The recent abduction of over 300 students of Government Girls Science Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State, horrendous as it is, has left the world thoroughly benumbed. Speechless. What is actually disturbing is that the method of the criminals follows the same pattern which calls to question the effort of the government at all levels to secure the schools. From Chibok to Buni Yadi and Dapchi, it would have been fair to assume that some lessons have been learnt on how to protect the students and their teachers from the evil hands of those marauders.
Late last year, more than 300 school children were abducted from Government Science College, Kankara in Katsina State. Similarly, gunmen attacked a school in Niger State after midnight killing, at least, one student and abducting more than 40 including students and teachers. Bandits also shot dead one student in an incident at the Government Science College, Kagara. About 26 students and 16 staff and family members were abducted.
Following the first mass kidnap of school children in 2014, efforts were made to keep the schools safe. An initiative to help protect schools in Nigeria called The Safe Schools Initiative was launched in response to the growing number of such attacks. The Initiative was billed to start by reaching more than 500 schools in the Northern states of Nigeria through a $10 million fund pledged by a coalition of Nigerian business leaders, working with the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, the Global Business Coalition for Education and A World at School.
The initiative was designed to build community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, community leaders and young people themselves. In the longer term, the programme will focus on bolstering the safety of schools – providing school guards and police in partnership with Nigerian authorities, training staff as school safety officers, and providing counselors for schools at risk of attack.
That these criminals are still having a field day raises pertinent questions not just about the Safe School Initiative but also about the commitment of the authorities to, in a proactive manner, guarantee the safety of the students who are unduly exposed to avoidable risks as they strive to avail themselves the benefits that education provides for them to actualize their potentials.
With what happened at Jangebe, President Muhammadu Buhari has promised that it will be the last by any terror group to try to interfere with the education of young Nigerians. We believe him in the sincere hope that words will be matched with action so as to bring this whole madness to an end.
While we are at it, this newspaper considers it pertinent to urge the federal government to revive and commence immediately the implementation of the Safe Schools Initiative as part of measures to protect school children from further attacks.
For various reasons, Nigeria has an embarrassingly high number of out of school children, presently put at 13 million. Majority of these are girls who are already exposed to other cultural practices that put their education into jeopardy. These attacks on schools, if not effectively checked, will compound an already bad situation.
Another aspect of this nightmare that has refused to go away is that teachers are not left out in the attacks. Already, the country has a deficit in professional teachers. If these attacks continue and people begin to see the teaching profession as risky, it will definitely cripple the education sector. There is already a pervasive feeling of anxiety among parents who may begin to use these attacks as excuse to withdraw their children from school. While not encouraging them to follow through that line of thought, it will be grossly insensitive not to see reason with them. If it happens, it will translate into further underdevelopment of the country.
In response to this sad situation, a cross section of the public are of the view that government ought to declare a state of emergency on school safety and initiate a comprehensive strategy that will ensure that the security of students and their teachers is guaranteed while keeping away those criminal elements.
This newspaper whole-heartedly supports the recent moves by the Senate to look into the funding of the Safe School Initiative. We recall that the Upper legislative chamber had earlier mandated the Committees on Education (Basic and Secondary); and Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND to investigate the utilization of over $20 million (USD) funding proposed and budgeted for the initiative.
The investigation is to cover all monies donated by foreign governments and agencies to the initiative.
We support every effort on the part of the federal government to revitalize that initiative. If any money meant for the project is not properly accounted for, appropriate sanctions must be meted out on whoever the culprits are. But, by all and any means possible, the schools must be made safe for the students and their teachers. It is in the nation’s best interest.