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Safety in schools: Matters arising

By Tare Youdeowei & Kelechukwu Iruoma

Schools, after the home, should be a safe haven for children, students: young and old. Parents upon sending their children to school, the level regardless, expect that they return adequately educated and most importantly, in one piece, unscratched, unharmed.  Schools promise these, attach a sizeable fee to it and have parents enrol their children. Some, after inspection of the premises and others couldn’t care less. With the agreement in place the ball starts to roll.

*School children listening attentively to instructions just before the poster contest commenced
File: School children listening attentively to instructions. 

Students, among themselves, sometimes commit petty crime, misdemeanour at the best: petty theft, battery, bullying etc. which are prevalent in primary and secondary schools.

Public schools, be they federal or state owned, have higher incidents of these crimes for reasons beyond the scope of this particular story. Tertiary institutions on the other hand have, in addition to the earlier mentioned petty crimes, rape,assault and killings.

The latter usually related to cultism. Lending credence to this is Chief Security officer, CSO, of University of Nigeria, Nsukka Campus, Mr. John Eke, who stated, in an interview that: “some of the crimes committed by students on campus include: rape, stealing in hostels and lodges, fighting, among others.”

These might seem like trivial issues that are few and far between but it would be recalled that on April 14-15 2014. Over 200 girls were abducted from Government Secondary School, Chibok,while boys were hacked to death. Till date some have not been seen, those released or rescued tell of the horrid things that transpired.

Safe schools are a human security issue and in the words of Prof. Peter Okebukola, former Executive Secretary Nigeria Universities Commission and Pro-Chancellor/Chairman of Governing Council of Crawford University, no safe schools, no future for the world. He provides three compelling reasons for asserting a focus on safe schools.

“There are at least three compelling reasons for asserting a focus on safe schools. Without safe schools, our dream of harnessing the power of education for achieving goals in health, food , employment, environmental, energy, security, among a miscellany of other subsets of human security will come to nought. Without safe schools, Education for All will remain a pipe dream so also attainment of post-2015 global development goals.

Without safe schools, quality education yearned by all countries of the world will be hindered. The terminal point of the logic is:no safe schools and no future for the world.” Here, Vanguard Learning comes in. One of the most important promises made by schools is safety of the children, students, while they are in the school or within a stipulated set of hours. The issues are; are these promises being kept? Are schools safe?

Are there basic measures put in place by schools to steam and if the need arises, bring under control, attack from terrorists, hoodlums, thieves, etc.? And most worrisome, why do schools not benefit from public security, policed, like courts, government houses/offices? Addressing schools and public security, schools being policed, Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Police Command, DSP Joe Offor, explained; “Security is not only when you see a policeman in uniform.

Every place you have human beings in the country is policed seriously. At times you may not see the presence of the officers but if unruly actions are about to take place, officers will surface. In courts the presence of police is not just for security but also a symbol of authority, a forewarning to people present to keep them from misbehaving. Judges and magistrates are policed in Nigeria and all over the world because they mostly handle capital offences. The accused sometimes try to threaten the judges, as such there is a Judges Protection Unit.

“Public schools in Nigeria are equally policed. They cannot be tampered with. The difference is that children, psychologically, cannot handle police presence, that is uniformed police. They will be constantly distracted. As such, we do not send uniformed police to primary and secondary schools. That does not mean the area is without security or is not policed.

“Higher institutions do not have children. The students in higher institutions are generally adults or youths. I do not know of any higher institution that would admit anyone less than 15 or 16 years of age. Being that students in higher institutions are generally adults, they can engage in activities that are prejudicial to their colleagues, that may undermine the security of their colleges. Whenever a member of the institution has a run-in with the law, the police comes in through the institution’s security department.

There is no university that does not have a security unit. Universities have security units and porters posts occupied by police officers only.” On the part of private schools, their measures in making schools safe and keeping their part of the bargain Mr. Ebuka Ughamadu, Director, Caro Favoured Schools, a primary and secondary school in Awodi-Ora, Lagos, disclosed that; “Our head of security, who is in his mid 40s, is a trained security personnel who was a contract staff with a security outfit.

