For those familiar with the term, Boko Haram, it literarily means education is forbidden. When that terrorist group started by kidnapping school children in Dapchi, Chibok and elsewhere in the North east and killing others in Bunu Yadi many Nigerians felt and still do that it was madness that had gone to the market. But because the horrendous tendency was smeared in politics, there was no concerted effort on the part of the ruling class to check the trend. It is no surprise, then, that it metastasized and became a real threat to education specially in parts of the North.
From North east, it has moved to North west and North central. Nigerians have lost count of how many school children who were kidnapped for ransom. Some actually lost their lives in the ordeal. Presumably, tired of paying ransom and unable to effectively secure the schools, the governments in those zones are succumbing to the pressure or is it blackmail of those criminals.
Since last week, there have been media reports of one state after another shutting down schools, in particular, boarding schools, so as to check the activities of those terrorists targeted at school children. Experts are already raising the alarm on the likely implication of this development in this part of the country that has the highest out-of-school children in Africa. As it is, the North of the country is touted to be educationally disadvantaged. Reacting in this manner to such a critical matter that affects the future of the nation is like taking the easy way out of a problem that requires a painstaking and decisive action. Without doubt, it will worsen the situation.
This newspaper is not only worried but scared that the nation may be losing the war on education to Boko Haram. This must not be allowed to happen and that is why we are calling on the states that have already taken that line of action to retrace their steps and reopen the schools. Nigeria cannot afford to begin to be compared with Afghanistan under the Taliban that resents education especially for the girl-child.
In our considered opinion, it is cowardly for any government to consider shutting down schools in this modern age even for security reasons. It is ill-advised to take that line of action because of the inanities of a criminal gang willfully given a free rein by officialdom pussyfooting when it should be firm and resolute.
We earlier warned on this page that matters will get to this when the authorities decided to cuddle terrorists by appeasing them when they should have dealt with them in a manner that would have sent a clear message to others intending to use the schools as a bargaining chip. The issue would have been resolved effectively when it was only Boko Haram. It wasn’t. Now with the involvement of ISWAP, gunmen simplistically dismissed as bandits and of course professional kidnappers who have turned it into an industry, it certainly has assumed a more complicated hue.
Still that, in our opinion, ought not to be a sufficient ground for the governments to cave in. It is pertinent to emphasise that closing the schools because of a bunch of rascals must not be seen as the solution to a matter as critical to the future socio-economic development of the nation as education.
We have repeatedly in this newspaper commended the gallantry of the men and women of the armed forces some of who pay the supreme price while trying to secure the country. For them, it had been a long story of one sacrifice after another. Still, we think it will not serve any useful purpose for one to stop running when the race is not over.
We are convinced that the nation can count on the doggedness and bravery of her disciplined forces. We wish we could say the same about the political class who, by their actions and inactions, are making the onslaught of these rogue elements seem intractable.
In our opinion, under no circumstance must the Boko haram and elements like them be given the impression that they can do much. Because they cannot. Instead of shutting down the schools, what we think is needed is a holistic overhaul of the school system. The governments, instead of shutting down the schools, must reinforce security around them. What are those humongous security votes for?
It is also our opinion that we owe ourselves a duty to avert this looming disaster aimed at the soul of the nation’s young and impressionable minds. Again, that must not be allowed to happen. Let Nigerians continue to read it as story in other parts of the world.
It is on this note that we call on Northern state governments to adopt a more realistic and acceptable approach to the issue of kidnapping of school children. They must necessarily engage the communities and parents who must be made to understand that the security of their wards while in school should be a collective responsibility.
Furthermore, the security agencies must also add verve to their admissibly over-stretched capacities to save the school system in the North. The schools must remain open otherwise we will be giving the Boko Haram something to really smile about. And that will not be good enough.