Bandits And Northern Schools

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The authorities must do more to strengthen security in our schools
With Zamfara, Kano and some other northern states ordering the closure of boarding schools following the spike in kidnapping of students by bandits, it’s clear that the future of millions of Nigerian children is in jeopardy. Barely a week after 27 students and 15 others were abducted from Government Science College, Kagara in Niger State, bandits struck again in Zamfara State, carting away 317 female students from Government Secondary School, Jangebe.

Although we may never know how much was paid for their freedom, we are nonetheless gratified that the Niger State abductees were released yesterday. But questions continue to be asked about why in this age of drones, google maps and aerial surveillance, dozens of students can be taken away from single locations without their abductors being confronted by the authorities. Besides, why were there such security lapses around soft and obviously vulnerable targets, especially in states where bandits operate almost unchallenged?

In a strong statement to express both anger and sadness over latest developments, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) harped on the long-lasting effects the abduction from schools of innocent children could have on their mental health and well-being. The trauma is worse in this case that the victims are female students in the hands of bandits who behave like animals. So, every additional day that the girls remain in the custody of their captors is one day too many. “Children should feel safe at home and at school at all times – and parents should not need to worry for the safety of their children when they send them off to school in the morning,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF country representative in Nigeria.

We agree. The challenge of insecurity becomes more perplexing when criminals make an industry of abducting children from schools as the bandits in many of the northern states now do so easily. The challenge is even increasingly being complicated. With Sheikh Ahmad Gumi and others acting as negotiators for bandits, criminals are being treated like celebrities. Some state governments even treat them with kid’s gloves, paying them undisclosed sums of money after some phony agreements.While we hope for the safe return of all the Kagara and Jangebe school children (as well as Leah Sharibu) who are still in captivity, President Muhammadu Buhari must go beyond preachments on Twitter to impress it on Northern governors that negotiating with bandits cannot be a solution to a serious security challenge. As we have repeatedly warned, doing under-the-table deals with criminals cannot be a sustainable approach to handling a challenge that borders on law and order.

From Chibok to Dapchi to Kankara, Kagara and now Jangabe, criminal cartels have decided to make the education space in the north very dangerous. Sadly, there are no indications that anything is being done to tackle the problem. In the wake of the kidnap of female students at Government Secondary School, Chibok in 2014, the Safe Schools Initiative was launched in collaboration with some international development partners. The idea was meant 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.

Unfortunately, the idea was abandoned by the current administration, in spite of increased attacks on schools which have created fear in many communities. While we draw attention to the serial failure of defence, intelligence and security that has enabled the abductions, it is also important for President Buhari to appreciate the dismal statistics of poverty and illiteracy in the north and the damage that the setback in education will do in the future of the region and the future of the nation. When a school is under attack and students become targets, according to Manuel Fotaine, UNICEF West Africa Regional Director, “not only are their lives shattered, the future of the nation is stolen.”

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When a school is under attack and students become targets, not only are their lives shattered, the future of the nation is stolen