New academic session, more Covid-19, security concerns

The new academic session has heralded anxiety amongst parents over the safety of their wards. Although the government and respective school authorities have assured of safety, the prevailing atmosphere is like peace in the graveyard. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

In the past, what used to be the worry of most parents and guardians whenever a new academic session was about to commence was how to pay the tuition fees of their wards. Nowadays, especially in Nigeria, that is no longer the only headache of parents as the fear of a secure school/learning environment for children has lately been added into the lexicon of various concerns.

Not only that, investigation has shown that many parents are lately apprehensive of schools resumption over the rampaging effect of Covid-19 and its allied ailments like cholera in many parts of the country.

Investigation by this reporter has revealed that many states are worried by the level of insecurity/reported attacks/kidnapping in schools, such that they have decided to devise alternative security arrangements in the form of local hunters and vigilantes to guard schools. This is on the ground that conventional security agents are not enough and in most cases cannot be deployed in all schools.

According to an online report monitored by this reporter about this development, the problem is multi-faceted as, “The police do not have the manpower to man all schools. Many states are partnering hunters and vigilantes to provide security in schools.”

Early this year, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) expressed deep concerns that in view of the incessant and reported cases of kidnapping of school children in Nigeria, the fortunes of the sector are gradually on a downward trend.

Its press service officer, Thomas Mallard, said the organisation has been taken aback by the recent spate of attacks on schools.

He said, “All types of attacks targeting or affecting students, educational institutions and their personnel (teachers, principals, guards) have considerable negative impacts on continuity and quality of learning, both on short and long terms. This is not separate from the devastating psycho-social trauma confronting the affected communities.

“No child should ever have to choose between education and their life, but this is often the case in many countries, including some communities in Nigeria as education becomes the target of direct and constant attacks resulting in the death, injuries and abduction of learners and education personnel. As a result, many schools are shut down.

“Where they are not, parents have lost any confidence and trust in the presence of the rule of law that could protect their children and youths to ensure their security and safety. Such lack of trust among the communities might shift their decisions against prioritising education for their children and youths, which negatively impacts societies towards achieving their aspirations now and in the future.”

Mallard stated further that, “More importantly, within education management, there is uncertainty in educational planning and schools calendar which add to the complexities and challenges towards the provision of quality and equitable education for all as contained under the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) of the 2030 Agenda.

“UNESCO, as the designated agency for the monitoring and coordination of SDG4, would however continue to work closely with all education partners in Nigeria in finding and implementing durable solutions to these issues.”

Speaking in the same vein, Henrietta Fore, the UNICEF executive director, gave a dim picture of the whole scenario when she said, “On July 5, 2021, 150 students were reportedly abducted from a school in Nigeria’s Kaduna state, marking the latest incident in an alarming spate of attacks against children and abductions, including of students, in parts of West and Central Africa. We are deeply concerned that as in years past, non-state armed groups and parties to conflict in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Niger and Nigeria will ramp up these violent activities over the coming weeks ahead of the rainy season when their movements could be restricted by flooding.

“In Nigeria, estimates have it that at least 950 students have been abducted from their schools by armed men since December 2020. Over the past six weeks alone, nearly 500 children were abducted in four separate incidents across the central and northwest parts of the country. Many of these children have not yet been returned. It is hard to fathom the pain and fear that their families and loved ones are suffering in their absence.

“Furthermore, with the Nigerian educational system yet to recover from Covid-19 and other ailments currently plaguing the country, many parents, especially with children in boarding systems do not wish their children to go through the harrowing experiences of being under the oxygen cylinder.”

Continuous threats

Many schools especially in the northern part of the country have recently received notices of attack from bandits thereby resulting in heightened tension as parents, schools and students shudder. For instance, in Plateau state where there have been coordinated attacks on schools, parents were said to have raised a fresh alarm over the planned attacks on some boarding schools across the 17 local government areas, just as a new academic session was about to commence. To that extent, they want the governments both at the state and federal levels to be ahead of the bandits to avoid being taken by surprise.

Almost all over the country, investigation has shown that such attacks have intensified across many states in recent times despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s assurances that such would never happen in any school again. Most disturbing of it was a write-up being circulated about the plans to attack some boarding schools and abduct students.

