• Monday, April 22, 2024
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Spike in attacks spotlights Nigeria’s ‘not-too-safe’ school initiative

Spike in attacks spotlights Nigeria’s ‘not-too-safe’ school initiative

The serial abduction of Nigerian students and teachers by armed bandits and terrorists has raised questions on why the government abandoned the further implementation of the Safe Schools Initiative despite the initial huge support it received and billions of naira donated for its funding.

The Safe Schools Initiative is a multi-donor programme launched by the 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 at promoting safety in Nigerian schools and rebuilding infrastructure, especially in the North East.

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Since 2014, about 1,680 students and teachers have been kidnapped from schools majorly in the North, Save the Children, a charity organisation, said last year.

This month, the country witnessed the abduction of 287 school children and some teachers from LEA Primary School, Kuriga in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State on March 7, 2024, and another 15 children from a boarding school in Gidan Bakuso village of the Gada council area in Sokoto State.

These repeated attacks on schools have sparked concerns over the perceived abandonment of the Safe School Initiative, which was designed to enhance security measures in schools across the country, beginning with the North, where acts of banditry and terrorism have been notable.

Despite the initial substantial support and funding by the global community, the initiative has faced challenges in implementation and has seen a decline in momentum over the years.

Security and education experts have raised concerns about the lack of tangible progress in fortifying schools, with some attributing this to shifting government priorities since 2015.

Kabir Adamu, CEO of Beacon Security and Intelligence Limited, said enough corrective measures have not been taken to prevent a recurrence.

He said: “When the Chibok incident happened in 2014, the reasons were clear; our schools were already vulnerable, and since then we have had three major programmes aimed at improving security in schools – the Safe Schools Initiative, the Safe Schools Declaration and the National Policy on Safe Schools and its implementation guidelines. Now none of these three major policies has been fully implemented to make schools less vulnerable to these types of attacks. So that’s number one.

“Number two is the presence of these perpetrators, the non-state actors, the gunmen who have found kidnapping students a very lucrative venture as it were, they are able to do it and of course collect the benefit.

“The third point is our inability to take into account or hold responsible dues that we have mandated constitutionally to protect our schools. There are agencies of government whose responsibility it is to do that and overtime, after incident after incident, we haven’t seen them being held to that kind of level of responsibility or account. So unfortunately, that is why these things continue to reoccur.”

Danjuma Lukeman, a security analyst, told BusinessDay that the ratification of the Safe Schools Declaration in 2019 represents another significant step towards mitigating the impact of insecurity on education.

“This multinational commitment highlighted the importance of protecting students, teachers, and educational institutions during times of conflict,” he said.

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With a take-off fund of N3.2 billion – half of the amount projected to come from the private sector – the Safe Schools Initiative was launched in 2014 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 plan was 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.

The exact amount raised so far for the initiative is not yet known, but BusinessDay 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 had proposed in 2021 to probe why the initiative was stalled. The investigation would also cover all monies donated by foreign governments and agencies to the initiative, which yielded no results till date.

Mohammed Haruna, an educationist in Borno State, noted that no measures had been taken to enhance school security within the state, with the burden falling solely on the state government. He expressed hope for future initiatives but emphasised the lack of action thus far.

“Efforts to implement the Safe Schools Declaration have shown promise in building resilience among affected communities, particularly in conflict-prone regions like Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States. However, there remains a pressing need for sustained action and collaboration to fully realize its benefits and ensure the safety of all schools nationwide,” he said.

Ahmad Musa, a security expert, expressed skepticism regarding the effectiveness of the Safe School Initiative, citing concerns over its structural framework and implementation strategy.

He questioned the rationale behind entrusting the ministry of finance with oversight of the initiative instead of the ministry of education.

He emphasised the need for the National Council on Education to formulate a comprehensive policy framework to guide the implementation of the initiative, involving federal and state education ministries in its development.

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Musa highlighted the imbalance in the current arrangement, where the ministry of finance primarily handles financial aspects while lacking the educational expertise necessary for effective program execution.

He said such a setup predisposed the initiative to failure, contributing to its current challenges.

On his part, Kassim Gaidam, another educationist, emphasised the significance of the initiative in restoring stability to the education sector, particularly in the North-East region and across the nation.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has identified insufficient funding and logistical challenges as major obstacles hindering the effective implementation of Nigeria’s Safe School Initiative.

An official of the federal ministry of education who pleaded anonymity said the initiative has noble objectives but it is plagued by its operational challenges, particularly in securing adequate funds and addressing logistical constraints.

Akeem Olusegun, chief executive officer of Vtec Nigeria Limited, noted that one key aspect of reinvigorating the Safe School Initiative involves restructuring its governance framework to ensure effective coordination and implementation.

He said: “This includes establishing clear lines of responsibility and accountability, with active involvement from relevant stakeholders such as federal and state education ministries, security agencies, and local communities. By fostering synergy among these entities, the initiative can better address emerging threats and adapt to evolving security dynamics.

“Another critical component of revitalising the Safe School Initiative is the provision of adequate infrastructure and resources to support safety measures in educational institutions.

“This includes the construction of perimeter fencing, installation of security cameras, deployment of trained security personnel, and implementation of emergency response protocols.”

He said efforts should be made to address underlying socioeconomic factors that contribute to vulnerabilities in school environments, such as poverty and inadequate infrastructure in rural areas.

Olusegun said: “Community engagement plays a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the Safe School Initiative. By fostering partnerships between schools, local authorities, and community leaders, initiatives can be developed to raise awareness about the importance of school safety and security.

“This may involve organising sensitisation workshops, establishing neighborhood watch groups, and encouraging parents and students to actively participate in safety initiatives. Empowering communities to take ownership of school security not only strengthens resilience but also fosters a sense of collective responsibility in safeguarding educational environments.

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“Embracing technology and innovation can significantly enhance the effectiveness of school safety measures. This includes leveraging digital platforms for real-time monitoring of school premises, implementing biometric identification systems for access control, and utilising mobile applications for reporting security incidents.”