Insight

School safety: Lack of security measures as albatross

The heightened challenge of insecurity in Nigerian schools is forcing many students out of school. KAYODE OLANREWAJU reports

Like many other states, several public schools in Ekiti State are without perimeter fencing. Though the state government was not forthcoming on measures put in place or what it has done on school safety, visits to some communities such as Iyin-Ekiti, Aramoko-Ekiti, Emure, Omuo and Erio-Ekiti, however, reveal that several schools across the state have no fences, while fences in some schools had either collapsed or too low to prevent any incursion by bandits/hoodlums.

Apart from lack of poor fencing in some schools, further investigations showed that a public school at Aramoko-Ekiti is sharing a fence with a gas filling station, which could pose danger to the school environment, the children and teachers. Reacting, the Chairman of All Proprietors of Private Schools in Ekiti State, Rev. Oluwafemi Williams, pointed out that the school proprietor were already partnering with security agencies in the state on security despite the fact that there were no reported cases of kidnapping in schools in the state.

“We have met with officers of the Civil Defence, who expressed readiness to station their men in some of our schools. Again, as school resumes for the new school session, we are determined to be more proactive on security measures more so with the partnership with security agencies, particularly in schools with boarding facilities,” he added.

It is a worst-case scenario in Niger State, one of the hotbeds of bandits. Investigations reveal that several schools have been shut by the government owing to banditry, while children in primary and secondary schools have been relocated to other schools in areas considered to be safe. In most affected communities, students in boarding schools have been withdrawn to attend day schools. It was gathered that six months after students of Government Science Secondary School, Kagara in Rafi Local Government Area of the state, were freed by their abductors, many of them had stopped attending the school.

The school, which was used as one of the training grounds for a combined security task force by the state government, is currently deserted. But, the state Commissioner for Education, Hajiya Hannatu Salihu said various safety measures and security architecture had been put in place by the state government to secure school environments from attack and abduction of students and teachers.

So far, only 25 boarding schools across the state are left to operate, while no fewer than 10 others have been closed for fear of invasion by bandits, even as the government provided the Senior Secondary School (SS 3) students writing the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) alternatives centres in Minna, the state capital, and other ‘safer schools’ to write their examination.

As at February 2021, the state government, it was gathered, had ordered the closure of all public schools in the “insecurity prone areas” including privately-owned schools with some of the students now attending schools in Bosso, Chanchaga, Suleja, Paikoro and Shiroro Local Government Areas of the state. Despite this, some of the students ex-pressed fear of being kidnapped and vowed that nothing would make them return to school unless the government put in place adequate security.

Reliving his 10-day experience in the captivity of bandits, a student lamented, saying: “What has the state government done so far to secure the schools after invasion by bandits?” The Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Ahmed Matane, said the government has mapped out strategies and approaches that would address the issue of insecurity in schools. He said plans are underway to open “a database” for all the schools to improve security, saying the database would include details about each pupil and their parents, schools, teachers, as well as families of staff members. Also, the state Commissioner for Education, Hajiya Hannatu Salihu, noted that the government had resolved after an emergency consultative meeting with the leadership of NAPPS, Association of Model Islamic Schools (AMIS), Chairman of NSUBEB, heads of education agencies, Directors in the ministry and other stakeholders of the education sector in the state to open the database based on the outcome of the meeting of the Education Ministry with officials of various security agencies in the state.

The state Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello recently unveiled a combined security agency, consisting of over 1,000 military, police, Civil Defence personnel and vigilance corps to combat insecurity and ensure the peace and safety in schools. “We are investing in security equipment and other logistics to help in the fight and to reduce casualties,” he noted. But the Commissioner, who said funding, had been a major challenge added that funds would be captured in the supplementary budget to beef up security in schools. The state’s National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) Chairman, Femi Alalade said measures had been put in place by the association to ensure the safety of children in their schools. He said it has been agreed that private schools in LGAs where attacks are prominent should be temporarily closed for the safety and security of students and teachers.

He also added that private schools now hire private security personnel and local vigilantes, but still require the presence of the police, even as he noted that since provision of security is capital intensive, the state government has been supporting them as well as some PTAs that levy themselves. On its part, Edo State government had embarked on certain security measures in view of the July 26, 2021 kidnap of 18 students of Naval College of Engineering, Sapele, Delta State, who were abducted at Iruekpen, along the Benin- Ekpoma Road by gunmen, as well as two students and a lecturer of the Institute of Construction Technology, Uromi, Esan North East Local Government Area, abducted on March 10, 2021 by gunmen. Though the state government and school authorities have taken some proactive measures, they were not ready to divulge such due to the sensitivity of security issues. For instance, in some schools, such as Igbinedion Education Centre, Benin, the perimeter fencing had not only been extended, it also engaged mobile policemen and vigilantes as day/night guards.

