The Horizon BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
It is 2,429 days today that hundreds of schoolgirls were abducted from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State. Some of the students have been released. But it is estimated that over a hundred are still being held by the terrorists. Hence the campaign to “bring back our girls” is still very much alive, although the emotional resonance might appear to have receded. In official statements, hardly are references made to the unfinished security business in Chibok.
It is also 1, 022 days today, in another grim reminder, that a secondary school was attacked at Dapchi in Yobe State and about 112 schoolgirls and a boy were taken away. Exhausted and extremely traumatised, five of the girls died in the hands of their abductors. After some “back-channel” contacts made by the Nigerian state, the girls have since regained their freedom except the 17-year old Leah Sharibu who is still in captivity. Despite an international campaign for her release, the freedom of the poor girl is still being denied by her abductors.
Now, in that distressing pattern it is five days that the Government Science Secondary School was invaded in Kankara, Katsina State. Some of the students have been rescued while over 300 others are still declared missing.
Therefore, it is time the Nigerian state was asked: when exactly is it a national embarrassment? When will the national shame be officially acknowledged that six years after the Chibok tragedy the combined efforts of defence and internal security organisations could not ensure the security of students in Kankara Science Secondary School? Whatever happened to the professional acumen and capacity of the army, police, SSS, civil defence corps and other security outfits supposedly on duty in Katsina State? When indeed is it an emergency?
All efforts should be made to prevent a catastrophe in the extremely delicate situation of Kankara.
In utter anguish, the placard-bearing parents have called on the Commander-in-Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari, who incidentally is on holiday in Katsina State, to bring back the Kankara Boys. To borrow the famous turn of phrase of Jerry Gana, the distraught parents seem to be saying that Buhari as the commander-in-chief should “chiefly command well.” As an aside, the eloquent Professor Gana was the chairman of the re-orientation agency established in the 1980s by the military regime of President Ibrahim Babangida, the Mass Mobilisation for Self – Reliance, Social Justice and Economic Recovery (MAMSER). Gana used to preach that that every citizen should perform his duty “well,” whether as a driver, teacher or commander-in-chief.
The magnitude of the current embarrassment is such that conflicting official figures are even being bandied about depending on who is making the statement. It is a notorious fact that Nigeria suffers chronically from the malaise of inability to honestly count just anything – money, votes, population, projects, facilities, immunisation figures, beneficiaries of government programmes etc. However, it is exceptionally outrageous that the exact number of missing students in an invaded school could not be produced days after the calamity.
The manner of the abduction of the students in Kankara is a clear pointer to the limits of rationalisation of the failures of the nation’s security system. The attackers reportedly arrived Kankara after 10 p.m. last Saturday on more than 150 motorcycles. Imagine a convoy of 150 motorcycles ridden freely across local government areas. And hundreds of boys taken away on those motorcycles! That ought to be conspicuous enough to attract the attention of security men. While a detachment of the invaders went in to take the boys from the school, another group blocked the road to prevent access to the scene of the crime.
Meanwhile, the attackers were said to have had a gun duel earlier with the police and vigilantes in other parts of the town. Two policemen were reportedly available to resist the attackers at the school gate; one of them got injured. Yet hundreds of the boys were kidnapped. Two days after, it was reported that the kidnappers had made “contacts” with Katsina State Governor Aminu Masari. It remains unimaginable how attackers riding motorcycles could kidnap hundreds of boys in the night. A new dimension has been added to the sad story with a faction of Boko Haram claiming responsibility for the attack on the school in Kankara.
The attack on Kankara proved that the nation has not learnt sufficient lessons from earlier attacks on schools.
As alluded to in the foregoing, few of the earlier attacks could be cited to illustrate the point about the strategic failure of the Nigerian state in the situation.
First, there was the Buni Yadi massacre of February 25, 2014 in Yobe State. About 59 boys were killed by suspected Boko Haram insurgents at the Federal Government College in a town called Buni Yadi. No fewer than 24 buildings were burnt in the boarding co-educational school during the invasion.
Secondly, about 276 school girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14, 2014. when a secondary school was invaded in Chibok , Borno state. That was two months after the Buni Yadi disaster. About 103 of the Chibok girls were released while a few others escaped from captivity. It is still estimated that about 112 of Chibok girls are yet to be brought back home six years after. The Chibok abduction has attracted the most international attention of all attacks on schools in northern Nigeria.
