By Cosmas Omegoh and Olakunle Olafioye
Education in the northern part of Nigeria is again on trial. The series of abductions of school children in this part of the country in the recent weeks has further worsened the deterioration of the education system in some states in the North, thereby widening the gulf between the region and the South, which enjoys better rating compared to what obtains in the North.
No fewer than 500 students have been abducted from schools in the Northwest in the past five months, a development many claim has accentuated the disturbing trend of Nigeria’s security crisis.
Penultimate Friday’s abduction of over 300 students from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State, was the second mass kidnap from schools in a space of less than two weeks. Twenty-seven boys and their teachers had earlier been kidnapped from a school in Kagara, Niger State on 17 February before they were released days later.
Experts say the recurrence of mass abduction of school children in the North, a region which holds the unenviable distinction of having the highest rate of out-of-school children, is a huge minus to government’s efforts aimed at reversing the negative appellation. A confirmation of this was the announcements of massive shutdown of schools in the region by the governments of the affected states in the last few days. Authorities in Kano and Yobe states followed the trend in Borno, Niger and Adamawa, to order the closure of some schools in their states respectively.
Security experts blamed the rise in mass abduction of schoolchildren on poor security architecture and the resolve by state governments to paying ransom to the criminal elements behind this heinous crime.
A security consultant, Mr Rotimi Aromolaran said that government’s resolve to yield to paying ransom to kidnappers is a tacit encouragement to the criminals.
According to him, “it is abnormal and condemnable for government to concede to the idea of paying ransom to bandits and kidnappers to secure the release of their victims. It is really condemnable. The bandits now see it as their own oil wells. For how long are we going to continue like this?” Aromolaran queried.
Richard Amuwa, another security expert, traced the problem to government’s decision to negotiate with the militants in the Niger Delta.
According to him, “negotiation with the bandits is not the answer. Negotiation with the bandits is one of the problems that has brought us this far. You would remember how we negotiated with the Niger Delta militants – how we gave them amnesty and we were saying if the amnesty was given, other people from other geographical regions of the country might rise up to demand the same. They would carry arms someday – either through terrorism, or banditry; are we going to negotiate with them too? Now, that mistake of yesterday down the line that is what we are seeing today.
“This situation is a bad omen in the sense that in this part of the world, we pretend that we don’t know where the so-called bandits are when an individual cleric knows where they are. And the cleric himself says the Nigerian Army knows where they are. So, who is fooling how?”
The vulnerability of schoolchildren and their teachers to abduction by bandits is highlighted by a number of factors, which the security experts advised must be urgently addressed if the negative trend of mass kidnap of students must be reversed. Aromolaran said that the majority of the affected schools are remotely located, a development he pointed out enables their abductors easy and unfettered access to their targets.
“The location of those schools is a factor. Most schools in the North are situated in isolated areas. Apart from that, most of the schools are not well protected and secured in terms of fencing and most times, without any form of physical presence of security operatives. These make the school and their students vulnerable to being kidnapped by the bandits,” he said.
The Federal Government had following the Chibok abduction launched a programme known as Safe School Initiative.
The initiative was aimed at reinforcing security of schools in the Northeast by erecting fences around them. Though most of the recent kidnappings happened in the zone, which were not covered by the Safe Schools Initiative, the 2018 mass abduction of 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi in Yobe State raised questions about the success of the initiative.
In the interim, Aromolaran suggested that schools in vulnerable locations be shut down with adequate security provided to repel the criminals.
“The solution is that schools, particularly boarding schools that are remotely located or located in isolated areas in the North should be shut down for now while security is beefed up in and around other schools in order to enable the students learn without trepidation. You cannot keep students in an environment where their safety is not guaranteed and expect them to learn or perform very well.
“Intelligence gathering is also key to solving this problem. There is the need to identify the brains behind this atrocity and apprehend them. These criminals are empowered and emboldened each time they are paid ransom. You pay them, they use the money to buy more ammunition, become more daring and come back again for more abduction. We cannot continue this way,” he said.
On his part, Amuwa said that the government should consider a holistic approach to the security challenges bedeviling the country.
“We need to have a holistic approach to how to turn this country around. As a security consultant, what I have been advocating is that God has blessed this country so much, but unfortunately, the people are suffering. Until our economy is turned around, and we have good leadership, our national cake goes round and everyone feels and believes ‘okay I’m part of these people.’ Until every Nigerian sees where they live as part of their home, we might not get it right. Our leaders need to sit back and get it right.
“On the long run, we just need to provide employment for the people. We need to provide the necessary things for the people to do. If you are negotiating and they agree to the terms and their money finishes, won’t they go back to the same life? So, the government needs to look at the long term,” Amuwa advised.