At Imaguero College in Benin, the management had already initiated the “School Base Security Arrangements,” under which additional security personnel were engaged with the help of the PTA. A source at the school said the Governor Godwin Obaseki-led administration had in collaboration with the PTA put in place adequate security arrangements with the establishment of “School Base Security” comprising officials of the state vigilance groups to provide additional security. According to the state Permanent Secretary, Post Primary Education Board, Mr. Ighodaro David, the state government is not taking the issue of adequate security in educational institutions with kid gloves to protect all public schools from attacks by bandits. In Kaduna State, despite perimeter fencing in some schools, bandits still attack schools, abducting over 150 and 300 students at a go without any challenge from either the police, military or other security apparatus.

Governor Nasir El-Rufai recently said that a military onslaught was underway in the state to destroy the camps of the bandits. Some of the schools attacked in the state include Universal Basic Education (UBE), Primary School in Rema in the much terrorised Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of the state; Government Secondary School, Ikara Local Government Area; Bethel Baptist High School, located in Damishi Village in Chikun LGA in which the abductors demanded over N250 million to release the students.

Though, the state Commissioner for Education, Jaffaru Sani did not respond to calls put to his phones, a competent source in the state’s Ministry of Education, however, disclosed that “he is not aware of any policy on school security initiated by the state government.” “I don’t think there is anything like that and if there should be anything to that effect it will actually come from the Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs, which is in charge of security,” he noted. Meanwhile, a former President of the Association of Private Schools Owners in the state, Dr. Vincent Ogini said school owners were already doing their best to protect their schools from invasion by bandits. Ogini also lamented the closure of schools in suburbs of the state over insecurity challenges, saying this is not good for the educational development of the children. “What I expected the state government to do is to put in place adequate security measures that would curb the activities of bandits and discourage their operation in those areas,” he added.

In Ebonyi State, where there had been no reported cases of students’ abduction, the government is said to have initiated security measures to secure private and public secondary schools across the state. This is done through the use of security guards, who are usually stationed at the schools’ gates to monitor the movement of visitors or students. But the security guards are mainly old people and are not armed; a development that worries stakeholders. Findings also indicate that most primary and secondary schools in the state are without perimeter fencing to guard against infiltration by hoodlums and bandits who have been invading the state in the last few months. Some students and pupils, who spoke on the issue, are particularly frightened that their schools might be attacked by hoodlums and bandits because of lack of perimeter fencing and other security measures.

At Overcomers Secondary School, Ozibo, Echi-Aba Development Centre of Ebonyi LGA, the students and teachers expressed anxiety that the school might be attacked by bandits given its vulnerability to attack. Bandits allegedly wrote a letter to the community recently that they were coming to attack the area. However, efforts to speak with the school proprietress failed as she refused to talk on the issue. But one of the teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed worry over the porous situation of the school. “We don’t actually have a good perimeter fence as you can see. We can easily be attacked especially given the current insecurity situation. There is anxiety even among the villagers that herdsmen may invade the community. This is why we ordered our students and pupils to go home until the tension was doused,” the teacher said. “The challenges we are facing in this school are numerous. We don’t have perimeter fencing and most often the villagers come into the school premises to molest our female students without hindrance, because the school is porous,” some students said. Investigations in some schools in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) concerning heightened insecurity, especially in areas like Tungamaje, Pegi and Kwali, which are hotspots of kidnapping and other criminal activities, revealed that certain measures had already been taken to fortify school premises. Though the government has continued to pay lip service to security matters, public schools, according to findings, are grappling either with the problem of broken perimeter fencing, low perimeter fences, incomplete perimeter fencing as well as the use of unprofessional and ineffective security personnel. A visit to LEA Primary School at Tungamaje, for instance, revealed that the school is being guarded by three old security men, who are in their late 60’s and a youth, while the barb wire on the school fence does not cover the entire wall, with some parts of the fence at the back of the school already being pulled down. Sadly, this is the case with majority of the public schools in Kubwa, Pegi, Kuje, Tungamaje, Lugbe, Kwali, Garki, Wuse, Maitama and Central Area, where they are managed by inefficient security guards, who are too old for the job. A resident of the area, who simply identified himself as Magashi Aliyu, said: “The Babas (guards) do not have the capacity to secure the schools because they are old men, whose main duty is to open and close the school gate, instead of hiring young, agile and strong boys as security guards in schools.” A teacher at Government Secondary Schools in the heart of the FCT described the security situation in the school as “worrisome,” even as she lamented the inability of the school to control access of strange persons into the school premises. Due to frequent kidnappings in the area,the management of Government Science Secondary School, the PTA and FCT Education Secretariat in collaboration with the police and vigilance group are working to adequately protect the school. While the government is paying for the security personnel stationed at the school gate, the PTA is paying the vigilantes, and the school is funding some other security measures As part of safety measures, FCT Education Secretariat says it has organised series of orientation programmes for all school administrators under its jurisdiction on how to handle security matters. In private schools, apart from fixing perimeter fencing, they have also engaged modern security practices with the deployment of modern gadgets to efficiently monitor activities in the school environment. Apart from hiring young and agile security personnel from special security outfits, private schools carried out proper fencing of their schools to restrict access to the schools. Investigations also confirmed that several private schools have installed active Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras positioned in strategic locations on the school premises, while security reviews are being undertaken regularly to address existing gaps. At Premiere Academy, Lugbe there are at least 54 CCTV cameras installed at strategic locations to efficiently monitor activities of staff, students and visitor, or any trespasser. Principal of the school, Mr. Chris Akinsowon, who said the school was particular about safety of students and staff, said: “We have about 30 internal and external security guards who are positioned at different security beats.” Also, private schools are demonstrating a higher level of commitment to school safety, such that Bankys Private School with perimeter fencing also put in place functional CCTV cameras, solar lights, vibrant security guards and community policing. Most of the schools, as a policy, do not allow motorcycles, tricycles or cabs not registered with the school to pick the students under any circumstance. Its Proprietress and NAPPS FCT President, Olusola Bankole revealed that every private school owner is encouraged to adopt guidelines initiated by the association following the consequences of any lapses or security breach or abduction of students. But the private operators still insist that the security of schools and children is the primary responsibility of the Nigeria Police and other security agencies, not schools or the education ministries. Responding, the Federal Ministry of Education said it had already set up a committee with a mandate to find lasting solutions to attacks on schools, and ensure the safety of students and teachers. The Director Press for the Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Gong, said the ministry was fully committed to ensuring schools safety. He however admitted that there is little the ministry alone could do to provide security. According to him, there must be synergy among school authorities, government and law enforcement agencies in that regard. “The government is taking the issue of security high; we are taking it very seriously, but we have limitations because the primary responsibility of providing security does not end with the ministry of education. “The Permanent Secretary has set up a committee to think outside the box by building a sound communication architecture around our schools in such a way that it will make it almost impossible for bandits to come in such large numbers, operate and get away with it.” On the critical roles of communities in school safety, the Principal of Government Science Technical College (GSTC), Kwali, Oyawale Olusegun, spoke of effective communication between the schools as well as healthy relationship with host communities as key to timely information dissemination on unusual movements which may constitute a security threat. According to FCT Director, Administration and Finance, Mallam Leramoh Abdulrazaq, the insecurity challenges witnessed in some parts of the country motivated the FCT Authority to adopt some security measures, with intensive monitoring and inspection targeted at safeguarding schools in the territory.

