Emmanuel Addeh takes a look at the measures adopted by the Bayelsa Government to ensure that some form of protection is provided for school children in the state
From July, 1764 when what is today known as the Enoch Brown School Massacre, perhaps the earliest shooting to happen in a school environment, occurred in the United States of America, securing learners has been a subject leaders attach a lot of importance.
In that incident, four American Indians walked into the school premises in Pennsylvania, shot and killed the schoolmaster before proceeding to kill nine defenceless children.
Physical violence against school children is not new, but in the last few years it has gained prominence in the country, following the heart-wrenching activities of extremists up North.
Starting with the mindless and barbaric killing of 29 innocent school children in the early hours of February 25, 2014, at the Federal Government College (FGC), Buni-Yadi, in Gujba Local Government of Yobe State, things have not remained the same.
That event was closely followed about two months later by the massive abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, North-east Nigeria, by the Boko Haram sect, an incident the nation is yet to recover from.
The incident in which the sect forcibly took away 276 learners from Chibok Girls Secondary School that night of 14-15 April, 2014, has not only remained a blight each time the Nigerian story is told, but also further depleted what was left of the country’s already battered international image.
A couple of years later, the attention moved to the South-west, where eight students and two employees of the Nigeria Turkish International School, Isheri, Ogun State , were taken away by some suspected militants.
That event was followed by the abduction of six students from the Lagos City Model College which had some months earlier witnessed the kidnapping of a Vice Principal and four pupils using the same entry and exit, according to reports.
These cases of kidnappings between late 2016 as well as early and mid 2017, obviously caught the security apparatuses in Lagos and Ogun States napping and brought to the fore the need to devise well thought-out arrangements to ensure that learners are protected in the school environment.
Despite the security challenges in the Niger Delta, incidents of kidnapping students for a ransom have not been recorded, at least none in the public space.
But do leaders need to wait for disasters which are clearly under the control of humans to spiral out of control before taking extensive action?
Evidently, many people agree that the mark of a true leader is being able to anticipate the future and putting in place plans and actions to mitigate the effect of some outcomes that are unfavourable to their people.
That thinking probably informed the idea of a special protection corps for students in public schools which was first mooted by the Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Seriake Dickson, in January, though many did not know what form it would take.
However, as the idea continued to crystallise, it appeared that it could just be the panacea needed to end the invasion of schools by hoodlums who take advantage of security lapses to wreak havoc, cause pains in countless hearts and create a bad image both nationally and internationally.
Beyond making political statements and policies which are never implemented, what is different with the setting up of the Special Education Safety Corps, ahead of the compulsory boarding scheme of the government, it seems, is the attempt to institutionalise the protection of children and public property in schools in the state.
In essence, the task of the newly set up corps would be to provide security for all public schools in the state, with the support of the law enforcement agencies.
To show its seriousness, the government sent a bill to the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, indicating that the whole idea was to prevent various crimes in public primary and secondary schools in the state.
The bill, sponsored by the Leader of the House and member representing Sagbama Constituency I, Peter Akpe, after the third reading was unanimously passed by members.
The corps, according to the bill which has been passed into law and assented to by the governor, is to be headed by a retired senior security officer who is to serve as the commandant. Capt Aleibiri Mezeh, has already been appointed in that stead.
Another clause in the law is that whereas in a few cases where security guards exist in schools, they are usually old and fragile, members of the present corps must be between the ages of 18 and 45.
They are also expected to respond and alert police and other security agencies about crimes, arrest suspects and generally maintain peace during sports and major events and their service will be 24 hours.
There will also be local government sector coordinators who will work closely with the police, Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the military and other security agencies.
Aside the issue of kidnapping, the Speaker, Mr. Konbowei Benson, who presided over the session, said that the bill was timely because it will help deal with the resurgence of cultism among students in Bayelsa.
The governor was also upbeat while assenting to the new law tagged ‘The Education Safety Corps Law, 2017’, three months after he sent it to the State House of Assembly for consideration and passage.
He thanked members of the Assembly for considering the bill as a priority and for passing it in record time, the same way they have always done since the inception of his administration.
