Saturday, 3rd June 2023

Abductions stir need for national safe school policy

By Eno-Abasi Sunday, Gbenga Salau, Ujunwa Atueyi (Lagos), Kanayo Umeh (Abuja) and Murtala Adewale (Kano)
04 March 2018   |   4:30 am
On May 6, 2014, the Federal Government led by former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated a 27-member panel chaired by Ibrahim Sabo, a retired brigadier...

• Safe School Initiative, Mere Lip Service -Kolo
On May 6, 2014, the Federal Government led by former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated a 27-member panel chaired by Ibrahim Sabo, a retired brigadier general to, among other things, ferret out the circumstances that led to the abduction of 276 female students of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014 by Boko Haram terrorists.

The committee was set up following claims, counterclaims and diverse versions of the circumstances that led to the abduction, and the actual number of students abducted by the terrorists.

Since that panel submitted its report to Jonathan, details of the report were never made public. But it was reliably gathered that after the committee sat for five weeks, it confirmed that a total of 276 students, out of the 395 female students that registered for the WAEC examination in the school were abducted, by the terrorists.

The Presidential Fact-finding Committee on the Abducted Female Students of Government Secondary School, Chibok, in its report added that 57 of the students escaped from the insurgents after the abduction, while the remaining 219 were carted away. The abducted girls are still returning in batches.

Exactly 1, 393 days after Jonathan’s government inaugurated the committee, that is three years, nine months and 21 days, the Federal Government, this time led by Muhammadu Buhari, also set up a 12-member committee to unravel the circumstances surrounding the abduction of 110 students of yet another girls’ school, Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, following a similar attack by Boko Haram insurgents.

Since the latest abduction, the Federal Government has remained flustered and confused, just the way it was in the aftermath of the Chibok girls’ abduction.

And like the Chibok episode, the abduction of the Dapchi schoolgirls, which represents the second largest kidnapping of schoolgirls in the country, has attracted global attention and opprobrium in equal measure.

Diary Of Security Breaches In Schools 
When the Chief Executive Officer, Consultancy Unit, Nigeria Defence Academy, Major General Mathias Efeovbohkan (rtd), in his remarks at a “Safe School Summit” at the behest of stakeholders in Abuja, in 2016, said that between 1970 and 2013, there were more than 3, 400 attacks targeting educational institutions in major cities of the world, it sounded as if Nigeria was insulated from such menace. But in actual fact, the country ranges among the top five countries, where very bloody attacks have been recorded in its academic institutions.

A peep into the list of affected schools indicates that no part of the country has been spared attacks orchestrated either by religious bigots, kidnappers or sundry criminal elements.

For instance, on January 13, 2017 kidnappers abducted three female supervisors, a female cook, a female teacher (a Turkish national) and three students of Nigerian-Turkish International College (NTIC), Ogun State.

Three months earlier in October 2016, a vice principal and four pupils were abducted by gunmen at the Lagos State Model College, located in the swampy area of Igbonla, a riverine community in Epe Local Council.

This incident happened five months after unknown gunmen February 29, 2016, abducted three students of the Babington Macauley Junior Seminary (BMJS), Ikorodu, Lagos.

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. The pupils, who had just finished their final examinations that day, were preparing to go home the next day when they were snatched. Their bodies were later discovered at a bamboo grove in Ata River, about half a kilometre from the school premises.

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 59 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.

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.

Enter The Safe School Initiative
Days after Boko Haram insurgents broke into Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, to steal food and other vital needs, as well as, cart away 276 girls, the issue hugged international headlines, not only as a world’s first, but as a reflection of the dire security situation in the nation’s schools, and indeed the entire country.

It did not take long before the huge international support the country got crystalised via an initiative to help protect hundreds of schools in the country against incessant attacks- the Safe School Initiative (SSI).

The initiative announced at the World Economic Forum in Abuja in 2014, and launched by Jonathan and the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, sought to strengthen the growing movement to #BringBackOurGirls, and to ensure that all schools in the country are safe from attacks in the future.

