A couple of days ago, Nigerians woke up to another devastating news that some students and teachers of Government Science College, Kagara in Niger State had been kidnapped by gunmen. Two days earlier, gunmen had also abducted at least 30 travellers along Tegina-Zungeru highway in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State. The gunmen also killed three members of the local vigilante group which attempted to foil their operation.
As if those were not bad enough, a day later, gunmen again attacked some communities in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State. In that weird operation, a resident was said to have been killed and at least two others injured while a yet-to-be ascertained number of persons were also abducted.
It is trite to say that Niger State is gradually turning into the epicentre of banditry in the North central zone of the country. Indigenes of the state and other observers of this unfortunate development, have since drawn the attention of the authorities to it without much reaction to assuage the jarred feelings of the people if only to reassure them that something is being done.
These series of kidnappings call to mind the sad cases of abduction of school children that are threatening to ruin the nation’s unstable education system. We recall that Boko Haram gained international notoriety by the abduction of 276 girls in Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok in April 2014. Six years after, some of those girls are still in captivity.
Months earlier, precisely on February 25, 2014, Boko Haram terrorists burned to death 59 pupils of Federal Government college of Buni Yadi, Yobe State by setting their hostels ablaze when the students resisted their abduction. Similarly on February 19, 2018, 110 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State. While all the kidnapped girls were subsequently released, Leah Sharibu the only Christian girl is still in captivity.
Again, in December last year, gunmen kidnapped 333 pupils of the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in the town of Kankara, Katsina state. The recent abduction of students in Niger State has brought back the grim reality and sad memories that our schools are simply not safe anymore.
Sadly, schools have become soft targets for insurgents and bandits as they believe the government will take over the negotiations and payment of ransoms whenever a successful abduction operation takes place. Accordingly, the criminal elements have become resilient in their nefarious trade.
It noteworthy that 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, Gordon Brown, the Global Business Coalition for Education and A World at School. It was set up in response to the growing number of attacks on the right to education, after the kidnapping of the Chibok girls.
The report, which is based on best practices from global standards and initiatives, emphasizes that safe schools are needed for education to continue and highlighted school and community-level actions and special provisions for schools in high-risk areas.
The Safe Schools Initiative, at the start, was expected to reach over 500 schools, especially in vulnerable areas, through a $10 million fund pledged. The federal government committed an additional $10 million and subsequently commitments were made by the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, and the African Development Bank to support the laudable initiative.
With the recent kidnap cases, it is frightening to surmise that the safe school initiative has failed. Boko Haram and bandits are still attacking and abducting pupils and students.
However, it is gratifying to note that President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Armed Forces and Police, to ensure immediate and safe return of all the captives in the latest series of abduction. The President has also dispatched to Minna, Niger State a team of security chiefs to coordinate the rescue operation and meet with state officials, community leaders, as well as parents and staff of the College.
This Newspaper, accordingly, calls for the speedy rescue of the Kagara school children and other children still in captivity of the insurgents. The frequency of these abductions has become ridiculous and embarrassing to Nigeria and its citizenry. And it has lingered for too long. We also call for the closure of boarding schools in states that are still bedevilled by the menace of banditry and Insurgency. It is pertinent to reiterate our call that the military must, by all means, end Insurgency and banditry once and for all.