According to a parent, John Damishi, “Attack on schools undermine the right to education and could lead to an increase of dropouts.

“Tension is mounting not just in boarding schools but across the state over what could possibly happen in the coming days. Unless something is done urgently to guarantee the safety of schools in the state, the people could be taken unaware.”

Further investigation revealed that many schools in border towns like Abaji, Gwagwalada and remote settlements in Kuje and Kwali in the FCT are most apprehensive of attacks.

Speaking with this reporter in Abuja, a parent, Mr. John Abulu, whose son was in Government Secondary School Ruboshi near Abaji, said even though the authorities of the territory had consistently given safety assurances, his son who is in the junior class would not return to that school “because I haven’t seen any serious security measure put in place there. I don’t have millions of naira to pay kidnappers if they strike there. I have already secured another place for him within AMAC here even though it is a bit expensive.”

In Abaji, a resident, Ishaku Yamusa, said, “We live in fear because of the activities of kidnappers who abduct and demand even N100, 000 before the release of their captors. Sadly, these abductions are hardly reported by the media.”

Another resident in Yaba, Abaji, a farming community which shares borders with Niger state, Moses, disclosed that there have been cases of cattle rustling and kidnappings, none of which, according to him, found a space in the media.

“So, forming vigilance groups to checkmate the activities of criminals requires little persuasion from residents who cherished their safety and peace,” he said.

Covid-19 concerns

As there are worries over insecurity, so it is with the Covid-19 pandemic that is yet to be over in the country. In many schools across the country especially in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the fear of infection from Covid-19 as schools resume is still on the front burner. To that extent, authorities of the territory, schools management and headship of PTAs have made it mandatory for students and pupils to maintain all the protocols related to the pandemic.

According to the principal of Faith Academy in Kubwa, Mark Ogbadu, the management of the school would not compromise safety.

He said: “The education commission in charge of our group of schools spelt it out clearly that apart from students, staff, visitors and parents in all our schools must observe all safety measures announced by the government. We don’t compromise that; that is why we station teachers at the entrance early in the morning and security personnel in the afternoon to ensure strict compliance. We are not unmindful about the concern of parents regarding the safety of their wards.”

Assurances, hope

However, while giving a glimmer of hope to douse these concerns, M.r Kasim Musa, the public relations officer of Education Secretariat (FCT), gave the assurance that efforts were geared towards ensuring that as students resume for the new session, they are secured across all schools in the territory.

He disclosed further that the Authority was working with all security agencies and other stakeholders in the sector to ensure that schools are safe and that kidnappers and other criminal elements have no access to any school within the territory.

“As I had always said in other mediums, we are working with security operatives, local hunters and vigilance groups to make sure that students and pupils are not attacked in any schools,” he said.

If his words are re-assuring enough, it is expected that the concerns of most parents have been addressed as far as security is concerned.

Also, the chairman of the FCT Secondary Education Board (SEB), Alhaji Musa Yahaya, has given the assurance that the safety of their children would be topmost in whatever they do. He stated this when he led officials from the Education Secretariat and UBEB to monitor school resumption last week.

He assured that the territory is safe as the authorities are ensuring that every school and child is secured.

“On improving the security of schools, for us in the FCT, we keep whatever measures that we have put in place dearly in our hearts. It is something that has to do with the security of the lives of our future leaders; we don’t come out boldly to tell people this is what we are doing.

“A lot of measures have been put in place, and we have to assure parents that the authorities have done very well in keeping the students safe in our respective schools,” he said.

According to him, the idea of monitoring school resumption was to assess the level of students’ turnout and ensure compliance with Covid-19 preventives measures put in place by the government.

Speaking further he said, “It is a normal tradition that when schools resume, we go out to assess the level of resumption, particularly this period when we have the third wave of Covid-19 pandemic so that it would enable us to see the rate of compliance with the Covid-19 protocol and also look at the percentage of resumption as well as how ready the schools are with regards to neatness, facilities and staff level of compliance to resumption.

“We have gone through this; the first, second and now the third wave of Covid-19 pandemic.”

Despite repeated assurances by the government, parents say there is indication that all is still well with the security of most schools, more so as heads of respective security organisations have repeatedly asked Nigerians to defend themselves.