The violent attacks by Boko Haram and bandits on schools have no doubt forced many children to shun them, especially in the most vulnerable parts of the North. The lethargy among many children to return to school now that the new session has begun is largely because of the virtual collapse of security in the education system, which apparently is the main aim for bandits and their Boko Haram collaborators.
That is today the level of misfortune of hundreds of schools in Nigeria where attacks and abductions of school children, teachers and officials for ransom payments running into hundreds of millions of naira have reduced the education sector to a parlous state of ignoble. This means going back to school for many children or for parents/guardians in states such as Borno, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and Niger, among others, for their vulnerability to attacks, will not be business as usual or taken lightly.
Here, the frightening figure of 10.5 million out-of-school children, and the alarm raised by the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, that this number had increased by more than three million following a spike in banditry, with an unclear number of children directly impacted by kidnappings in schools is germane.
That this insecurity threat to education has persisted ceaselessly over the years, has not only pummelled school enrolment with children withdrawing from school in droves, it definitely will water down the quest to cut down the figure of out-of-school children in the country, which UNICEF puts as the highest in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. As is commonly the case, children are better-off attending school and being able to learn better in a completely safe and conducive learning environment.
But, this cannot said to be so in the context of a country that is under the full grip of insecurity, when over 1,436 school children have been abducted and 16 killed in the various attacks carried out on many schools in the North West and North East by bandits and Boko Haram that hitherto launched a war against Western education. Many of our schools, which today should have been providing education for our children as a repository of knowledge and intellectual incubation, are now shadows of themselves, as they are completely in ruins.
It is more worrisome that primary and secondary school students in Kaduna State, according to the Commissioner for Education, have to lose the whole third term of the last school year due to forceful closure of all schools in the state due to incessant attacks and abductions. The closure of the schools by the Kaduna State Government for several months and other state governments in the region for fear of being attacked is a right step taken to protect the children in the face of a lack of the security machinery to safeguard the school children and teachers.
Neither effective teaching nor meaningful learning can take place in an environment of decrepit security apparatus, where the safety of students, teachers and schools could not be guaranteed. Since, the alternative to threat to life is to stay safe, the best way is to keep the children at home so that such threat is at least low. If federal and state governments had acted fast by doing the needful when Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State was attacked in 2014 where 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped, this challenge of invasion of school and kidnapping of school children for ransom would not have festered this long and with such devastating consequences.
With peace and stability eluding schools in most parts of the country and the threat to students’ education, lives and future, it will still be naïve for security agencies to hold tenaciously to their traditional way of securing the society and people. According to some security experts, the best solution is to secure the environment of the schools and to put in place adequate intelligence coverage, which should be reviewed on a weekly basis. Therefore, this is the time for the military and other security concerns to launch a formidable security architecture that will not only restore sanity in the system, but will imbue in the children and parents the confidence and assurance of a safe school environment for the children to learn.
The increasing failure of the Federal Government in securing schools and children has on a large scale been reinforced by the unabated intrusion into schools and abduction of school children, mostly unchallenged by the security personnel. Although the government has recently woken up from its deep slumber in tackling the security challenges confronting the nation, it is relevant that they realise that a safe learning environment, one of the basic elements of education, has to be guaranteed.
There is no alternative to this. Increasing security in schools across the country from the current level of nonchalance, to where the students and teachers will be happy to teach and learn, not fearing being abducted or even killed, would not only bolster enrolment, but the quality of education delivery will also be scaled up. All levels of government have to appreciate also that it owes the children, the most vulnerable citizens in the society, a life and school environment free of violence and fear in order to acquire learning.