Its starting point was reaching more than 500 schools in the North, through a $10 million fund pledged by a coalition of Nigerian business leaders, working with the former prime minister, the Global Business Coalition for Education and A World at School.

At the launch Brown said: “The first step in response to this crisis has been to show our support. The next phase is now to take practical measures to make schools safer. We cannot stand by and see schools shut down, girls cut off from their education and parents in fear for their daughters’ lives.”

Building community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, community leaders and young people themselves was an integral part of the initiative. In the long term, the programme was also expected to bolster the safety of schools, through the provision of school guards and police, in partnership with Nigerian authorities, training staff as school safety officers, and providing counsellors to schools at risk of attack.

Before long, international support for creating safe schools in the country began rolling in in the form of cash.

For instance, shortly after the launch, Jonathan announced Nigeria’s donation of $10m to the SSI, when he had audience with Brown on the sidelines of the 2014 World Economic Forum on Africa, in Abuja.

Speaking after the meeting, Brown, who said he “came to assure Jonathan and Nigerians of the much needed support from the international business community in the efforts to find and rescue the kidnapped girls and to generally end insurgency in the country… “A Fund of $10 million has been created immediately. The President has just told me that the government will support that fund with another $10 million. At the same time there is a request for international aid agencies that I have made to add to that fund.”

In the days and weeks that followed, further donations poured in. The United States, through the USAID donated $2m into the multi-donor trust fund

Erstwhile Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, equally announced at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) said, “I am also happy to inform you that the government of Qatar, through the Qatar Foundation, has also made a contribution of two million dollars into the fund. We have also received donations of two million euros from Germany, and will shortly receive a grant of one million dollars from the African Development Bank… Other donors include Norway with $1.5m given through the UNICEF and the UK with £1m in technical assistance, and a $10m pledge by a coalition of Nigerian business leaders.

As part of the initiative, the Federal Government provided full scholarship for 2, 400 schoolchildren from Adamawa, Borno and Yobe to enable them to transfer to 43 federal unity schools across the country. The Federal Government also partnered with international NGOs to offer scholarship to some victims of insurgency to study in universities abroad. At total of 28, 679 children were enrolled in basic education, through the double shift schooling system operational in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, and 35, 000 schoolbags with learning materials procured as well as, 400 school-in-box to support the IDP learners.

Also, 400 security scanners to be installed in schools in Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and other parts of the country were purchased.

Since a reasonable part of the SSI operations were done from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education appears to be totally disconnected and has no details of their implementation. Like many other laudable initiative, things have gone quite cold with the SSI now.

Asked what programmes and projects the initiative was implementing, the Director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Mrs. Priscilla Ihuoma, said she has no details to offer, even though she has an idea about the initiative.

She, however, added that the Federal Government plans to spend N5bn on securing the 104 unity schools across the country in response to the growing number of attacks on educational institutions.

She explained that the money would be used for the provision of “security infrastructure” in all the 104 Unity Schools the country in 2018, including the installation of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras and the construction of perimeter fencing around the schools.

Even though she claimed that CCTV cameras have already been installed in some of the schools and other gadgets deployed, she failed to mention any of the benefitting schools.

However, Brown, the former British premier, while calling for the Dapchi girls to be freed, the way he did for Chibok girls four years ago said as one of those, who has cried out for help for Dapchi girls, like he did about four years ago for Chibok girls, he also called on “western governments to support surveillance and reconnaissance missions, in order to locate and rescue the victims, who were being hidden in Nigeria and neighboring countries.”

In an articled titled, With Dapchi, International Support is Needed to Defeat Boko Haram,” Brown recalled that in the wake of the Chibok attack, the Global Business Coalition for Education published a report on safe schools in Nigeria. The coalition also created a partnership among Nigerian business leaders, the Nigerian government, and international donors, in cooperation with UNICEF, to establish programmes aimed at making schools safe for Nigerian children. As part of the coalition’s Safe Schools Initiative, community groups were formed; infrastructure reforms were implemented; and girls were provided with safe school options. Last May, 82 Chibok girls were released to the Nigerian government in exchange for five Boko Haram commanders.

