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Incessant attacks on students reawaken probe into Safe Schools Initiative

The spate of abduction of Nigerian students and teachers by armed bandits and terrorists has justified calls for probe into the implementation of the Safe Schools Initiative and why that project which attracted lots of international support was abandoned.

Safe Schools Initiative is a multi-donor programme launched by Nigerian government in 2014 in the aftermath of the abduction of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in a boarding school in Chibok, Borno State. It is aimed to promote safety in Nigerian schools and rebuild infrastructure, especially in the terrorist-torn North East.

In the last three months, Nigeria has seen major attacks in three schools in its northern region with well over 600 students kidnapped, as bandits heighten what is now being seen as a coordinated attack on education.

The abduction of over 300 students by armed bandits from a girls’ secondary school in Zamfara State last Friday was the third reported attack on a boarding school and abduction of students in the country in less than three months.

On February 17, 42 persons were abducted from the Government Science College, Kagara in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger state. Twenty-seven students, three staff and 12 members of their families were taken by an armed gang – though they were rescued last Saturday.

In December 2020, it was Government Science Secondary School Kankara, in President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina, northwest Nigeria, where 350 boys were kidnapped by gunmen at night.

In April 2014, 276 schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in a boarding school in Chibok, Borno State. Most of the girls are yet to be rescued from Boko Haram captivity. Four years later, 110 other schoolgirls were also abducted from their school in Dapchi, Yobe State, in 2018.

Many say the increasing attacks on students point to urgency to build a safer learning environment and avert looming crisis in school enrolment, which government still struggles to improve.

Over 10 million children are said to be out of school in Nigeria and many more in the most affected states are beginning to lose interest in education after series of attacks on schools by terrorist group, Boko Haram, and now bandits.

Read Also: 2 months after Katsina, gunmen abduct students, staff in Niger school

“Parents are now afraid to send their children to school across the region for fear of being kidnapped or killed,” Nextier SPD notes in its latest Policy Weekly which examines the history of opposition to Western education in northern Nigeria and highlights how to address the violence.

“This will increase the number of out-of-school children and the vulnerabilities associated with the phenomenon, including early marriage and rebel recruitment.”

NEXTIER is also of the view that such youths without training or education can easily drift to urban cities to engage in various forms of criminalities for survival.

There is heightening concern that as Nigeria’s public schools become increasingly unsafe, they have not only lost substantial meaning, but they have become deliberate targets of cultists, bandits and insurgents.

The killing of teachers has compounded the crisis of inadequate teachers in the country, especially in the North.

Following a National Personnel Audit (NPA) conducted on Public and Private Basic Education Schools, the Executive Secretary of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) revealed that the country had a shortage of 277,537 teachers at the basic education level.

Last week, the Senate said the unfolding scenario was worrisome. It then launched a probe into the implementation of the Safe Schools Initiative.

The senate Committees on Education (Basic and Secondary); and Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND were mandated to investigate the utilization of over $20 million (USD) funding proposed and budgeted for the initiative over the years.

With a take-off fund of 3.2 billion naira – half of the amount projected to come from the private sector – the Safe Schools Initiative (SSI) was launched in 2014 under past President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

The initiative was launched by a coalition of Nigerian business leaders, working with Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and United Nations Special envoy for Global Education; the global business coalition for education as well as a World at School.

The promoters had planned the Initiative to begin by building community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, community leaders and young people themselves. In the longer term, the programme would focus on bolstering the safety of schools – 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.

The programme also aimed at delivering basic services in education and helping families, whose lives have been devastated by the conflict to rebuild their livelihoods and infrastructure.

BusinessDay could not ascertain the total amount raised for the fund, but recalls that in August 2014, the presidential committee on north east intervention raised about N80 billion, and in the same year received a donation of $1.5 million from Norway, $1 million from the African Development Bank (AfDB), $50,000 from the AfDB President and £1 million from the British government.

In 2015, Switzerland and the US, pulled in $8 and $2 million respectively, as well as Qatar ($2 million) and the Nigerian business community ($10 million).

Senate president, Ahmad Lawan said at last week Tuesday plenary that it was critical
to investigate why the initiative was stalled and the level of implementation achieved so far.

The investigation would also cover all monies donated by foreign governments and agencies to the initiative.

Lawan is convinced that the latest twist in the criminal activities associated with insecurity in Nigeria especially as it relates to the invasion of school premises as well as kidnap of students and teachers for ransom can be contained and defeated through the full implementation of the ”Safe School Initiative” by all stakeholders.

According to Senator Stephen Adi Odey who sponsored the motion, recent incidents may instill fear in parents and guardians and force them to withdraw their children and wards from schools or prevent them from sending their children to schools. This will in tum defeat the government’s educational policy of ‘literacy for all’ and further deprive our children of the opportunity of having quality education to compete with their peers globally;

“The unfortunate increase in the insecurity crisis in the country, with the advanced target at schools in diverse locations, especially the regrettable kidnap of the Chibok and Dapchi School girls in Borno and Yobe States respectively, the Kankara School Boys in Katsina State and most recently, the kidnap of students of Government Science College, Kagara in Rafilga Local Government Area of Niger State, have exposed the unimaginable decadence and dilapidation in the schools in Nigeria, drawing inference from the footage; from the school environments.”

Nextier SPD is equally concerned about an upsurge in the attacks on schools by militants in the last couple of years.

“Sadly, the Nigerian state has not been able to rise to the challenge of ensuring schools and students’ protection, as provided by policies like the Safe School Initiatives, which it co-launched in 2014.”

It said it is worrying if these bandits are not even Boko Haram members or an organised criminal gang who have systematically adopted Boko Haram’s anti-western education position.

In the document to be released on Monday, Nextier has highlighted a number of measures to facilitate modern education acceptance in the country, especially in the North.

“Some of these measures include the use of sensitisation, adequate budgetary allocation to education, compulsory adoption of the Child Right Act (CRA), and the protection of schools and students, particularly those in a dormitory in vulnerable areas.”

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