As schools closed for the 2017/2018 session, attention has temporarily shifted to insecurity posed to children during the two-month holiday, with the timely advice to parents to give maximum attention to them while the vacation lasted.
Worried by rising kidnap and rape cases in the state, Lagos State government, in 2017, introduced measures, during the vacation, to forestall any ugly happening in public schools. It directed permanent secretaries and tutors-general of the six educational districts to stop all forms of vacation teaching for the rest of the year.
The measures were reportedly in response to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s expressed need to step up security in public schools. Thus, the vacation period was used by government representatives, in meetings with stakeholders, to deliberate and find a lasting solution to the alarming trend. Drawing useful lessons from the Lagos example, we want to remind various governments that unless they deploy the holiday period to review and strengthen the security architecture in and around schools, students would return by mid-September to face the same insecurity they left behind for the vacation.
Many schools have witnessed abductions/ kidnappings and deadly attacks on students by insurgents and kidnappers.
The most audacious were the April 14, 2014 abduction of 276 students of Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State and February 19, 2018 seizure of 111 students of Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi in Yobe State. Both incidents were carried out by Boko Haram jihadists, who, earlier on February 25, 2014, invaded the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, killed 58 students and set the school’s 24 buildings ablaze.
Following the Chibok episode, Lagos and Ogun states became a fertile ground for hoodlums, who prowled on schools to abduct for ransom. For instance, on February 29, 2016, gunmen attacked the Barbington Macaulay Junior Seminary College (BMJS), Ikorodu, Lagos and kidnapped three female students, who were held in captivity for several weeks before being released after payment of N5.4 million ransom.
The following October, armed bandits invaded the Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, Epe, also in Lagos State, seized four students and two teachers and took them away in their (hoodlums’) waiting boat. In May 2017, six students of the same school were abducted.
They were rescued by security operatives about two months later. Interestingly, “in response to the increasing number of attacks on the right to education… and as part of the growing movement to ‘Bring Back Our Girls’” post- Chibok schoolgirls’ saga, the “Safe School Initiative” was launched in May 2014, during the World Economic Forum in Abuja (WEFA).
The initiative, with an initial $10 million fund, is a coalition of Nigerian business leaders, working with the UN Special Envoy for Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, the Global Business Coalition for Education and A World at School. Starting with 500 schools as the pilots in the northern states, the initiative focuses on school and community interventions, with special measures for the most at-risk and vulnerable children; and on building community security groups, consisting of teachers, parents, police, community leaders and young people themselves, to promote safe zones for education.
In the longer-term, it will focus on bolstering the physical protection of schools; providing school guards and police in partnership with the Nigerian authorities; training staff as school safety officers; and providing communications tools and school counsellors. It will also work to help schools create security plans, and work with the government to develop a rapid response system so that “even when faced with attacks, response units are set up to quickly repair or rebuild, and replace destroyed education material.”
How much progress has this laudable enterprise made, considering that four years after its inauguration, Boko Haram elements were able to abduct 111 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State, in February this year?
Which is why concerned citizens were baffled and worried that at a time all available resources, both local and international, were being mobilised to solve the insecurity in schools, the National Assembly deemed it expedient to cut the security vote to the 104 Unity Schools across the country. Hence, at the signing of the 2018 budget into law, President Muhammadu Buhari noted: “The provision for security infrastructure in the 104 Unity Schools across the country, cut by N3 billion at a time of securing Nigerian students against acts of terrorism, ought to be a major concern of government.”
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