“After years of being too afraid even to cross a school playground, girls had started to return to the classroom. The doctrine of safe schools – a rare new idea in a region beleaguered by the confrontation with Boko Haram – seemed to be gradually taking hold. Fences and other physical security were built to keep raiders out, and mobile telecommunications were used as early warning systems.

But, sadly, the reality was that 100 Chibok girls remained in captivity, their whereabouts unknown. Moreover, six million of Nigeria’s school-age girls still don’t go to school.

“The abduction of yet another 110 schoolgirls is likely only to make matters worse, not just for them and their families, but for all whose fears about the safety of schools have now been reawakened. As for the new abductees, we know their likely fate if they are not rescued quickly. Chibok girls who escaped or were released have said in interviews that abductees were whipped to persuade them to marry. Some were taken as concubines by group members. Many who were married off may never escape captivity.”

States Still Paying Lip Service To Safe Schools
Many state governments across the country may claim to be working towards the provision of safe schools in their domains, but the reality on ground clearly shows that they are simply paying lip service.

Kano and Lagos states play host to the highest number of public educational institutions in the country, but across the length and breadth of both states, uncountable public schools are without perimeter fence or any form of security. In some of these schools, miscreants occupy parts of the premises while lectures are ongoing, while they take over completely once academic activities come to an end.

Kano State has had its fair share of Boko Haram attack, especially with the suicide bombing at the School of Health Technology and Hygiene, on June 22, 2014, which left eight students dead and 12 injured; the killings of innocent students at Federal College of Education, Kano; the multiple explosion that hit Jayin Primary School, and Hotoro Arewa Primary School, in Kumbotso and Nassarawa areas respectively in September, 2014 still remain evergreen on the minds of people of the state.

After one of the incidents, the then Governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, directed that maximum security be provided around public secondary schools, especially boarding schools in the state. He also directed the construction of perimeter-fence around schools.

Unfortunately, up till today, students of some of these boarding schools are still vulnerable to security threats from their surrounding communities, as some public secondary schools are still without perimetre fence.

Some of such schools include Government Girls Secondary School, Kura; Government Girls Senior Secondary School, Sumaila; Government Girls Secondary School, Albasu; Government Girls Secondary School, Tudun Wada; Government Girls Secondary School, Kachako, while the fence project at Government Girls Secondary School, Gwarzo, has been left uncompleted for several years.

Effort to find out to what extent the state government is adopting the National Safe School Policy, which spell out security measures around the schools against external interference was not successful.

Efforts to reach the Deputy Governor/Commissioner for Education, Prof. Hafizu Abubakar, as at the time of filling the report, on steps taken by the state to make schools in the state safe were unsuccessful as he was still in Lagos for the Kano Lagos Economic Summit.

The Director, Administration and General Services, Ministry of Education, Alhaji Alhassan Tijani Abah, who was on ground in the absence of the permanent secretary, declined to make comments on efforts to make schools safe in the state.

On what Lagos was doing to ensure safe schools, the Deputy Director, Public Affairs, in the Ministry of Education, Segun Ogundeji, said, “We are doing quite a lot of very visible and invisible things, as well as, putting in place, highly tangible measures. For instance, we are building perimeter fences and reinforcing existing ones. This is aside installing watchtowers for surveillance so that security men could have a good view of the school compounds and beyond the fence. We are also installing electric wire on these fences.

“The schools are also being illuminated so that the compounds are properly lit, especially throughout the night. Schools that are far from town, we endeavour to clear the bushes around them. We are also removing shanties around school buildings, so that such structures do not become hiding places for people, who want to perpetrate evil. There are also collaborative efforts with security agencies to patrol, aside ensuring officers are on ground in the schools. This is outside other security measures that the state government is taking, but such efforts are not for public consumption.”

Asked to be specific on the number of perimeter fences built so far, he said, “At present, we are simultaneously building the perimeter fences of eight schools. I am not saying all the school fences have been built, but those that are residential, we have constructed their fences. It is same with the schools that are illuminated and with watchtowers.

