Two comments by high ranking Nigerians recently have brought to the fore the dangers the education sector in the country is facing at the moment; attacks on schools and the abduction of students, especially in the northern part of the country.
One of such comments is the one made by the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba during an interview to the effect that the Nigerian Government cannot secure every school in the face of an unprecedented onslaught by bandits and terrorists, who have found a new business in attacking schools and abducting vulnerable children for ransom.
The minister, during the interview with a national daily, passed the responsibility of securing schools to school managers and locals, declaring that Nigerians must be vigilant so as to end attacks on schools and abduction of students. He also added that schools have been directed to report any security threat to the nearest security agency.
On what the government is doing to secure schools, the minister said: “Eternal vigilance is the price for security. Every nation is always concerned about the consciousness of its people. The Federal Government cannot secure every house. Everybody needs to be vigilant. We have passed this message to all our schools so that anywhere they are, if there is any threat, they know the nearest security agency to contact.
“Almost all the schools in Nigeria, whether private or owned by the Federal Government, are mostly all fenced, except maybe some state schools.
“As you may also be aware, even if you put up a fence, these people (bandits) have been known to come through gates.
“So, perimeter fencing, by themselves, are not too effective. The security consciousness is the thing. If you hear where some of them are being held, you will know that it is a question of self-consciousness and communities informing officials on time.”
For many Nigerians, this declaration by the minister amounts to shifting government’s main responsibility of securing the lives and property of citizens to people who are already vulnerable and at the mercies of determined criminals, who are ready to wreak maximum havoc on hapless citizens.
Also of note is a comment made by the Vice-Chancellor of the Nigerian Army University, Biu, Borno State, North-East Nigeria, Professor Mohammed Kyari, at the convocation lecture of the Adamawa University, Mubi at the weekend.
The eminent professor, in his lecture, blamed the Nigerian Government for the increasing wave of abduction of students in some parts of the country by bandits and terrorists.
According to him, the Federal Government has been indirectly fuelling insurgency with ransoms payment for the release of abducted school children.
He said: “The government of Nigeria has been in dialogue with Boko Haram. No matter what claims the country is making, it cannot deny not talking to the insurgents through back channels. This is what has led to the release of some of the Chibok and Dapchi girls.
“One of the reasons Boko Haram and bandits have continued to attack schools is because of payment of ransoms. A lot of money has been exchanging hands, with Boko Haram, terrorists at the receiving end.
“Unfortunately, anytime there’s abduction, something happens, even though the government says it has a policy not to negotiate with terrorists.”
Many Nigerians, especially those who spoke to DAILY POST seem to be in agreement with Professor Kyari, while some are livid with anger on the shifting of responsibility by the Federal Government in providing security for schools and ensuring the safety of students.
The year 2021, especially since February, has seen intensified attacks on schools in the country, with hundreds of students abducted by bandits, who many believe only release them with their own set of conditions.
DAILY POST reports that states like Katsina, Zamfara, Kano and Kaduna have been forced to shut down schools in parts of the state over the fear of abductions, further putting the education sector in jeopardy.
Though, some analysts are quick to say the payment of ransom by government or parents for the release of abducted students may still be a subject of debate, as government has consistently claimed nothing was paid, it has become a subject of intense argument, what the abducting bandits derive from their actions, if they do not get ransom at the end of the day, which is their main target.
Addressing the issues of security for schools and payment of ransom, a security expert, Sunday Motoni, in a chat with DAILY POST, said it is unfortunate that government has pushed its responsibility to the citizens, in the most crude manner and at the very wrong time.
According to Motoni, though there may be some truth in government position that the federal government may not be able to provide security for every school due to the size of the country and the number of schools that may require such protections, it is strategically wrong to make such a statement.
“I want to believe that the minister does not know the effect of his comment on the students, school managers and parents. Even the bandits, I can say categorically must have been emboldened now by that revelation, because that is what it is. Nigerian students, especially in the North, school managers and parents have just been told that they are on their own. And that is gradually destroying education in the country and by extension, the future of Nigerian children.
“Aside the fact that state governments are beginning to shut down schools in parts of their states, a time may come very soon when parents will withdraw their children from schools for fear of abduction. What does that portend for the future of this country? Bleak future. It is high time the federal government partnered with states to find a solution to this nagging problem before it gets out of hand,” he said.
For Adeyemi Olaopa, an advocate of restructuring, the comment ascribed to Emeka Nwajuiba, the Minister of State for Education, has only brought to the fore once again, the urgent need for restructuring of the country, to allow, among other things, state police.
According to him, insecurity, especially incessant attacks on schools and abduction of students will be greatly curbed if there is a well funded and equipped state police in every state of the country.
“I hope the current situation in the country will spur our leaders at every strata to begin to see the necessity of having state police in the country. The current policing system is grossly overwhelmed. It calls for urgent and concerted efforts to salvage the security of the country, and that can only be done when policing and security is decentralised. There are no two ways to it. The time for state police is now.
“Though there have been arguments against state police, with many expressing fears that governors may turn it to an instrument of oppression against opponents, but I dare say that the benefits far outweigh whatever fears anybody may have. With the state police in place, schools can have adequate security and prompt response in times of security breach without waiting for orders from Abuja,” he submitted.
An educationist and school proprietor, who does not want to be named, believes that the education sector is facing its worst challenge and if care is not taken, the sector may just be heading for the woods.
According to him, Nigerians must not see this as a Northern problem as it is obvious that the bandits are getting much emboldened by the day and any time soon, they extend their onslaught to other zones in the country.
“This is a Nigerian problem and it must be seen and tackled as such. Those of us in the southern part cannot afford to be comfortable with what is going on because I see these school attacks coming closer home if care is not taken. Remember the attack on a school in Edo State; that will tell you that no region is safe. Kidnappers and other criminals in the South can take advantage of the less than good handling of the current situation to cash in too, since abduction of students have become one of the most lucrative ventures in town now”, he said.
Talking about the way forward, the school owner believes that school managers and the Parents/Teachers Association of each school must seek the services of local vigilante groups, and the OPC, especially in the South-West to secure their schools and provide protection for students.
“The latest incident in Kaduna has shown that it is not only boarding schools that are at danger but every school. So we need to be proactive to secure our students and safeguard their future. If the education sector collapses today, the nation is doomed”, he submitted.
Speaking on what the current situation in the country portends, a clergy, who wants to be identified simply as Pastor Frank, said the onslaught on schools is a tactical way of bringing to pass the ideology of the Boko Haram terrorists, which says ‘Western Education is Evil’.
“It is unfortunate that Nigerian leaders have failed to see this for what it is. This is a continuation of the insurgency in the North-East. Attack educational facilities, abduct students for ransom and create fear in the minds of students and parent and force them to withdraw from school. That’s the target.
“This is also the major reason I find it difficult to call these murderous elements bandits. That’s not what they are, they are terrorists, an offshoot of Boko Haram and they are working for the same purpose. And that’s why I am disappointed by the comments of the minister, Nwajuiba. If he understands the gravity of the problem, he wouldn’t have made that comment. it is unfortunate”, Pastor Frank said.