The renovation, reopening of Chibok school
The reopening of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno, seven years after it was destroyed and 276 school girls ferried away by Boko Haram insurgents, is not as cheery as it should be in view of the prevailing circumstances. One reason is that as many as 115 of the captured girls are still unaccounted for, even amid unconfirmed reports that some might have died. In any event, many of their parents, having lost hope of seeing their daughters alive after many years, also died from depression.
Secondly, the very reason of crass insecurity in which the mass abduction took place has also not abated. Rather, the situation has grown more complex with killer bandits operating in the North Western and North Central parts of the country, in fashions similar to those of Boko Haram. Consequently, many more school pupils in states such as Katsina, Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara had been kidnapped in very horrifying circumstances. Some of the students had been brutally killed; many were critically damaged and others, even though released, have been traumatised.
Barring these, the reported renovation and reopening of the School is commendable, if only to repudiate the plan of the terrorists to put a stop to western education, which they described as ‘forbidden.’ Obviously, rebuilding the school is a starting point of the onerous task of securing schools on the part of government. The Chibok example alone is enough evidence that it is difficult and time-consuming to rebuild a structure that was destroyed probably within minutes.
Adequate security arrangement must henceforth be put in place to ensure the safety of the students and their teachers. Needless to say, it will be highly repugnant for the school to suffer the same attack twice. Safety of the students should be guaranteed as a precondition for reopening the school. It is not clear to what extent this safety concern has been addressed given that the insurgency has not abated. There is need for a holistic strategy to address the security challenges in the region in particular and the country as a whole.
Rebuilding the school is an important landmark that sends message that the terrorists are not winning and that education cannot be forbidden since it is the bedrock of modern civilisation and development. Certainly, the incident of Chibok School girls’ abduction, traumatised families, parents and the entire community, such that it will take some time for parents to recover their confidence to send their children back to school.
But this can be facilitated if government shows enough commitment to deal with Boko Haram permanently. Otherwise, what seems like gains, such as the reopening of the school, can be reversed in a twinkle of an eye should there be another kidnapping incident in the school. The trauma of the outrageous kidnapping of the Chibok School girls has not faded away completely. The abduction of hordes of school children and their incarceration in terrorist camps represents a new and growing heart-rending dimension.
On the night of April 14, 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Girls Secondary School in Chibok by Boko Haram terrorists. The incident aroused serious outrage in Nigeria and beyond. Some of the children were rescued in batches by both the Nigerian Army and through negotiation by government and international partners. Since then, hopes have been raised and dashed that the remaining girls might be released.
Altogether, about 115 of the girls are still in captivity in addition to Leah Sharibu, the lone Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, abducted on Februay 19, 2018 that is still held in captivity after her school mates were released.
In the case of Chibok, many school buildings were completely burnt down in the Boko Haram attack including 15 teachers’ houses. According to the Principal of the school, Asabe Aliyu, the renovation of the school, started in December 2020, shortly after the state governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, directed the complete renovation of the school.
The Permanent Secretary, State Ministry of Education, Mohammed Abatcha said 45 blocks of classrooms, 11 blocks of science and ICT laboratories, six hostel blocks, a church and a mosque were all renovated. The Governor had promised that the state government would provide laboratory equipment, teaching materials and all necessary facilities that would aid education in the school.
The renovated school was inaugurated by the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, six years after the then Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, laid the foundation for the construction of the new international secondary school in place of the destroyed facilities. The development has somewhat rekindled hope in the residents of Chibok and children of school age even as academic activities resumed in the school.
The renovated Chibok School represents a tip of the iceberg of what needs to be done to bring the entire Northeast back to life. There is no doubt that the over-a-decade insurgency has devastated the region, which needs to be rebuilt. The Northeast Development Commission (NEDC) has a job to do in this regard. Over and above that, there is need to end the conflict to ensure lasting peace and development.
It is not impossible to end this conflict if government is so determined, and can adopt measures to curb corruption and internal hiccups in the military. Whatever needs to be done should be done forthwith. President Buhari should, as a matter of urgency, urged the armed forces and relevant security agencies to beef up personnel and equipment to critical areas of the conflict, especially around the Lake Chad shores in order to flush out the insurgents. The war against Boko Haram must not be made perpetual.