“We also regularly engage critical stakeholders like teachers, parents and students to enlighten them on the need to be safety and security conscious. The Commissioner of Police also has a team that goes to schools to give security tips to pupils and students.”

Stakeholders Yearn For National Safe School Policy
Two years after participants at a Safe School Summit in Abuja, which was at the instance of the Nigeria Safe School Association (NISSA), and Safe School Academy International (SSAI), canvassed for a national safe school policy, not much has been done towards its realisation, but Lagos State says it certainly welcomes the idea.

According to Ogundeji, the deputy director of public affairs, “every step that promotes safety and security in our schools we have keyed into. So, all policies that will make our schools safe and secure, we are not averse to.”

For former Vice Chancellor of Niger State-owned Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Prof. Ibrahim Kolo, a “Safe school policy needs to be taken most seriously by both government and communities. If there is no safe school policy in existence now (which is not the case anyway), then it probably says it all about our collective amnesia as a nation towards critical issues of security. Just like the security lacuna, which allowed Boko Haram to plan and fester to now become a total threat to the existence of the nation.

Kolo, who questioned the essence of proliferated security outfits like the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps when the country is experiencing dire security challenges said, “Did we create such outfits just to pay salaries to those so connected? We have to be serious.

“The failure to put in place and implement the safe school policy has cost the nation precious lives of innocent young students and critical human capital the nation needs so dearly. Sad indeed,” the former vice chancellor said.

He stressed that, “No learning takes place in an unsafe environment,” adding that, “teachers and students remain in a state of fear, with teaching and learning taking a back stage in school activities, which take place in unsecured environments.

On the Dapchi abduction, he said, “Certainly the occurrence could have been averted if we were a nation, which learn lessons from incidences, which had taught us some lessons in the past, and if only we have not always been complacent with our security, especially of vulnerable places and situations. The Dapchi incidence itself coming in the same fashion as the Chibok one only goes to show our national collective contempt for education and indeed that the so called Safe School Initiative is merely a lip service project from, which some people are reaping.”

On whether it is not time for authorities to designate schools a high security zones, he said, “If we were ever serious about our children’s future and education, we would have always been security conscious and proactive in our schools anywhere in the country at any time at all. The whole occurrences have become an ill wind for the nation. Unfortunately over the years, we have collectively become a nation where anything goes and where even well intentioned policies are sabotaged under religious and ethnic misrepresentations. We didn’t need to go through the spell of kidnappings and abductions of students for policies meant to safeguard schools to be enforced, whether in opening new schools or for securing existing ones.

Kolo, who takes exception to the North being described as “most backward educationally,” however, said “interest in education, especially of girls in the North can only continue to be sustained with quantum investment in the sector by state governments in the region respectively, and better collectively by pooling resources together.

The Director, Policy and Partnership (Africa), Bridge International Academics, Adesuwa Ifedi, is of the view that any safe school policy/initiative can only work when the general insecurity in the country is addressed.

“For years now, we’ve had children go to school across the country and nothing happened to them, until we began to have the insecurity challenge in the country. Schools are scattered in every parts of the country most of them unfenced and without security plans, yet, we’ve not heard news of kidnaps and killings, until lately. We as a nation did not experience this kind of challenges in the past. So, I feel there is a strong correlation between the general insecurity in the country and the insecurity we are seeing now in our schools. We should ask ourselves, why are schools the target? What is responsible for the general insecurity in the country? All these have to be addressed.

“Also, I think it is not just safety in school that is critical at this time, but for Nigerian children to have more access to education. This is much more critical. Any nation that does not realise that its future is resting on the shoulder of its children cannot develop. There is no part of this country that can ever progress if children do not have a better future more than their parents had. So, I will look at it from the point of view that the Dapchi incident was as a result of general insecurity in the country. No school protection plan can be effective unless we prioritise education generally,” she said.

Ifedi added: “The reason we have this kind of issue is because Nigerian schools are abandoned, our budget for education not where it should be, our focus on education and sustainable Nigeria is equally neglected. Prioritising education and its impact on our children will help us build a better country. And so we should invest rightly and equip our schools to ensure children have a safe and sound learning environment.