By Mark Itsibor, Henry Tyohemba, Ejike Ejike, Anayo Onukwugha |
Indications yesterday emerged that since the launch of the Safe School Fund seven years ago many states are yet to benefit from the initiative as attacks on schools by terrorists have continued, especially in the North.
Despite the launch of Safe Schools Initiative in 2014, attacks on educational institutions in Nigeria have continued unabated, with the latest being the attack on Greenfield University, Kaduna.
The Safe Schools Initiative was launched at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Nigeria in 2014 by a coalition of Nigerian business leaders working with the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, the Global Business Coalition for Education and World at School.
The initiative was to ensure that young people are not only safe in going to school but are also provided with an environment ripe for learning, growth and development free of fear.
However, seven years after, the lack of safety measures in schools have ignited fear in the lives of thousands of Nigerians with so many schools coming under attacks.
READ ALSO: School Attack: Greenfield Varsity Seeks Govt Help, Others For Staff, Students Release
The programme, which was set up in response to the growing number of violations against the right to education after the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls, has apparently not been yielding the expected results with many of the schools, especially in Northern Nigeria, having come under attack by Boko Haram terrorists and, lately, by bandits.
Sadly, as of today, it is not clear how much money has been raised and how much has been done to keep schools safe, but whatever has been done does not seem to have scratched the surface of the problem with hundreds of students attacked and kidnapped from their schools this year.
The kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls from Chibok seven years ago led to the launch of a multi-million dollar plan, backed by a former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, to bolster security at schools – but it has so far failed to stop abductions and protect children.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister at the time and now head of the World Trade Organisation, laid the first bricks of the project.
Gordon Brown spearheaded the $30 million (about £22m) Safe Schools Initiative (SSI) – along with UN agencies, the Nigerian government and private business leaders with five-hundred schools targeted to be protected, They were to be supplied with new classrooms, fences and armed guards.
“The aim of the plan is to ensure that young people are not only safe in going to school but that we also provide an environment ripe for learning, growth and development free of fear,” said Mr Brown in May 2014.
There were some successes including the provision of prefabricated classrooms and learning materials for children in camps for displaced people, but the plan was largely abandoned after an elaborate launch in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
While the recent spate of school kidnappings in the northern parts of Nigeria highlights the failure of the government to develop policies that could improve safety at schools, experts in the education sector have shared insight on what should be done to end the ugly trend.
Dr Ibrahim Zikirullahi, executive director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED),wants government to deploy security agencies like the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to schools to complement whatever efforts the Nigeria Police have in place.
“To stop further attacks, we believe there should be a common template for securing places of learning across the country, especially in the North. We can see that the attacks on schools take a similar pattern of groups of criminals invading the school premises.
“It is clear that the criminals terrorising schools at the moment are part of the out-of- school population of yesterday. The millions of children Nigeria has failed to put in schools may be the source of criminal gangs which may continue to terrorise society in time to come.”
He said the very first reason why bandits, terrorists and other criminal elements are attacking schools is that from an operational point of view, the schools are soft targets.
The initiative was initially implemented in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, already in a declared state of emergency.
When contacted for reaction, the Permanent Secretary, Borno State Ministry of Education, Alhaji Kaka Ali directed our correspondent to the State Universal Basic Education (SUBEB ) for inquiry over the safe schools fund.
But chairman of the Board, Dr. Shettima Kullima, in his response, said the Borno State Ministry of Education was more competent to handle that.
He said particularly around 2016, the money was with SUBEB, but because of the way parents were demanding for the money, he felt it was embarrassing for SUBEB to handle the money , so the Board made transfer of the whole fund to the ministry of education.
When asked if Borno received the money then, Dr Kullima said: “You see, when I came in 2015 as executive chairman of SUBEB, the way they were doing everything, I asked them to transfer the whole thing to the ministry of education.
Maybe because the people at the ministry are new, they might not know much about the issue,” the SUBEB chairman said.
Others have also called on government to direct the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to probe the allegations of missing, mismanaged or diverted $30million Safe Schools Fund.
Similarly, a non-governmental organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), through its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, advocated that anyone involved with the missing funds should be brought to justice, and the money retrieved from them..
The organisation in the letter, further urged the President to “ask the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr Gordon Brown to wait for the outcome of any investigation into the spending of the $30m initially budgeted for the Safe School Initiative programme before leading the international community and donors to push for more funds for the programme.”