While calling on the people of the state to support the new direction and collaborate with those to be appointed as officials for the safety corps, he noted that by extension, the law will further enhance local security.
“I want to call on people of Bayelsa State to work with organs of government, law enforcement agencies, community leaders and also to collaborate and get ready to work with the officials of the Education Safety Corps that will be appointed pursuant to the law I have just signed into existence,” he said.
According to Dickson, who urged those to be saddled with making the recommendations to focus on sound minds who can fit into the objective of the new law, only young people with proven character will be appointed as officials of the outfit.
The governor explained that the latest law was another window of opportunity to lawfully provide employment opportunities to about 2,000 young women and men that will help to secure facilities in schools and communities.
Dickson added, “If we are going to keep young people in these schools, then it is important we start planning and thinking of how to protect them and the facilities provided, which we have started installing all across the state.”
The governor explained that the proactive measure were taken to avoid what happened in other places, stressing that, as a caring government, the safety of the pupils in its various schools had to be given proper attention.
He confirmed that members of the corps will be given proper orientation by security agencies, in order to properly guide them in their line of duty and ensure that they have a seamless operation.
But by that move, it is believed that the Bayelsa government is also upholding the rights of the child which is part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), failure of which means the constitutional and international commitments towards children is breached.
It also gives teeth to the domestication of the national Child’s Rights Act, signed by the governor on the 6th May, 2016 which criminalises violence against children and sets out the role of every stakeholder in preventing and responding to violence against children.
The statistics are bewildering. Indeed, a national survey by the National Population Commission, supported by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF, launched last September, found that six in 10 children suffer one or more types of violence before they reach the age of 18 years.
It also concluded that one in two young people suffers physical violence, one in four girls and one in 10 boys suffer sexual violence, while one in five boys and one in six girls suffer emotional violence.
With the commencement of the students’ security programme and selection of those who will be saddled with the task of protecting Bayelsa children, it is hoped that violence against those who will shape the future of the state is curbed.
But how will the programme be funded if government always complains about the disparity between programmes it intends to execute and the finance to implement them?
Former Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information now Commissioner for Education, Mr. Jonathan Obuebite, told THISDAY that all the sides to the programme have been adequately covered and that it would be essentially self-sustaining.
“With over N55 billion already invested in education by this government, the governor believes that all the investments and their beneficiaries have to be protected, so that they will not expire with the change of government.
“In about two months, the Education Development Trust Fund (another law passed recently) already has over N500m. Aside the contribution of the governor, his deputy and all civil servants to this fund, five per cent of the entire IGR every month is set aside for the trust fund. So also is the students’ loan fund which allows students access to funds to pursue their dreams to any level.
“The students’ safety bill has already been passed into law and is operational. What we are doing now is to train those employed in the scheme and we are ensuring that security checks are carried out on them and as you may know, they are being trained by the Nigeria Police.
“After training, they are given uniforms and well kitted. The head of the outfit is an experienced security expert. We do not want what happened in Lagos to happen here. We are trying to be proactive. The lives of our children are very important to us,” the former government Spokesman said.
Will the programme also cover those in the riverine areas, who could even be easier to abduction because of the terrain? Obuebite responds in the positive and adds that the security programme will be spread across both land and water.
“It’s for every public school. Everywhere. Further than that, the private institutions must also key into it since they are all our children.
“The idea is to make sure that all schools are safe. But those to be deployed to private schools will also be trained and retrained by the government. There is no other state where this is being done.
“We are backing these policies by law so that these things are institutionalised. It is not likely that the Bayelsa House of Assembly will succumb to whoever comes in after this governor that establishing this model was wrong. Society will say no, students and parents will reject it.
“And the good thing is that this can be sustained with the EDTF fund. So, the programme is well covered. We are starting with 2000 members of the corps, which will eventually expand,” he said.
But as the safety programme for Bayelsa’s future leaders kicks off in earnest, the hope of many is that ensuring its sustainability and workability are two things that those entrusted with the duty of making it a success must take seriously.