Thirdly, four years after Chibok, 112 schoolgirls and a boy were abducted from the Government Girls’ Secondary and Technical College in another town in Yobe State called Dapchi. On February 19, 2018 the insurgents invaded the town in Tata trucks and Toyota Hilux vans. Most of the students and their teachers escaped from the situation. The attackers took away 103 of the students. The ages of the students were between 11 and 19. As stated above, the kidnapped girls have been released except the now 17-year old Leah Sharibu.
Back to the Safe Schools Initiative
Education has been a target of attack by insurgents, bandits and other criminals on the prowl in parts of the country. All the categories of mass-murderers are united in their war against human development and progress. After all, Boko Haram has been translated to mean “western education is forbidden.”
In a sense, the nation and its security system have had the warnings about the possibility of the abduction in Kankara or any other school for almost 11 years.
The attack on education is evident in the northeast, the epicentre of the activities of the insurgents. It has been estimated that over 1,000 students have been abducted from their schools. About 2,300 teachers killed and about 1, 500 schools destroyed.
In the aftermath of Chibok, the Safe Schools Initiative for Nigeria was launched on May 7, 2014 at the World Economic Forum held in Abuja. Behind the programme was a coalition of Nigerian business leaders working with the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The initiative was to start with a pledge of $10 million to keep about 500 schools safe in the north of Nigeria. The strategy was to build a community of security groups comprising the police, parents, teachers, community and youths.
The funding was hinged on investments from government, business leaders and the Global Business Coalition for Education, A World at School and other corporate bodies.
The federal government (through the omnibus Humanitarian Affairs Ministry) and relevant state and local agencies should synergise on how to execute the programme. It could even be redesigned by experts to make it achieve better results.
The investments in safe schools are obviously for the future of Nigeria. The present is already troubled. So any collaboration to save the future by keeping students secure to learn in their schools should be welcomed.
It would, therefore, be worthwhile to revisit the idea of the Safe Schools Initiative. It is a concept direly waiting for execution.
At least, this is one aspect of the problem that could be publicly discussed in terms of a broad strategy since some reactionary elements in the administration are resistant to alternative ideas as they insist on mystifying security issues.
Chibok, Buni Yadi and other tragic incidents happened before Buhari came to power. Dapchi and other attacks on schools have taken place during the tenure of the President. Security was inexorably an electoral issue in the 2015 election. In fact, at a point Buhari, the candidate at the time, promised to lead the war against terror from the “front.” His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) supported the campaign to pressurise the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan to ensure the release of the Chibok girls. Six years after Chibok in the northeast, boarding schools have now been closed down in Katsina, the home state of Buhari, and other states in the northwest. Insecurity at all levels is spreading fast in the land.
The matter is made worse by the illogical moves in Abuja to evade accountability on security matters. Avoidance of accountability is being elevated to the level of a state policy with some “legal” justification. No one seems to be accepting moral responsibility anymore. In another socio-political culture, there would have been voluntary resignations by officials taking responsibility for the undeniable lapses. Never in Nigeria, however.
The official response is sometimes bereft of emotional intelligence. Why should tragedies be relativised? To save the life of one student abducted from school is enough to be taken as a task by the whole security system. That’s what makes a citizen feel that he belongs to a nation. The number of victims doesn’t have to be in thousands to attract attention. The other day, the United States deployed the power of its security system to liberate one American kidnapped in this sub-region with the acknowledged support of Nigeria. Why couldn’t Nigeria employ a similar collaboration to liberate Leah Sharibu?
When last did any government official speak with the parents of Leah Sharibu to offer them some words of hope? Are there regular meetings with the parents of the over 100 Chibok girls in captivity to comfort them and lift their spirit? In the first place, the Nigerian state failed the poor girls by not preventing their abduction. The Buhari administration should not further dispirit them by abandoning the girls and their parents to their fate. Why can’t the humanitarian dimension of the crisis be approached in a more organic and sensitive manner? The official response should be imbued with empathy.
Just as Jonathan was told to bring back the Chibok girls in 2014, Buhari should also bring back Kankara boys in 2020. It’s a tragic repeat of history that a new hashtag would now surface in the cyberspace on abduction of students.
The outrage already triggered by the Kankara abduction should make the President and his strategists to be suggestible in the circumstance. The best output of Buhari team is clearly not good enough for the security of Nigeria. The team should, therefore, be sober and humble enough to admit the monumental failure of their approach.
The Commander-in-Chief should listen to the calls for an urgent rethink of his security agenda so as to keep students safe in school and farmers protected in their farms. Travellers should be secure on the highways.
In sum, the President should perform his constitutional duty by running a government that demonstrably makes the security of the people its purpose.
“All efforts should be made to prevent a catastrophe in the extremely delicate situation of Kankara”