He said, “Direct Mr Malami and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to investigate why the Safe Schools Initiative, established to bolster security at schools in response to the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, has failed to stop frequent abductions of students and to ensure the safety and security of Nigerian children in schools across the country.”
SERAP also urged President Buhari to “ask the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, to wait for the outcome of any investigation into the spending of the $30m initially budgeted for the Safe Schools Initiative programme before leading the international community and donors to push for more funds for the programme.”
SERAP’s letter , in a letter dated 24 April 2021, followed the killing of three abducted Greenfield University students in Abuja and the plan launched by the federal government last week to raise additional funds for safe schools.
The group said, “Rather than pushing to raise more funds for the Safe Schools Initiative programme, your government should prioritise and ensure a thorough, transparent, and effective investigation into the spending of the $30m initially budgeted for the protection of schools, prevention of attacks, and continued education of students.
It further reminded the Nigerian government that it had a legal obligation to protect Nigerian children from all forms of violence and other human rights abuses including abductions, killings, and to prevent and combat corruption in the spending of funds budgeted to improve safety and security in schools.
According to SERAP, attacks on students, teachers, and their families violate constitutional and international human rights law and force many families to keep their children at home.
SERAP noted that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that federal authorities and state governments are transparent and accountable to Nigerians in how they spend safe schools funds, and to tread carefully in raising additional funds before probing the spending of the $30m funds.
However, efforts to get the Federal Ministry of Education to react to the development were unsuccessful despite several attempts.
The group added that education was a basic right enshrined in various international treaties ratified by Nigeria, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The letter is copied to Mr Malami; Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, chairman Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC); Mr Abdulrasheed Bawa, chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Mrs Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, and Mr Brown.
The Safe Schools Initiative entails a combination of: transfer of secondary students to other states; support of education in IDP camps; pilot safe schools models including community mobilisation.
The initiative was initially implemented in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, already in a declared state of emergency.
The government of Nigeria had established a national Safe Schools Fund to accommodate capitalisation from the federal government, private sector, and grants from donors. This national fund is to be complemented by the establishment of the Nigeria Safe Schools Initiative Multi-Donor Trust Fund (Nigeria SSI MDTF) also for donors for matching co-financing and implementation of activities pertaining to the initiative.
The US donated $2 million to support the Safe Schools Initiative of the Nigeria Business Community and the Federal Government for education of children across the country.
The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, acknowledged the receipt of the donation six years ago at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Abuja.
“Today, I am happy to announce that the US Government, through the USAID, has donated N2 million into this Multi-Donor Trust Fund and we are here to witness the signing of the MOU.
“I am also happy to inform you that the government of Qatar, through the Qatar Foundation, has also made a contribution of $2million into the fund.
“As you are aware, the safe schools initiative was launched by the President and the UN Special Envoy on Education, Mr Gordon Brown in effort to make schools across the country a safe environment for children to learn.
“It is also to help teachers to teach, so that we will never again experience the abduction of school children from schools, like it happened in Chibok community’’, she said.
She added that since the inauguration of the initiative, the federal government had built strong partnerships with government donor agencies and the private sector.
According to her, a trust fund domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria has been set up with $10 million contribution from the federal government.
“We have also received donations of £2 million from Germany, and will shortly receive a grant of $1 million from the African Development Bank.
“Other donors include Norway with $1.5 million given through UNICEF, and the UK with £1million in technical assistance.
The minister said the initiative also received a $10 million pledge by a coalition of Nigerian business leaders.
We Don’t Have Information On Missing $30m – EFCC
Meanwhile, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said it does not have information about allegations that a $30 million safe schools fund is missing, mismanaged or diverted.
EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, when contacted to confirm if the EFCC is investigating the alleged missing money, said, ” I don’t have any information on that.”
Kastina Government Deploys Local Dogs In Schools
Meanwhile, the Katsina State government has deployed local dogs in boarding schools to compliment other security strategies against abduction and attacks on schools.
The state commissioner for Education, Dr Badamasi Lawal Charanchi, noted that the dogs were deployed due to their natural intelligence to fight evil.
He said, “Dogs are animals and by their nature and inbuilt capacity or mechanism I think they can smell far away than human beings, especially objects and persons.
“What many people don’t understand is that they are born with. It is part and parcel of them and that is why we look at psychology. So, whether a dog is trained or not, it has the powers to do what we want it to do but if you have a particular trainer for a particular thing you want it to do you can as well enhance the dog.
“They already have an inbuilt capacity to smell evil and that is the most important thing we want them to do.”