How unsafe schools reverse educational gains, development

Education has increasingly come under attacks in the last one decade since insurgency gained momentum in Nigeria. The propensity of attacks launched on schools, especially in the last five years, has increased in frequency and become a source of concern for stakeholders. Criminals now use kidnapping as a tool to enrich themselves, holding school children captive and demanding ransom before they are released.

The kidnap of some young children from Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State, has added to the traumatic statistics of schoolchildren abductions. In April 2014, a terrorist group, Boko Haram, stormed the hostel of Chibok Government Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State and abducted almost 300 schoolgirls who were preparing for their final West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).

It has become the most dramatic and traumatic kidnapping experience ever known in the world. To date, negotiations for the release of the girls – though some have been freed – continue.

On Monday, February 29, 2016, Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary, a school on the outskirts of Lagos was thrown into pandemonium when some schoolchildren were abducted. On May 25, 2017, six students were abducted from Lagos Model College, Igbonla, and released 65 days later. This was sequel to the abduction of four students and two staff of the same school in October 2016.

On February 19, 2018, 110 schoolgirls from Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, were kidnapped by armed bandits. The insurgents later released 104 girls after negotiations with Federal Government, but Leah Sharibu, a Christian was detained by the terrorists for refusing to denounce her faith.  Also, on December 11, 2020, 340 school children were abducted from Government Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, by suspected bandits.

For the north that still trails behind in educational development, insecurity in schools in the region is an albatross that may impede the gains the region has made in education in the last few decades. The new threat has forced governors in the region to shut schools in affected areas temporarily, to restore normalcy. As reactive measures, they have beefed up security in the affected schools to forestall recurrence. But these measures further underscore the fact that education in Nigeria is under siege and requires new approach to address the many challenges confronting it.
 
Since the latest kidnap, various interest groups have mounted pressure on Federal Government to tackle insecurity, particularly kidnapping of school children. 

National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN) has called on President Mohammadu Buhari and Service Chiefs to end insecurity in the country, especially in schools where innocent children are being kidnapped. National President of NAPTAN, Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, urged government at all levels to ensure the deployment of armed joint task force to schools and create a conducive learning atmosphere for students.

Also, a security expert, Dr. Ona Ekhomu who said it was unfortunate that security of schools was not receiving adequate attention from government said after Kankara school abduction and others in the northwest, the vulnerability of schools to attacks had become evident. Ekhomu said the probability of another school attack was looming and advised that robust counter-measures be put in place to mitigate the inevitable attacks.

Such counter-measures include the installation of air raid sirens in schools, use of force multipliers in alerting nearby authorities about attacks, use of metal doors in school compounds and appointment of armed school resource (security) officers.

But education consultant, Julius Opara believed the country is not approaching the issue with the seriousness it deserved.  According to him, recent comments of Defence Minister, General Bashir Magashi, showed that the security situation in the country has degenerate to a new level. “We need no soothsayer to tell us the level of insecurity we are facing in this country. What baffles me is why we are still operating boarding schools in the north eastern part of Nigeria amid all that has happened and still happening there. 

“The education sector should be proactive and not reactive. Why we are still having students exposed to danger is what I have no specific answer for. The security architecture of the country is overstretched due to insurgency; hence beefing up security in public and private schools is only but a wishful thinking.” 

Opara said the solution is for the Ministry of Education to collaborate with Defence Ministry to have 24-hour security positioned in all boarding schools across the region. The other thing is for the Ministry of Education to shut boarding facilities and allow only day schools for now, until normalcy returns to the region.

He also urged state governors to strengthen community policing and intelligence gathering, while commissioners of education in these states should emphasise on security education so as to better enlighten students and teachers.

On his part, Proprietor, Lagooz Schools, Lagos, and President, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Chief Yomi Otubela said the Federal Government and various state governments must take holistic view of the security situation to ensure safety in the country and by extension, in schools.

Otubela said security agencies should be well-equipped with superior military hardware to be on top of the situation.  “They need to step up their intelligence-gathering process as a strategy to protect life and property in the country. Nigeria’s territorial borders need to be well secured to prevent bandits from either escaping or coming through, while the military needs to launch more offensive attacks on bandits instead of reactive approaches.”
       
To secure learning environment, Otubela said school fences need to be well fortified to prevent easy entry by bandits and equipped with surveillance cameras.  He urged government to attach security operatives to schools across the country, especially those in isolated places, while also providing patrol vans for schools within the neighbourhood for surveillance.   

The NAPPS chief noted that effective collaboration between schools’ management and security agencies should be established, while internal security arrangement should be enhanced with modern security gadgets for effectiveness.   

A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Hadi Zarewa deplored the failure of state governors to guide against external aggression in public schools. 

The retired AIG advocated reactivation of aggressive deployment of security men and local vigilantes across public schools in the region. He lamented that most of the schools in the region do not have perimeter fence, while there are no security measures in place.

“I was surprised when Niger State governor said he was not aware Government Science College, Kagara, is not fenced. I was shocked. Is it possible for politicians to send their wards to schools without fence and security? Maybe that is why schools are gradually becoming targets of attack.

“State governments have failed to take advantage of security agencies in their domain to build strong, security architecture around schools. Infact, government has ignored the potentials of local hunters and vigilantes to secure our schools. What stops government from deploying military to secure the school?”

The police chief advised state governments to establish security councils and equip them with necessary facilities as part of moves to address the problem. He added that traditional rulers should be incorporated in the council since they know their subjects.

A Senior Lecturer from Faculty of Education, Federal University, Gusau, Dr. Abubakar Sideeq Haruna, warned that continuous attacks on places of learning may cause anxiety in the minds of the students, if urgent steps are not taken to end insecurity.

Dr. Haruna noted that both students and teachers are presently traumatised, knowing that government can no longer protect them in school. He urged immediate solution to kidnapping activities to restore the young generation’s hope in education. The scholar lamented that education is under attack and appealed to state governments to provide adequate and modern facilities across public schools

“Government has been insensitive to the issue of security in schools and that is why the ugly situation keeps recurring. Banditry, kidnapping and all sorts of criminal activities in the system has led to series of multiplier effects. Young talents in schools are gradually being traumatised with psycho-social problem, causing distress and anxiety, which are detrimental to effective teaching and learning.”

Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) Kebbi State chapter, Comrade Issa Umar called on both Federal and State Governments to abolish boarding system in secondary schools across the country until the security situation improves. He urged government to improve on the security architecture to safeguard life and property.

Proprietor, Toyems Schools, Ijeododo, Tunde Solanke, restated call for state police to tackle kidnapping in schools and ensure conducive environment for learning. Solanke said police should be well-equipped and adequately remunerated.  Solanke said conscious efforts by community leaders in collaboration with state police (who should be indigenes) would go a long way.

Director of Studies, Devine-Solace Elementary School, Fagba, Lagos, Arilesere Olanrenwaju, said to secure learning environment, schools and parents should have authorised drop-off and pick-up points for students. Besides, he said there should be qualified security guards to man entrances into schools and surrounding areas. “Schools should set up a security surveillance system as kidnapping does not just happen, it is preceded by a planning stage. A school with an effective security surveillance system has good shot at intervening or detecting a threat, increasing security and motivating potential kidnappers to go elsewhere.”

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