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Safe Schools: Over 12m children traumatised, afraid to go to school, says Buhari

By Iyabo Lawal (Education Editor) and Kanayo Umeh (Abuja)
27 October 2021   |   4:25 am
President Muhammadu Buhari has revealed that the persistent attacks on educational facilities and abductions of students and teachers have left more than 12 million children currently traumatised and afraid of going to school, especially the girl-child.

Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar (left); Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, and Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, representing the Minister of Education at the opening ceremony of the 4th International Conference on Safe Schools Declaration in Abuja…yesterday. PHOTO: NAN

• 1,436 pupils, 17 teachers abducted from schools between Dec 2020 and Oct 2021
• 300 children call on world leaders to protect schools from attacks
• Buhari pledges to end attacks on education
• Issues of child rights, curriculum review, staff development top agenda at conference

President Muhammadu Buhari has revealed that the persistent attacks on educational facilities and abductions of students and teachers have left more than 12 million children currently traumatised and afraid of going to school, especially the girl-child.

This is just as children are making a series of demands to world leaders, including requesting they deny armies access to schools and ensure paths to schools are free of explosives, in a Children’s Manifesto launched yesterday.

Authored by 300 children across 10 countries, the manifesto was launched as world leaders met for the fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration in Abuja, the first time it is being held in Africa, and more so, at a time the continent is experiencing some of the highest rates of attacks on education in the world.

Recall that 112 countries are signatories to the Safe Schools Declaration protocol and Nigeria was among the first 37 member states of the United Nations (UN) that endorsed it in 2015.

The Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment to ­protect students, teachers, schools and universities from the worst effects of armed conflict.

The Children’s Manifesto paints a grim picture of how children face threats and violence while at school, and focuses on the intense fears felt by children in response to these attacks.

In the Manifesto, the children wrote: “Children are scared when armies come to schools, arrest children or fire live or rubber bullets at them and when tear gas is used. Children are scared when there are no shelters in their schools or when they are not big enough to protect everyone.

“Children are scared when military equipment passes outside the windows of their schools or houses, and when they hear the sounds of explosions and gunfire. Children are scared when educational institutions are used for military purposes, subjecting young boys and girls, teachers and technical staff at school to constant danger.”

The conference, with the theme: ‘Ensuring Safe Education for All: From Commitment to Practice,’ is being co-hosted by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), of which Save the Children International is a member, in collaboration with the African Union and the governments of Nigeria, Norway, Spain and Argentina.

The previous conferences held in Oslo, Norway in 2015; Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2017; and Palma de Mallorca, Spain in 2019.

Attacks on education and the military use of schools increased by a third globally last year, according to a recent data released by the GCPEA.

The Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Save the Children International Nigeria (SCI-Nigeria), Amanuel Mamo, said the conference “seeks to galvanise action to protect education from attack.”

The past one year has been quite a rough road for Nigerians. It began on December 11, 2020, when 344 male students were abducted from their hostels in Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State. Barely two weeks later, on December 20, 2020, 80 pupils of the Islamiyya School, Mahuta, Kaduna State, were abducted. February 17, 2021, saw another outburst of rage when 27 students were abducted from Government Secondary School, Kagara, Niger State.

In Zamfara State, 279 girls of Government Secondary School Jangebe, were abducted on February 26, 2021. The Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State, also had its fair share of the insecurity, when 39 of its students were kidnapped on the midnight of March 11, 2021.

Nine days after, another bandits’ attack led to the abduction of 23 students of Greenfield University, Kaduna State. Three more students were kidnapped on April 24, 2021 from the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State. Though the abducted Greenfield students were later released, it served little succour to the four of their colleagues who were killed.

Just at the weekend, students of the Federal Government College, Yauri in Kebbi State, abducted four months ago by bandits were released.

PRESIDENT Buhari, who lamented that persistent attacks on educational facilities and abductions of pupils have left more than 12 million children traumatised, however, promised to ensure safety and protection of schools in the country, vowing to overhaul the educational system not just to improve on the quality but ensure the provision of a secured environment for learners and teachers.

Buhari was represented by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, at the conference. He lamented that in recent times, all over the world, there has been a myriad of persistent attacks on education and Nigeria is also having its own fair share of these attacks.

He said: “The incessant attacks on the country’s education system, such as kidnapping, abduction of pupils/students, increased activities of insurgents and general insecurity in our schools have exacerbated many factors responsible for the growing number of out-of-school children.

