Safe School Initiative
Safe School Initiative

Banditry and Students’ Abduction: Revisiting the ‘Safe School Initiative’

By Mukhtar Ya’u Madobi

The wave at which insurgency, banditry and kidnappings are rising across Nigeria, without any sign of abating, is alarming.

These myriads of insecurity challenges have been inflicting wanton damages on political, socio-economic and educational institutions in the country.

Initially, the prime targets of kidnappers are wealthy individuals who can afford ransom of any sum to regain their freedom. But nowadays, the narrative has since dramatically changed, as individuals who live from hand to mouth have now become the targets of these blood-sucking demons.

Worse still, this heinous act has been extended to the education sector, looking at how mass abductions of students have become a norm.  These students end up in the kidnappers’ den and get subjected to different forms of tortures leading to premature death of some of them, while the lucky ones that survive usually go a long way battling with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) due to the horrific experience they were exposed to.

According to the latest edition of the Nigeria’s National Security Strategy (NNSS) 2019, a document released by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), retired Major General Babagana Monguno, it was emphasized that kidnapping, armed banditry and militia constituted about 40% incidences of national insecurity in Nigeria.

Reports have indicated that a number of schools have come under attacks by bandits since late last year in which innocent students were horrifically abducted. Records have shown that 20 attacks had been carried out on some Nigerian schools in which about 1,436 children were abducted and 16 dead, while 200 children are still unaccounted for.  It is with dismay that many schools were closed, thereby pushing the country’s education system on the cross.

Several schools in Northern Nigeria have been raided by bandits in which mass students were abducted. Notable among them are Government Science Secondary School Kankara, Katsina State, Government Girl Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State and Government Science College, Kagara in Niger state. Bandits have also stormed and kidnapped students from tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Examples are Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka and Greenfield University both in Kaduna State.

The continuous infiltration of Nigerian schools by bandits especially in Northwestern Nigeria is pervasive and disastrous. Currently, students of Bethel Baptist High School, Kujama in Kaduna State and Federal Government College, Yauri, in Kebbi State are still being held in bandits’ camps for more than four months with a slim hope of ever regaining freedom. Meanwhile, the abducted pupils of Salihu Tanko Islamiyyah School, Tegina, in Niger state did regain their freedom in August after spending about 88days in bandits’ enclave.

It was not long ago that UNICEF raised an alarm saying that at least 1million school children across more than 37 schools in Nigeria are afraid to return to school. According to the agency, the fears by the children were a result of insecurity in the country, especially abductions that had taken place in some schools across the country. Reports indicated that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school-children in the world. For every five children that are not attending school globally, one of them is Nigerian. And this is mostly attributed to the danger being faced by the students in their school from the anti-educational forces.

However, the question that is still begging for answer is, what are the necessary measures taken by the government towards preventing the recurrence of kidnappings in our schools?

Albeit, armed groups have since proliferated and became more sophisticated over the years. Henceforth, enhanced coordination between state and federal governments will surely improve the response to banditry and general insecurity. Part of this strategy should involve the use of early warning and early response systems involving the federal government, state governments, local vigilantes and community leaders.

Honestly, it will be apt, should the Federal Government return to the drawing board so as to invigorate the earlier established Safe School Initiative program. The Safe School Initiative was unveiled in 2014 in Abuja during the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA) by the Nigerian government in collaboration with the United Nations in order to rebuild, rehabilitate and restore normalcy in the education sector. It was launched in May 2014 after the abduction of more than 270 Chibok girls from their school in Borno State.

The program was established with the aim of building community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, community leaders and young people. In the longer term, the program will further focus on bolstering the safety of schools, by providing school guards and police in partnership with Nigerian authorities, training staff as school safety officers, and providing counsellors to schools at risk of attack.

 Additionally, this initiative constituted a series of research, campaign and programmatic activities in collaboration between Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for Education to raise the profile of safe schools and learning environments in times of conflict and emergencies.

The policy had been successfully launched and recorded tremendous successes in some countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan and Latin America. Safe School Initiative offers supervision, services and teaching in saving children’s lives in the short term and helping them to develop in the long term.

Presently, it is heartwarming to learn that the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has commissioned an all-female squad mandated to safeguards schools from any harm by either bandits or kidnappers. This is part of its efforts to promote Safe School Initiative and provide full-proof security for schools as directed by the federal government.

However, the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawal has lamented that the Safe School Initiative program in Nigeria was designed to fail. This is due to the fact that the Education Ministry was not involved in the funding or application of funds for the program, as all these activities are entirely handled by the Ministry of Finance.

The time is long overdue to stem the tide of banditry and kidnappings, as Nigeria must be liberated from the hands of ‘aliens who have turned to blood-sucking demons.’ Otherwise, this will retard the bright future of our children and the country they tend to inherit.

Mukhtar wrote from Kano State via [email protected]