There is hardly any Nigerian not concerned by the mass harvest of school children almost on daily basis by bandits in the northern part of the country, particularly Kaduna, Katsina, Niger and Zamfara. It is becoming so recurrent that we have developed a thick skin to it. Is anybody hashtagging? Is anybody at the Abuja Unity Fountain or anywhere in the country brandishing placards with the inscription #BringBackOurGirls? When last did you hear from the virulent Oby Ezekwesili? Truthfully, there is a limit to what the human heart can bear before fatigue sets in. Our people no more shudder at the news of mass abduction of innocent school children whose offence is nothing aside seeking western education. The melancholic forlorn has been baptised and fully incorporated into the catalogue of our security concerns, just like rape, arm robbery, human and drug trafficking et al. Coming about seven years after about 276 girls were taken in one fell swoop from their school in Chibok, Borno State, one can conveniently thumb the chest that we have acquired nearly a decade experience in this misery. If it was to be in the employment market, it will be an ‘added advantage’.
The question that has endlessly boggled the people’s mind is, when shall it end? When shall the security forces and indeed all Nigerians muster the needed arsenal the give these criminal elements the bloody nose they so deserve? When shall our sons and daughters cease to be pawn in the chessboard of these luciferic agents and descendants of perdition? Shall we ever have respite? Since the beginning of this year alone, no fewer than 800 students have been rescued by the security forces from separate attacks, indicating an astronomical increase in aggression by these terrorists against the institution of (western) education.
Unarguably, the northern Nigeria is the most educationally backward region in the country with millions of out-of-school children. A research team headed by former Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai commissioned by Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation in 2020 attributed the status of Northern region in education to inadequate teachers, lack of incentives, poor infrastructure and work stations. According to the team, other inhibitors include lack of security, inadequate classrooms, playgrounds, computer laboratory, libraries and information services, laboratories, textbooks, audiovisual facilities, internet connectivity and learning aids. Rufai team capped it up with accusation that the nineteen northern states have not paid adequate attention to education as manifestly seen in the 419 local governments covered.
According to security analysts, terrorists feast on bold headlines. It energises and emboldens them; that their handwork resonates palpable fear and apprehension among the people which accounts to why they have permanently singled out educational institutions for vicious attacks. The Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufa’i also quipped this in a recent interview with Aljazeera when he said, “Northern Nigeria is among the most backward in terms of education. In this state, we have invested heavily in education in the last few years but all that is at risk right now.”
The governor continued, “The bandits have been targeting educational institutions and schools, abducting students in particular because it makes headlines. Headlines constitute the oxygen of the terrorists, and these bandits are terrorists.” Without any scintilla of doubt, looking at the fragile security situations in the region and country generally, not many parents would be in a haste to gamble with the lives and freedom of their children in quest for western education. This is anchored on the indispensable fact that life is sacrosanct and indeed man’s greatest asset. Implicationally, more children will be out of school. The region will be educationally disadvantaged further. The streets will recruit more hawkers while the classrooms will become emptier. Social vices will increase and the very fabrics of the Nigerian society will bear the brunt. The testimonies from Jangebe Zamfara state is a great pointer that things are not in good shape. Some parents of the 317 kidnapped school children have expressed cynicism in having them return to school anytime soon.
This development marks a voracious reversal in the gains made over the years to rejig the educational system in the North. Coming just a few months the classrooms were re-opened after the disruption witnessed as a result of COVID-19, the current situation radiates gloom and despondency. The number of schools closing down in Yobe, Kano, Adamawa and Borno that is already under the grip of Boko Haram is on the increase. Who knows when they will go back to school? Unfortunately, the Safe School Initiative introduced by the federal government after the abduction of Chibok school girls in 2014 where fences were constructed round the schools has proven not to be successful. This was stamped in 2018 when about 110 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Dapchi Yobe state. As part of the initiative, some of the schools had military posts stationed close to them. This has not salvaged the situation.
Humouristically, when President Muhammadu Buhari said the Jangebe school kidnap would be the last, we simply chuckled and took it for what it is – mouthing. Nothing was done to demonstrate that he actually meant it. Things remained exactly the way they were and barely 48 hours after that statement, students of Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Afaka, Kaduna where kidnapped. A viral video has since shown how they are being randomly assaulted and beaten like animals by their abductors in apparent move to pressurise the government negotiate their release so that they can smile to the bank and possibly restock their armoury. The President spoke with iron-cast confidence as if the bandits take instructions from him. We have seen how it panned out. More have happened. Will others happen? Most likely.
At present, we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder and virtually everyone is at risk. While we labour to move on with life after the COVID-19 deadly blow, insecurity has firmly grabbed us by the jugular. Education is not the only sector currently in life support as a result of insecurity. Food prices have skyrocketed because farmers have been displaced. Infrastructure is being mindlessly damaged, the people’s living standard kissing the dust.
Suffice to say that those calling for amnesty for these murderers are enemies of the state. Rewarding sheer criminality with bread and butter is a recipe for amplified criminality. We must treat them for what they are by deploying maximum force to fizzle them out of existence. Nigerians called for the sack of the service chiefs, that the President has granted but where he keeps them afterwards will be a discussion for another day. The need for acquisition of more sophisticated weapons to dwarf the high firepower these bandits parade against our troops cannot be overemphasised. Irrespective of the sagacity and bravery our troops wield, the fight against terrorism requires a healthy armoury to win. Education is the bedrock of the development of any nation. We cannot hand our future at the mercy of blood-thirsty hooligans.
Enemanna, an Abuja-based journalist writes from [email protected]