Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making Nigerian schools safe

On February 25, 2014, fifty-nine school boys of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State were murdered in cold blood by suspected Boko Haram insurgents. Before then, from 2009 when the activities of the extremist group turned violent, several schools have been razed in North East Nigeria particularly in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. However, the abduction of over 200 school girls from Chibok, Borno State on April 14, 2014 nudged the Federal Government of Nigeria to take a drastic step to make security of Nigerian schools a priority. Thus, in partnership with the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown and   a coalition of Nigerian business leaders, the FG established “The Safe Schools Initiative” on May 7, 2014, during the World Economic Forum Africa in Abuja. The objective of the SSI is to urgently protect schools across the country from future attacks and kidnaps.

The SSI is being complemented by other development programmes such as the Presidential Initiative for the North East that focuses on medium to long term development projects within the region, and also a Victims’ Support Fund targeted at providing emergency relief and other support to families whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated by the crisis.

Given the enormity of resources needed to implement the SSI, a trust fund domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria was set up with $10m contribution from FG. A separate Multi-Donor Trust Fund was also established within the UN system .This MDTF is being managed by the UNDP, UNICEF and UNOPs. Since then, many donors have supported the noble cause. According to the former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as at February 2015, US Government through the United States Agency for International Development has donated $2m into the MTDF. Other donations as reported in Leadership of February 20, 2015 include another $2m from the government of Qatar, through the Qatar Foundation; two million euros from Germany, and $1m from the African Development Bank.

Other donors include Norway with $1.5m, given through the UNICEF and the UK with one million pounds in technical assistance. She said the initiative also received $10m by a coalition of Nigerian Business Leaders.  

Well, much of the efforts at the SSI have been justifiably concentrated in the North-East region of Nigeria where the activities of the insurgents have been most pronounced The Initiative has relocated some of the pupils in the terrorists’ areas of operation to safer environment, awarded them scholarship and provided them with learning materials. Be that as it may, given the February 29, 2016 abduction of three female students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary in Ikorodu, Lagos, it is imperative that the Safe School Initiative be fast tracked with nationwide coverage.  Truth be told, there would be many more similar attacks on schools by some undesirable elements. Indeed, many schools have been invaded in the past by burglars and armed robbers looking for what to steal.

Obviously, the responsibility of making our educational institutions safe cannot be solely borne by government. Nigerian school system has been deregulated with both the public and private sector being major players. While government is expected to provide the overall security architecture to make our schools safe, private entrepreneurs in the sector must roll up their sleeves and key into designing and customising their homegrown security plan. Among other things, two prong engagements must be pursued. There is the” hardware” and the “software” approaches.

By hardware approach, all public and private schools from primary to tertiary levels must acquire some security gadgets to protect students, staff and the institutions facilities. Scanning machines, closed circuit camera television monitor, perimeter fencing, adequate illumination of school environment, recruitment of security personnel, visitors sign-in register and badge, clearing of school premises of bushes and debris, routine foot and motorised police patrol of school areas have all become high priority. On the software side, security education for all staff and students has become very desirable. They need to be properly and routinely counseled by experts drawn from the security agencies such as the Police, Department of State Security, Nigerian Army, Civil Defence, Nigeria Fire Service and other paramilitary organisations.  The security education should be expanded to include safety and security from fire, flood and diseases. Thus what is being advocated is a robust and comprehensive security and health education.

Security experts have said that students, particularly those in day schools, should learn to move in group. School buses with plain cloth security personnel should also be provided at affordable cost for day students. There is a need to adequately publicise telephone numbers of security agencies that staff and students of schools can call when under attack. Late-coming, loitering and wandering of students around town during school hours should henceforth attract stiff punishments.

Though the focus of safe school initiative is protection against external attacks such as Islamic insurgents, armed robbers and kidnappers; however, there is enemy within the school that has to be dealt with. That is cultism. The phenomenon of campus cultism has festered so much that hundreds of lives and properties worth billions of naira have been lost to the menace. It used to be restricted to tertiary institutions – Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Universities, these days; it has spread its ugly tentacles to secondary schools. Many teenagers have been initiated into cult groups. While cult attacks have primarily been against rival groups, their breach of campus peace creates psychological fear on the entire school environment. School administrators and security agencies need to work collaboratively to rid our schools of this menace. 

That said, what can bring lasting peace and security to our school environment is positive turnaround of the economy. The current economic doldrums has heightened security concern. Thousands of employees have been sacked while millions of unemployed graduates are roaming the street in search of non-available jobs. These have made our youths to resort to desperate measures hence turning to crime and criminality for survival. This is why introduction of dole or social safety net is desirable for unemployed youths. Unfortunately, Buhari administration has said that it is no longer under consideration.  Finally, proper home training and well-resourced security agencies will go a long way to making our schools and indeed society safe.

Jide is Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja.