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Fixing Nigeria’s lax school security

The incessant abductions and abuse of innocent schoolchildren by violent groups in some parts of the country reflect the alarming realities in Nigeria’s school system.

For a long time, schools across the country have been locked in a battle for survival - inwardly grappling with funding problems, botched policies, limited access and quality issues; while outwardly hounded by potent threats from insurgents, cultists and criminal gangs, who take advantage of the lax security to advance their evil causes.

When Boko Haram re-enacted its organised abductions in Dapchi on February 19, 2018, we recalled the over 1,400 schools the terrorist group has destroyed in Borno state alone and over 2.5 million children placed at risk, even as the country still rues the notorious April 2014 kidnappings of over 200 Chibok schoolgirls and other illegal school invasions.

Since January 2021, over 400 students have been kidnapped from schools in some parts of the North West. Over 42 schoolboys and teachers were taken from Government Science College in Kagara, Niger State, on February 17 and later released; while about 300 girls were abducted from Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State on February 26.

On Thursday March 11, 2021, gunmen invaded Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Mando in Kaduna overnight and abducted at least 30 girls after security operatives fended off other kidnappers and rescued over 180 other boys and girls.

These abductions were preceded by the infamous Government Science Secondary School Kankara, Katsina State, kidnappings where over 300 schoolboys were forcefully removed from their hostels on December 11, 2020 by gunmen on motorbikes, and held hostage for days before being released after negotiations were made.  

As Nigerians watch helplessly, the crippling impact of this disturbing trend has been visible with enrolments plunging and inclusive education receding, despite a growing population with equal ratio of female and male children of school age.

In north east Nigeria, where enrolment rates for girls are some of the lowest in the entire country, these abductions send a negative message to some parents who are opposed to their daughters undertaking western education.

Although the attacks on schools are symbolic of the lax national security in recent years, the failure of a unified approach towards stemming the tide bespeaks of a society unconsciously normalising such worrisome developments.

While in 2014 the federal government launched the “Safe Schools Initiative” to help protect hundreds of schools in Nigeria as a response to the growing number of attacks on the right of Nigerian children to education, the project has barely impacted on school security with equal commitment and drive it was estimated. Or perhaps, it has failed to expand beyond the initial target of over 500 schools in the north east to other parts of the country.

In view of these glitches, the federal government must rethink its approach to school security and put in place an effective strategy to beat the invaders to their game, while ensuring synergy with states and local governments to sustain the campaign on school security and instill safety consciousness on students.

It is also imperative for government to tinker towards the establishment of a separate security outfit or designate a department of the Nigeria Police Force for the exclusive mandate of protecting private and public schools. 

A tale of unconducive learning environment, poor facilities, lack of instructional materials, unqualified teachers and stark erosion of quality among others, reverberates across the country irrespective of the political weight of some state governors and representatives.

We understand that during the over one-and-a-half decade of Nigeria’s democracy, it has witnessed accelerated growth in population, presenting further challenges in the planning and allocation of resources to the education sector; but the country has failed to meet the UNESCO-endorsed 26 per cent of annual budget to education.

Given the depth of problems, only a sustained and well-funded intervention programme by the federal government can attempt an enduring solution to the challenges in Nigeria’s school system. To ensure a holistic approach therefore towards resolving the issues, a feasible policy document must be sought to explicate issues of teacher training, recruitment and retention as part of efforts to restore quality and dignity in the teaching profession.

In addition, multiple approaches must be adopted on the issue of access to basic, post-basic or university education. Safety training must also be included as part of the schools’ extra curricula activities to imbue students with basic knowledge on security and how to stay safe on the case of a school invasion. 

 

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