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Time to checkmate bandits’ assault on schools

Barely 24 hours after the nation rejoiced following the release of the remaining 14 students and two staff of Greenfield University, Kaduna after spending 49 days in captivity; Nigeria was once again plunged into despair with the news of another mass abduction of students.

At about 4.30pm on Sunday, at least 200 students of an Islamiyya school located at Tegina in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State became the latest victims of what has sadly now become a recurring blight in the country. The Tegina abduction was the fifth this year.

Just last month, the last batch of the 39 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Kaduna State, kidnapped on March 11, 2021 in their college, was released after 56 days in the captivity of their abductors. In getting the remaining captives of Greenfield University, a private institution in Kasarami, Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, who were abducted on April 20, family members admitted that a sizeable ransom was paid.

The clearly angry parents insisted that contrary to claims from security operatives that they were working hard to secure the release of the students and workers; it was solely their efforts that ensured the saga ended on a good note.

These spate of attacks and invasion of educational institutions, and the subsequent abduction and killing of students and teachers by armed bandits and the Boko Haram terrorist group, has left much to be desired in the face of the attendant horrendous scars unleashed on education and psyche of the traumatised students. Also, on February 26, this year, armed bandits raided Government Girls Science Secondary School, a boarding school in Jangebe in Zamfara State, where 279 female students between 10 and 18 years were kidnapped, who were all later released by the abductors on March 2, but not without ransom paid by the Federal Government, which, however, claimed that their release was facilitated through negotiation. Nine days before the Jangebe incident, the outlaws, on February 17, invaded Government College in Kagara, Niger State.

At least, no fewer than 42 people, comprising 27 students, three teachers and nine family members were kidnapped, while one student was not lucky, as he paid the supreme price as he was killed in the raid. The hostages of the Kagara kidnapping only regained their freedom on February 27. In December 2020, kidnappers abducted 334 schoolboys in Katsina State, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, and were not freed until the government paid ransom. Still on the endless deluge of invasion of schools, in 2014, Boko Haram attacked Government Girls’ College, Chibok in Yobe State, kidnapped over 276 schoolgirls and razed the school’s hostels while the students were writing their West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Also, on February 19, 2018, 110 schoolgirls, aged between 11 and 19 years old, were kidnapped by the same Boko Haram terrorist group at the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi in Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State. During the attack on the school, five schoolgirls died. But, while all other kidnapped students were released in March 2018, the lone Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, who refused to abandon her Christian faith and convert to Islam as threatened by her abductors, is still being held in the kidnappers’ captivity.

It is thus clear that holding schoolchildren hostage for ransom has today become a new twist in making money in Nigeria by bandits, Boko Haram terrorist group and another jihadist group, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), which were said to have made a whooping sum of about $18 million from such acts.

Ogun and Lagos states have also not been spared as they also had their bad taste of the kidnapping saga, when in January 2017, five students and three staff members of the Nigerian-Turkish International College, Isheri, Ogun State were kidnapped by unknown armed men, and on March 2, 2016, gunmen invaded the female hostel of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary School in Ikorodu, Lagos, where they seized the victims, including five female students, a hostel mistress, a cook and a teacher.

The abductors, who were later arrested by the operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad allegedly, were said to have received N5.4 million as ransom. According to the global children’s agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 1000 students have been kidnapped from schools in the northern part of the country since December. The incessant attacks and invasion of schools by bandits is a wrong signal to the nation’s education development, which has become comatose following the multifaceted challenges confronting the sector over the years.

What makes the sad tales of attacks and unwarranted obsessive invasion of schools by the bandits to kidnap students and teachers for ransom most disturbing is the apparent manner with which this has been allowed to fester unchecked by the government that is obligatorily to provide unfettered or unencumbered security for the innocent school children.

This very act was upsetting to learn that between 2011 and 2020, Nigerians had coughed out about $18 million in ransom payments by either the government or parents/relatives of the victims to secure the release of their young loved ones.

It will be naïve, in a sense, to exonerate the government at all levels from the blame and shenanigans that has posed a great danger and threat to further jeopardise and befuddle the entire nation’s education system, for the failure to do the needful and secure the schools.

To say the least, the current terror unleashed on schools by the bandits and other terrorist groups should be stopped, otherwise the Federal Government, which controls the security apparatus of the country, should be held liable for the fate of the victims. With the threat to invade more schools in other parts of the country, other than the North, the government has to, as a matter of exigency; improve not only on the nation’s security architecture, but also beef up security within and around all educational institutions across the federation.

This is not the time to trade away the children’s education on the altar of irresponsible government, and utter disregard for the security of the citizenry, as a cardinal bond and obligation of a responsive government. It is no other time than now for the government to rise up to its duty to save the schools and the entire education sector from bandits, who are determined to frustrate education development and create a gamut of an illiterate population of Nigerian children.

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