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Stakeholders seek safer environment for pupils, as schools resume

There is need for a friendlier and secure environment in the nation’s schools as pupils return for a new academic session, FOLASHADE ADEBAYO writes

As schools resumed on Monday across the country and with many more resuming in the next few weeks for the 2014/ 2015 academic session, the issue of providing security for pupils and their teachers has come again to the fore.

Indeed, this subject is agitating the minds of many stakeholders, considering the spate of insecurity in the land, particularly in the North-East where Boko Haram insurgents are killing innocent Nigerians, including pupils.

The recent attack on the Federal College of Education, Kano, where 15 students reportedly died and scores injured also points to the disturbing news that nation’s schools are no longer safe zones.

Hitherto, the Boko Haram insurgents invaded the dormitories of the Government College, Chibok, Borno State on April 15, taking more than 250 pupils hostage. Almost 170 days after the incident, the whereabouts of no fewer than 200 of the pupils is still a subject of academic exercise.

Last February, suspected Boko Haram members also stormed the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Gujba Local Government, Yobe State, killing 43 pupils.

But to stave off any further attacks on schools, especially as pupils and their teachers return for a fresh academic session, educationists and security experts have called on the Federal Government and other relevant authorities to step up the fight to make the nation’s schools safer and friendlier.

According to the President, Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, there is the need for the National Assembly to give priority on enacting specific laws to protect pupils in the school. The legislative framework, he says, is the right template on which other interventions that will make the nation’s schools safe can thrive.

Ekhomu, who particularly frowns on the killings in the north, also laments that schools in the southern part of the country are not free from security challenges. For instance, he notes that the frequent robbery, rape and kidnap cases in schools in the south have made them no safe havens for proper learning to take place.

Ekhomu notes, “In the Southern part, people go in and just cherry pick pupils for kidnapping and ritual murder. This is horrific. Look at cult activities and bloodletting. It is still the same trend. Armed robbers go into schools and kill pupils in the southern part of the country. This is more rampant in the private schools. So proprietors and school owners need prepare and read the Riot Act to their employees.

“With many government’s schools, it is nobody’s business as long as the principal or head teachers are not affected. Dormitories are not secure and that is why there are cases of fire outbreak in schools. There is also no central monitoring system to signal an alarm,’’ he alleged.

Appraising the situation, a member of the Bring Back our Girls group, Mr. Abubakar Abdullahi, argues that there is the need to secure the nation’s schools well.

He says, “Schools are soft targets for burglars and terrorists. The first thing to do is provide perimeter fencing. In addition, when there is a threat to any school, we need to provide barricades against explosives and forced entry.

“Even in military establishment, the first thing is to put sand bags in front of the gates so that anyone cannot come in with a car. By doing that, it becomes harder for the insurgents to have their way. There should also be police locations not far from schools. In the case of the Chibok girls there was nobody to help them. If we have police points not far from schools, it becomes easier to alert and get help.”

For an educationist, Dr. Segun Omisore, there is the need to look at the bigger society while considering the security challenges in schools.

He says, “I have always said that we should not treat any situation in isolation. The problem of instability and insecurity is a national problem. The school is just a microcosm of a larger macrocosm. It would be a mistake to look at schools in isolation.

“The mind of a terrorist is not better than the mind of a child. A terrorist believes that if he kills anybody he goes to Aljannah and gets 14 virgins. Somebody that is not able to get a single virgin on earth believes he will able to get 14 in heaven. You can see that is how the mind of a child works.

“We should enlarge the scope of security in Nigeria. When the children leave school, what happens? We should not pay lip service or politics with it. It should also not be a fire brigade approach because security and peace are almost the same. We must commit to the security of lives and property,’’ he adds.

That stakeholders make this appeal is not strange. A recent report by an international organisation, the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict titled, ‘Who Will Care For Us’, detailed the forceful enlistment of children as child-soldiers by the Boko Haram insurgents as well as the civilian Joint Task Force.

It also noted that hundreds of pupils died in school premises in 2012 alone.

The report added, “Attacks on schools between January and July 14, 2012, resulted in the death, abduction, or injury of at least 414 students, teachers and other civilians on school premises in Northeast Nigeria alone.’’

Besides this report, the Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, Dr. Hussaini Abdu, in a statement said, “More than 200 schools have been destroyed in Yobe and over 800 classrooms destroyed in Borno State. Since February 2013, over 15,000 children have stopped attending classed in Borno state alone.’’

Though the Federal Government, alongside a coalition of international agencies, in May inaugurated a $20m Safe School Initiative to protect public schools in the North from attacks, Ekhomu notes that there is need to check the security challenges, which he says are frightening.

The security expert says, “We have seen the security situation in our schools deteriorating to the point that suicide bombers visit our schools at will. We have seen that repeatedly. Almost all primary and secondary schools in the North-East have been razed. This is just too much to bear and our children are bearing the brunt. Not much attention is being paid to safety in schools.

“Are we saying our young people are not important? Everybody deserves protection. The legislative framework is important because it will help to collate data on the vulnerability of school facilities, including the frequency and nature of attacks. What was the formula on Ebola? Nigeria did not import any drug but the point was that the contact tracing mechanism worked. We need to apply seriousness to instill also safety in our schools.”

Attempts to speak with the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, to know whether the Federal Government is putting up fresh measures to improve security in schools did not yield results as of 6pm on Thursday.

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