“It is no longer news that at will, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists invade our educational facilities to abduct the learners in large numbers. Some places that have been hit by this menace include Chibok, Dapchi, Buni Yadi, Afaka, Kagora, and Jangebe in Borno, Yobe, Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara states respectively.”

The president said it was disheartening to note that even when the abducted students were released, the trauma of the incident remain long in their minds hence the plan to have teachers trained on psychosocial support.

He recalled that the first known abduction of school children in Nigeria was in 2014, when 276 girls were taken from the Government Secondary School Chibok, Borno State, saying since then, attacks on schools and abductions of students have grown in number and spread across the northern part of the country.

Buhari said: “Permit me to share with you a report released by S.B. Morgen, which revealed that a total of 1,462 learners and education personnel were abducted between December 1, 2019 and September 2021 in school-related abductions as well as home and community-related abductions of learners and teachers.

“The highest number of abduction in a single kidnap (327 learners) was recorded in Zamfara while Kaduna has experienced the greatest number of incidences of attack on education.

“Non-formal education was not spared from attack as about 200 students of Islamiyya School, Tegina, in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State, were abducted on May 30, 2021. A total of 17 lives of teachers and learners have been lost in these abductions.

“On the other hand, for learners currently in school the fear and trauma created by having their fellow students and friends attacked, has impacted negatively on the quality of schooling as concentration and attention span for learning in such conditions have certainly waned.”

He noted that it has been tough dealing with the security challenges and their effect, stressing that moving forward, the faith in the nation is unshaken. He further assured that his administration and relevant stakeholders in the education sector will work to end attacks on schools and to ensure a safe and enabling learning environment.

On his part, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, represented by the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said the conference was apt and timely in view of the prevailing security challenges in the country.

THE United Nations Children and Education Fund (UNICEF), said that about 1,436 school children and 17 teachers were abducted from Nigeria schools between December 2020 and October 2021. It also disclosed that about 16 school children lost their lives in the process of their abduction within the same period.

UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Peter Hawkins, disclosed this on the sidelines of the ongoing 27th Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG, holding in Abuja. He said the prevailing security situation across Nigeria remained volatile and uncertain, especially in the Northeast, Northwest, North-central and pockets of insecurity across other parts of the country.

According to him, education of 1.3 million children, whose schooling was disrupted and learning severely impacted in the 2020/2021 academic calendar, were directly affected by the closure of 11,000 schools.

Hawkins, who warned that the action might lead to an approximate $3.4 billion loss due to unrealised lifetime earnings of these children, said: “Since December 2020, 1,436 school children and 17 teachers have been abducted from schools and 16 school children lost their life.

“But for too many girls and boys, school is where they experience violence. Bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation, corporal punishment and other forms of humiliation can come at the hands of a peer, a teacher or even a school authority. Many children also experience school violence associated with gang culture, weapons and fighting.

“Violence in schools can have serious effects on children’s psychological and physical health. At its most extreme, violence in and around schools can be deadly. For millions of children and adolescents living in conflict-affected areas, school too often becomes the front line. What’s more, violence in school can reduce school attendance, lower academic performance and increase dropout rates. This has devastating consequences for the success and prosperity of children, their families and entire communities.”

WHILE tasking participants to focus on issues of security and use of technology in the fight against the menace, national president, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Chief Yomi Otubela, said creating awareness on child rights as well as protecting the rights of children is imperative.

Secondly, Otubela tasked participants to look at professionalism of teaching job, ensuring that only those who are trained are allowed.

“Apart from teachers, those involved in child care, those doing auxiliary teaching jobs like assistant teachers and even nannies should be trained. Everyone involved in children’s activities should pass through training, including religious centres.”

Besides, the NAPPS boss said the Federal Government should man streets where schools are located with armed personnel.

He said: “How to protect children against abuse in the media space should also be looked at. There are lots of songs that are not properly censored. Another issue is the area of control against substance abuse within the community. A lot of abuse of substances is prevalent in recent times, participants should look at how to tackle this and prevent children from being exposed to substances.”

On his part, Emmanuel Orji Kanu, an educationist, said “if we must get serious as a nation, we need to revisit the entire system called education.

“Whether we like it or not, Nigerian education needs have gone beyond the document we are using as a policy and curriculum document. So, if any changes are to be actualised in the Nigerian education system, there must be a total review of the entire system and stakeholders must be involved.”