A. A. Gadzama canvasses the need to beef up security in schools
The menace of banditry, particularly the abduction of school pupils across the country, has worsened insecurity in the country in recent years. Some states in the Northern parts of the country especially Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna have in the last one year become the epicentre of acts of banditry and hostage takings, with many post primary schools regularly raided. In addition to these acts of criminality are the raiding of communities and abductions. There have also been attempts to assassinate prominent personalities like the recent attempts on the Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, that would have plunged the country into serious upheavals. In other parts of the country especially Borno and Yobe States, these acts of lawlessness are compounded by attempts by insurgents to regroup and launch fresh attacks on several communities.
It is not surprising that the President and Commander-in-Chief has repeatedly warned that acts of lawlessness by individuals and groups would be severely dealt. Unfortunately, the warnings have fallen on deaf ears. The persistence of acts of lawlessness has left the government and the security forces with no option than to resort to reprisals. Some communities have similarly resorted to self -help in the face of continuous attacks and seeming lack of action by security forces and the government.
The failure to arrest the deteriorating security situation in the country could be attributed to several factors by any discerning mind. These include failure of governance, leadership and law enforcement. The inability of the government to meet its obligations to the citizenry also plays some role in almost all cases. The proof of these are indications that some of the attacks are fueled by disenchantment in the citizenry. Compounding the situation is the spill over of political animosity among the political elites in their quest for supremacy. In some cases, communities and students have found themselves caught in avoidable conflicts. Without doubt, a larger percentage of some cases of banditry and hostage taking in the country are driven by economic interests. For example, in parts of the North, cattle rustling and theft are the main driving forces of attacks and abduction of students from schools. Other reasons in recent years are the breakdown of communal control at the local level and loss of relevance of traditional institutions and the general rise in crime. But by far the major motivating factor responsible for rise in violent criminal acts in the country is the absence of decisive actions by the government that could serve as deterrence. There have been observations that the payment of ransom is the major reason behind most cases of the invasion of schools and the abduction in most communities. Unfortunately, this is a dilemma facing the government, the security forces and the parents of pupils.
The rise in criminality in the country can be associated with what is perceived as systematic decline in security enforcement and collapse of security in the country. There are also acts that have political undertones that translate into raids and hostage taking. Some of the current security threats in the country are plain acts of veiled sabotage, orchestrated to discredit the government in power. Masterminding acts of criminality and insecurity are apparently old strategies employed to discredit President Muhammadu Buhari and the present leadership in the country. Some of the raids on schools and attacks on communities are also driven by political differences between groups. It is therefore not surprising that there is a strong coincidence between political groups in the country and the spate of banditry. The sad thing is that there is the likelihood of the trend continuing or intensifying in the coming months. The other reason it would be hard to overlook is the brazen acts of criminality by non-state acts like the herdsmen. As a matter of fact, these groups are behind most invasions and abduction of school children in the country in the past one year. A critical examination of raids and hostage taking in the country reveals greed and the temptation to benefit from ransom as a factor. Some criminal acts are emboldened by absence of decisive actions from the government and security forces. It is counter- productive that the most drastic punishment meted on those behind raids on schools and abduction of school children is appeasing them with pats on the back from political leadership. It is unfortunate that despite the gravity of raids and kidnap incidents, the heaviest punishment culprits have been given is inviting the culprits to the negotiation tables. The approach definitely ends up encouraging the criminal groups.
An informed analysis of recent acts of banditry also implicates proliferation of dangerous weapons as another driving factor that compounds the deteriorating security situation in the country. The country is incidentally a popular destination for dangerous weapons. Some dangerous weapons most often fall into the hands of criminal elements. Investigations by security forces reveal other users of dangerous weapons to include perpetrators of inter and intra group conflicts who often source them from leakages in official armouries facilitated by unscrupulous security operatives.
Also known to play very crucial role in arms proliferation are the country’s porous borders. Intelligence sources reveal that the quantum of dangerous weapons smuggled across the country’s porous borders is enormous. This is the reason there are arguments that violent crime in the country cannot be checked without dealing with the free flow of dangerous weapons and foreigners at the country’s borders.
Many who are conversant with the country’s security challenges and inadequacies in recent years have pointed out that weaknesses in the country’s security architecture and practices are other contributory factors that lead to kidnapping of students, etc. This underscores the importance of a critical review of the entire security architecture and procedures in schools in the country. For example, school premises should under no circumstance be thoroughfares or places for trading in any form. Also, the grazing of livestock within school premises should be disallowed throughout the country. There is also the need for an ECOWAS sub-regional approach to dealing with the issue.
It is also necessary to beef up vigilance and security presence in schools to prevent compromising security, as schools are soft targets that could easily be monitored by criminal elements. The other weakness that needs to be addressed is doing away with the practice of recruiting worn out ex-service personnel as security guards in schools. In the light of the current state of insecurity in schools in the country, the recruitment of agile and able-bodied persons should be explored. A system of close supervision should in addition be employed. Also, security guards in schools should be adequately paid and be put through basic security drills to enable them know how to handle security eventualities. It is gladdening that the menace of raid on schools and the kidnapping of school children are currently issues of critical examination at the National Institute of Security Studies.
This article is intended to help underscore the importance of stopping the current invasion of schools and taking students hostages in the country. As reiterated in a seminar recently, political leadership especially state governors should in addition resist the temptation of negotiating the payment of ransom to criminal groups involved in such activities. Appeasing criminals in any form will only embolden them.
Gadzama OFR, mni
is Chairman, National Institute for