In the face of emerging security challenges, the Education Secretariat has continued to strengthen security personnel and surveillance with strict adherence to security tips in ensuring conducive learning environment,” he added. School safety has been a major concern in Borno State, where immediate closure of all schools across the state had been ordered due to persistent security challenges. But, the good news is that schools in the state, closed at the wake of the insurgence will reopen today, October 27 for a new school year. Some of the schools have also returned to their communities, while those considered not safe will still operate in learning centres created by the government in Maiduguri, the state capital. With the closure of schools, the state government created learning centres, where the students are merged as measure to ensure the safety of pupils, students and their teachers. Some of the learning centres in which about six to 10 schools were merged to form a learning centre, are strategically located in clusters few metres away from the military police headquarters or formations. The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu during a workshop organised to review the legal framework on Safe School Declaration, regretted that over 2,295 teachers had been killed in various attacks by Boko Haram in N’East; 19,000 others displaced in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in the last nine years, while an estimated 1,500 schools were destroyed with over 1,200 casualties among teachers and students. Also, the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and former Chairman of the state wing of NUT, Alhaji Bulma Abiso, noted that as at 2018, no fewer than 537 teachers had been killed by Boko Haram in Borno State alone. The former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, had during inspection of schools in N’East and in line with the Safe School Initiatives, declared that at least four policemen would be deployed to each school in the region. Again, the concept of a learning centre in which most of the schools were merged together within the Maiduguri metropolis and other major towns that were considered relatively safe across the state, made learning possible in the face of the challenging security situation in the state. According to a teacher at GGSS Mafa at Yerwa Learning Centre, Ishaku Ibrahim, no fewer than 10 policemen are attached to the school, in addition to five NSCDC personnel and over 10 Civilian JTF members. “We feel more secured because we have policemen, members of the CJTF, hunters and men of the Police Rapid Response Squad (RRS), who maintain security in the school,” the Head-Teacher of Yale Primary School, Konduga, Abubakar Izghe, said. But further investigations also revealed that with the gradual return of peace to the state, the state government has commenced the relocation of the schools back to their communities. A resident of Askira Uba, whose child is in GSS Askira, Alhaji Garba Abdullahi lauded the presence of the military in the school, saying the school is not only safe now, but also the entire community. On security levy, the parents were not levied since most of the security personnel hired by the schools are being trained by the security agencies in collaboration with the state government, UNICEF and NGOs such as Save the Children free.

 

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