Safeguarding pupils in schools this election year

Students in class (Eductation) PHOTO: Shutterstock

Pupils across the country resumed for second term academic activities last Monday, with public schools billed to reopen next Monday. But experts say schools and parents must sensitise pupils on safety measures, particularly in this election period. UJUNWA ATUEYI writes that where there are many counsellors, there is safety.

Public and private schools across the country are reopening for second term academic activities few weeks to general elections. Usually, during general elections, there are always apprehension and disorderliness.

Now, with the spate of kidnaps, ritual killings and other criminal activities in the society, the tension seems to be even more intense.

In fact, a survey carried out by Academy Halogen, a security training firm, revealed that 76 per cent of Nigerians rated the upcoming general elections as high risk, while over 80 per cent believed that the elections would be violent.

The study upheld that “elections are complex undertakings with explicit and implicit risks before, during and after the exercise.”

The outcome of the report shows high level of anxiety among the citizenry and stakeholders concerning the forthcoming elections.

Before now, many primary and secondary schools across the country have remained vulnerable to kidnappers’ attack as well as other criminal activities, but with the general elections coming up next month, security experts have cautioned schools and parents to give highest obligation to pupils’ safety.

Though the Federal Ministry of Education postponed resumption of public primary and secondary schools to next Monday, January 14, 2018, many of their counterparts in the private sector have commenced academic programmes for the 2018/2019 session.

Chief Operations Officer of Academy Halogen, Dr. Wale Adeagbo, who spoke with The Guardian on safety measures schools and parents should adopt, expressed worry over the not-too-surprising outcome of the investigation carried out by the firm.

According to him: “We carried out a national survey last December and we had an expert session to review experience on safety and security with regards to the upcoming national elections.

Elections in the country have historically been tense and tainted with violence. As the campaign gets underway, there are concerns the upcoming process may see new forms of violence.

Evidence shows that Nigerians are apprehensive about the forthcoming general elections, as revealed by the figures we have. These figures pose a serious concern to observers and stakeholders, who see these elections as a test of the robustness of Nigeria’s democratic consolidation.

“Although elections are important elements of democratic systems, experience shows that they pose significant security challenges in a country like Nigeria. And so, as the nation approaches another period of choosing its political leaders, deliberate efforts must be made to reduce the enterprise security risks’ exposures. This is a task that should involve the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the candidates, the citizens and the government, including the schools.

“And so, the first thing we recommend for schools is to carry out student education about election. It is important that students and pupils are aware of what election is all about in the first place. So, there should be high level of awareness among them about what election is all about and what the nation tends to achieve with an election. So, when they are aware, their safety consciousness will increase.

“The second one is that schools should also see themselves as portals for intelligent gatherings. What we mean by that is that they should not isolate themselves from their immediate environment with regards to security and what is going on. Schools should be aware of where polling booths are, should be a portal for security intelligent gathering and they should have consciousness. For example, how many polling booths are within their vicinity? How many contestants live within the area? And who are key state actors within their environment? So, they should be conscious of security issues that will emerge as result of where they are allocated.”

Adeagbo further advised schools to map out the proximity of allocation to security resources. “By that, we mean aid, where is the nearest police station to them? Where is the nearest hospital to them? Where is the nearest emergency contact to them? For example, if there is any problem around them, they should know who to call and how quickly to get through to them. Where is the nearest emergency contact to them or where is the nearest RRS location in Lagos? Where is the nearest ambulance station to the school because things do happen?

Upholding Doug Bourne’s quote that “Safety is a common denominator across all aspects of life, hence knowledge should always be shared. It is not a matter for industry, it is a matter for humanity,” he charged schools to make good use of technology and social media platforms.

He said: “Another recommendation from us is that they should explore the use of technology to assist them in keeping safe, do they have Close Circuit Television (CCTV) in their locality that assist them access control, develop social media platform where they can disseminate information to their students and parents so that they can be creating security alert at each particular period. Where people go or where they shouldn’t go.

They should carry out risk security assessment of their facility which would be a comprehensive assessment of how secured the immediate environment is.”

The security expert further advised schools to look at the perimeter fencing; the nature of the access control; register people that come in and out of the school; beware of business around them such as churches or mosques or social clubs and beer parlours; should review what risk they pose to the school.

He added that schools should look at how to link up to their immediate local environment to ensure they are part and parcel of the security architecture of the school.

“What schools also need to do is to do a profile of suppliers and stakeholders. The challenges that come from security might not be directly with people they deal with, it might be indirectly from people that supply to them. People, who come in to sell to the students, people who supply them with stationary and books. They need to do a profiling for people they engage with to ensure these are not agents of insecurity.”

He counselled that security awareness training for the students should be a part and parcel of their assembly on how to keep safe; what to do and what to watch out for this period and beyond. “This is where company like Halogen can be of help to offer such training to the students,” he said.

Also, the Principal Consultant, Edumark, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde, instructed schools’ managers across the country to sensitise parents, pupils, school bus drivers, teachers and all caregivers on the issues at hand.

Citing the episode that broke out at the All Progressives Congress (APC) campaign launch in Lagos on Tuesday where it was reported that about three people lost their lives, Ogunde said: “Imagine what a school bus driver and the attendant who are not well trained could do if they run into such chaos.

Schools should educate them on what to do if they run into any bottleneck. Imagine what pupils who are not well informed could do if they run into such disorderliness when there is crisis and people are running helter skelter as a result of gunshots from hoodlums, what should they do?

“So, schools should imagine all these scenarios that could happen and educate their workers. Elections have not even started and we are already having violence, it is indeed scary and worrisome.

After Tuesday’s incident, we have to cancel the programme we have this February as this kind of incident can disrupt people’s movement and your guest speakers and participants might be unable to get to the venue of the programme.

“Now, what happens to pupils in the public schools that go to schools all alone. Politicians should be careful and behave responsibly. They should ensure that whatever they are doing in terms of politicking, they do not put the lives of people and the children in danger. We have elections at various levels, imagine children returning from schools and running into the kind of episode that played out at APC rally on Tuesday. Our politicians should respect themselves.”

Ogunde, therefore, advised parents to as much as possible put their children in the hands of trusted people who will behave rationally in case of an emergency.

Managing Director of MYK Crime Control Services, Mr. Dayo Oshunmakinde, on his part, appealed to schools and parents to teach their children how to stay safe and run away from danger this period by cautioning them not to visit any campaign rally or be found in any political gathering.

“Schools and parents should teach their children not to visit any campaign rally, go home immediately after school hours. They should inform them not to visit some places alone this time around. Know where your children are and whom they are with at all times. Remind children never to take anything from or respond in any way if approached by anyone they don’t know, and also remind them to never approach a vehicle without your permission.

“Schools should know their employees, as well as do thorough background screening and reference checks on everyone who works with them. Schools must enquire about school safety and security protocols. It is the responsibility of schools to have the latest safety and security protocols in place, including CCTV cameras, key card systems, transport safety and adequate security personnel present on their premises,” he said.

A parent, Mrs. Josephine Akintoye, said though “the horse is prepared against the day of battle, but safety is of the Lord.” Notwithstanding, as parents, “we must be extremely careful while taking our kids to school and after school. There must be close communication between school authorities and parents.”

With the incident that played out at the launch of APC rally in Lagos on Tuesday, it is obvious that the 2019 general elections will be characterised by violence. Schools, parents beware!

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