The unwarranted escalation of attacks on Nigeria’s educational institutions by bandits is a manifestation of the near collapse of Nigeria’s security architecture. It does not only portend serious danger for the country, but also reverses the efforts to improve the state of education in Nigeria. As the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, recently noted, we must not only ensure that the abducted students are rescued, we must also put in place measures to prevent such attacks in future.
“It is time for us as a nation to face the reality that we have an emergency on our hands; a catastrophe that must be decisively dealt with before it snowballs into an existential crisis,” Atike, who was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2019 election, added.
The alarm raised by Atiku came at the right time. The abduction of students is fast becoming a new normal in Nigeria. Late last month, some undergraduates of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State, were abducted but later released some days after. In March, 39 students of the Federal University of Forestry Mechanisation in Kaduna were similarly abducted. Ten of these students were recently released while 29 others are still languishing in captivity.
The plight of the 23 students kidnapped in April from the Greenfield University in the same Kaduna is worse. The bandits demanded N800 million for their release and have viciously killed five of the students. They threatened to kill more if their demand was not fully met. The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, has vowed never to pay ransom to bandits.
Attack on schools started in April 2014 with the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from their school in Chibok, Borno State by Boko Haram insurgents. Between October 2016 and May 2017, over 100 of these girls were released by the terrorists whose strange ideology is that Western education is a sin. Many of the girls are still in captivity.
In February 2018, the terrorists invaded the Government Secondary School in Dapchi, Yobe State and kidnapped 110 schoolgirls. They eventually released 105 of these girls as four of them had earlier died in custody while one, Leah Sharibu, is still held captive.
In December last year, it was the turn of Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State. Over 300 schoolboys were kidnapped and taken to a forest in Zamfara State. They were released six days after. In February this year, some bandits invaded Government Science Secondary School, Kagara, in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State. About 27 schoolboys and 15 workers of the school were kidnapped and later released after some days in captivity. One of the students was killed during the operation. Two months ago, a similar incident happened in Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State, where over 300 schoolgirls were victims. Schools have become soft targets, where bandits abduct many students for huge ransom with which they buy sophisticated weapons to continue their nefarious activities. It is worthy to note that any attack on schools is an attack on youths and the future of the country. These children may likely grow with the trauma of abduction for life.
Besides, when safety of students is not guaranteed, parents will have no option than to withdraw their children. The very few who can afford it will send them to schools abroad. Our education system will be the worst hit. Already, school enrolment, especially in the North, is very poor. Currently, Nigeria has over 13 million out-of-school children. These attacks will worsen the situation and nullify efforts to bridge the yawning enrolment gap. No doubt, the world is watching Nigeria. Our image has definitely taken a nosedive. And with the current state of insecurity, attracting foreign investment will be a mirage.
Government should come up with workable measures to secure schools and stop the current abduction of students. Judging from the high number of schools in the country, it may not be feasible to post security agents to all schools in Nigeria. Even if security operatives are posted, they may not have the firepower to contain the bandits who usually move in large numbers and with sophisticated weapons. We need state police at this period to complement the efforts of the central police.
What the government should do is to step up intelligence gathering and sharing. An attack can be contained if there is a prior knowledge of it. All citizens and stakeholders must help in passing relevant information to the police. Security agents are human and can only act based on information available to them.
Government should also listen to people like Atiku and do the needful. It should revive the safe school initiative launched in 2014 to promote safety of pupils, teachers and facilities in our schools. Relevant agencies should embark on value reorientation of the citizens. Youths must be made to realise that crime does not pay.