The authorities could do more to secure our schools
After a six-day ordeal in the bush with their captors, 344 weary-looking schoolboys of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara returned home last Friday into the warm hands of the Katsina State government. “These students returned barefooted,” an emotional Governor Bello Masari told President Muhammadu Buhari who visited them at the government house. The president, who spoke in Hausa without an interpreter, congratulated the children on their safe return.
While we commend the government on this speedy rescue, certain things are still unclear, especially given how tardy information management was on the whole issue. If, for instance, Boko Haram was involved, however marginally, it would mark a clear geographical expansion in its activities from its base in northeast. Whoever did it, however, the damage cannot be easily quantified. The abduction of the schoolboys has added to the climate of fear and widespread insecurity in the country, particularly in the north. The tragic drama was reminiscent of Boko Haram’s April 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok as well as the 2018 Dapchi incident in which some 108 schoolgirls were kidnapped. More than 100 schoolgirls seized from Chibok are still in the wilderness, in a fate similar to that of Leah Sharibu, the lone school girl from the Dapchi’s seizure who remains in captivity on account of her faith.
At a time we need concerted efforts to deal with the growing insecurity in the north, the statement by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) targeting the governor of Zamfara is most unfortunate. Playing politics with a tragedy of this nature is reprehensible. With millions of people displaced and hundreds of thousands of families physically and psychological maimed for life, divisive tactics would be most unhelpful if we are to deal with this challenge. According to Amnesty International, armed groups that kidnap for ransom in the northwest have killed more than 1100 people in the first half of 2020 alone. Besides, conflicts between herders and farmers are increasingly harming the local economy, making it difficult to farm, and making basic foodstuffs very expensive. The impact of the recent killing of rice farmers in Zabarmari can only be imagined.
But no less provoking is the impact of the violence on the future ambitions of many Nigerians, particularly children and their education. Statistics show that some 2,295 teachers had been killed and 19,000 others displaced in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in the first nine years of the more than a decade-long insurgency. An estimated 1,500 schools had been destroyed between 2014 and 2018 in a zone in dire need of school infrastructure. The February 2014 attack at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi in Yobe State where no fewer than 58 male students were brutally assassinated is still fresh in memory.
Incessant violence has very negative impact on the impressionable young, just as adults. One of the abducted young boys vowed last week that he would not return to the school. It has been found that conflict reduces school enrolment as well as years of education. The implication of such a state of affair is damaging. “When a school is under attack and students become targets,” said Manuel Fotaine, UNICEF Director for Emergency Programmes, “not only are their lives shattered, the future of the nation is stolen.”
In 2014 the Safe Schools Initiative was launched to counter the growing attacks on the right to education and to build community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police and community leaders. “We cannot stand by and see schools shut down, girls cut off from their education and parents in fear of their daughters’ lives,” said former British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, then UN Special Envoy on Education at the launch. “The Safe School Initiative will put Nigeria on track to help more and more girls and boys go to school and learn.”
Sadly, the idea has long been abandoned with the schools in the north left to their individual devices. But with the recent attack which has provoked mass closure of schools in the region, there is an urgent need to go back to the drawing board. We cannot afford to leave our children at the mercy of violent men bent on truncating their future.
When a school is under attack and students become targets, not only are their lives shattered, the future of the nation is stolen