will to abduct and kidnap students. The statistics are simply frightening. For instance, Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, was on April 14, 2013 attacked and over 200 girls kidnapped. College of Agriculture, Gujba, Yobe State, was on September 29, 2013 attacked and 50 left dead. On February 25, 2014, the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State was attacked and 59 killed.

The Kano State College of Hygiene was attacked on June 23, 2014, where eight persons were killed and 20 injured; 20 were killed and 50 injured at the Federal College of Education, Kano State on July 30, 2014. Government Secondary School, Potiskum, Yobe State came under attack on November 10, 2014, and 48 were left dead, while at Government Secondary School, Yobe State, 41 were killed on July 6, 2015, and on September 29, 2015, 30 were killed after an attack on Federal Government College of Agriculture, Yobe State.

Has Nigeria learnt anything from the Chibok, Dapchi and other school attacks?
The attacks listed above provide many lessons that can be used to prevent, or at least, mitigate more attacks. These attacks exhibit similarities in terms of security gaps exploited, planning, weapons and execution. The core lesson in all attacks is that preventive measures are better and less expensive than dealing with after effects, shocks and casualties as no level of post-event expense compensates for loss of lives, resources, health, time and careers. It does appear that we lack the capacity to learn anything. Governments, governing councils and management of schools must find the resources, one way or another, to install appropriate emergency preparedness plans.

Insecurity has been a major challenge facing schools and your organisation has been in the forefront of efforts to ensure safe schools, how has it been so far?
Every five years, Exam Ethics Marshals International conducts a strategic analysis of the strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threat (SWOT) analysis of the education sector of African countries where the movement is operational. In 2010, the five-year SWOT analysis of the Nigerian education sector confirmed that security would be the number one challenge.

We presented the report to the Federal Government and requested for permission to work with relevant agencies of government to develop a Safe School Empowerment Project (SASEP). The permission was granted. Between 2010 and 2014, we worked on the project with the support and collaboration of seven agencies, including the Nigeria Police Force; the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps; the Federal Fire Service; the National Emergency Management Agency, the Police Service Commission, the Federal Ministry of Police Affairs, and the Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria.

Over 200 security officers participated in three enabling conferences organised in Kaduna, Lagos and Calabar in 2011. The final outcome was a 150-page Safe School Manual, VCDs and audio CDs that profile security risks, threats and vulnerability assessment for schools; emergency preparedness planning; preventive and mitigation strategies against emergencies, including abductions, kidnapping, hostage-taking, fire, general safe school protocols and best practices for regulators, proprietors, administrators, teachers, students, parents, PTAs, and security officers, as well as safe school best practices for physical security, school runs, etc.

The manual was launched on August 1, 2014 at the National Universities Commission auditorium by the then Minister of State for Education, and current Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike and current Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu.

Since launching the manual, what actions followed?
The manual, VCDs and CDs became the resource literature for training and deployment of Safe School Ambassadors and vigilantes (SSAs). A total of 9, 975 SSAs were trained and deployed, while 48, 000 manuals were distributed in 2015, with the support of the National Pension Commission, Premium Pension Limited, and Benchmark Global Markets Ltd.

Beginning from 2016, a National Safe School Summit held each year to discuss what lessons have we learnt from past incidents of terrorism, kidnapping, medical, fire, flood and other types of emergencies. What are the lessons in terms of school risk and threat assessment audits; emergency preparedness plans; school community vigilante, first responders and security personnel; safe school infrastructure, tools, communications, protocols and funding; responsibilities of proprietors, administrators, parents, teachers, students.

Participation in these conferences automatically qualify delegates for enlistment as members of Nigeria Safe School Association (NISSA), while their institutions qualify for enlistment as institutional members. The enlistment is free. Benefits include, but not restricted to support for school risk assessment, emergency preparedness planning; regular update on global best practices; training and funding. NISSA operates a social media network of members for exchange of information and ideas on safety and security of schools.

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) endorsed the project and adopted the Safe School Kit (manual, DVD, CD) for their intervention efforts in insurgency states. UNESCO sponsored the train-the trainer programme for 345 principals and teachers from the North East Zone and distribution of 1, 380 safe school kits.

So what is the next step to take in your bid to ensure safe schools?
The next stage involves partnership with state governments to implement the project for all teaching and non-teaching staff in all primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in all states of the federation. Unfortunately, many state governments saw the project as an opportunity to raise and embezzle funds either internally or from funding agencies. Only Ebonyi State government implemented the project for all staff of educational institutions in the senatorial zones. We had no option than to suspend the implementation of the project as it was being misused for something that is against the core values of Exam Ethics Marshals International.


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Ike OnyechereNISSA
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