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Make Nigeria’s schools safe again

On Thursday, February 25, the Association of Orphanages and Homes Operators of Nigerian (AOHON), led by Dr. Gabriel Oyediji, told journalists in Lagos that children had never been so vulnerable and insecure in the history of Nigeria as they were now. A few hours after Oyediji spoke, gunmen swooped on hapless female children at Government Girls’ Secondary School, Jangebe, Talata Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara State. The gunmen reportedly abducted about 300 schoolgirls. The abduction, which occurred about 2a.m., is the fourth of such large scale abductions in recent months by terrorists in North- West Nigeria.

In fact, it is the fifth since 2014. The gunmen were said to have overrun a military checkpoint close to the school before storming the school. Nigeria, it seems, now takes pride in negotiating with bandits, gunmen, terrorists and local gangs for the release of students instead of protecting the innocent schoolchildren against abduction. Criminals of different shades and character and nomenclature have now found a lucrative business in storming schools at any hour of the day to abduct defenceless children. It started with the abduction on April 14, 2014, of 276, mostly Christian female students, from their school in Chibok town in Borno State.

The terror group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the mass abduction. Some of the schoolgirls died, some reportedly escaped, while some were released up till January 2018. But the terror group is still holding on to one of the girls, Leah Sharibu. Also, about 5:30p.m. on February 19, 2018, Boko Haram struck again.

The group abducted about 110 schoolgirls whose ages ranged between 11 and 19 years from Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, at Bulabulin in Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State. As if to create a gender balance in their operations, the abductors shifted their attention to schoolboys. On December 11, 2020, armed gang members attacked a boys’ boarding school, the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, where over 800 pupils were housed.

The gunmen, who reportedly rode on motorcycles, abducted almost 400 pupils, in an operation, which lasted more than one hour. As if taunting the Nigerian government, the kidnappers struck on a day the Commander of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired General, was in his hometown of Daura, Katsina State. After the drama always associated with students’ abductions in Nigeria, on December 17, Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State said that 344 of the students had been freed from where they were being held in the bush in neighbouring Zamfara State. Also, a few days before the Zamfara abduction, precisely on February 17, 2021, gunmen strode into another secondary school at Kagara in Niger State and killed a student.

They abducted 27 other schoolchildren in the attack, which occurred about 3a.m. They also kidnapped three members of the school’s staff and 12 members of their families. It is unfortunate that this is happening in Nigeria, particularly a region, which has a huge challenge with school enrolment.

As of 2018, the gross enrolment rate in elementary school in the country stood at only 68.3 per cent. Also in 2018, literacy rate for females in the North-Central was 49.6 per cent, North-East (31.8 per cent), North-West (29 per cent).

This is the region where government has, through negligence, made it easy for gunmen to abduct schoolchildren, particularly schoolgirls, without any challenge. In a viral video, a terrorist leader says one of the reasons he and others decided to take up arms against the country is that they were neglected by the nation’s leaders who refused to give them education. Is it then a stroke of coincidence that the so-called bandits are now denying children the right to be educated? It may not be out of place to demand to know what has become of the Safe Schools Initiative (SSI) aimed at protecting the right to learn in Nigeria.

The Safe Schools Initiative, a response to children and schools affected by insurgency in the North, was launched in May 2014, at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Nigeria, by a coalition of Nigerian business leaders, working with the United Nations (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, including the kidnapping of the 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, the previous month.

The SSI, which is based on best practices from global standards and initiatives, emphasises that safe schools are needed for education to continue and highlights school and community-level actions and special provisions for schools in high-risk areas. The initiative has probably died an unnatural death. If Nigeria is desirous of preserving itself, then it is time abductions, killings, maiming and other forms of maltreatment of children were stopped. We urge the Federal Government to save Nigerian schoolchildren from bloodbaying terrorists, who the country has shamelessly tagged bandits.

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