For a permanent arrangement we hired him. He has staff that work with him. Nevertheless, security is for everybody, it is everybody’s concern. Not because we have trained guards that we would rest our oars. It is a thing that everyone needs to be involved. The teachers and students are continually being educated on security.

We have gone as far as teaching the learners Security Studies, getting them informed about the society at large, what they need to do when faced with certain security challenges. In as much as no one is perfect, we are continually working towards keeping the place safe.”  For Tertiary institutions, CSO Eke of UNN, enthused; “We face a lot of challenges in ensuring that the university community remains serene.

Normally, security is a complex issue. In any environment, especially in a university community. Lack of necessary resources is a big challenge to the security officers in school. It makes it difficulty to combat crime. Not all the universities have security equipment. There are so many things that we need to do but we don’t have the equipment to implement the tasks effectively.

“Schools do not have security posts, what we have is security department. Security is quite different from what we have now. We had a security post, like a police station before, but there was a riot which made the school close it. What we have now is security department.”  On creating a police station on the university campus, CSO Eke said, it would be a good idea, but however noted that it could also be a problem.

“We have ways and strategies in which we handle students. The police use force, which is not good. That was one reason why the police station was closed down because of the way students were harassed. Nevertheless, Members of State Anti Robbery Squad, NSCDC and the police usually parade round the school campus, at night especially.”

Continuing, DSP Joe Offor, added; “In University of Benin there is a very good security arrangement. There is a police station close to the school. You do not expect to have a police post beside a library or close to the hostel. A police station or post is a security outfit, it has to be put in a place that would be secluded and secured to provide security to the university community. A university is a very big place, as such every police command has officers responsible for the security of the university.

This is the Campus Monitoring Unit (CMU). The OC CMU sends policemen to monitor the activities of the students while on campus. Some are plain clothed, some are uniformed, others are students of the varsity. University of Nigeria, Nsukka, has one of the best security arrangements because only UNN has not recorded very serious attacks or fatal cult activities and it is as a result of the robust security in the state merged with the school’s security department.

“Nonetheless, before a police post is mounted the Inspector General must have seen one or two things that would necessitate the creation of a post. You cannot just place a post anywhere in a school, the students can get angry one day and burn it, and that would be another security challenge. We keep a reasonable distance from the students and police adequately.

Speaking on if she feels her children are safe, Mama Somto, which she prefers to be known as, says her children’s school in Agric, Lagos-Badagry express way, is guarded by a Nigerl migrant. She however said she confronted the school authorities and “they promised that they are already working towards getting a trained security personnel that would man the gate and patrol the premises. Nevertheless God is the keeper of us all. I always pray for my children.”

Following the words of Mr Ughamadu, which have been generally accepted as the truth, security is everybody’s concern. In this light, even though areas are constantly policed, as provided by DSP Offor, the onus is on every school to augmenting security within its walls.  The cost of getting a trained security personnel from the average security outfit ranges from N30,000 to N50,000, depending of the educational qualification of the officer.

Prof Okebukola proffered measures that schools can individually take to help themselves augment public security in his article, Safety against extremist individuals, groups; Doing what is Right; “Physical screening of the perimeter of the school against intruders with installed and functioning CCTV coverage; all areas within and immediately outside the school should be designed with safety in mind; access into the school should be controlled and visitors should be monitored;

safety problems are quickly reported and appropriately addressed by school authorities; enactment of school safety policy to be adhered to by all members of the school community; periodic awareness campaign and capacity building for students, teachers and administrators to rapidly respond to safety threats; existence of a security unit that is well equipped with technology and vehicular support and linked with the public law enforcement department.

“All visitors to the school should be monitored and provided with badges; students and staff should be encouraged to report unfamiliar people to school authorities who should present themselves for search if required to do so; schools should install anonymous reporting systems such as telephone hot lines and suggestion boxes; at least every quarter, schools should conduct preparedness drills on intruder alerts and fire outbreak and receive training on emergency response;

school authorities should survey parents, staff and students about their safety concerns and respond rapidly to the findings of such survey; and schools should take steps towards early detection of behavioural problems of students and teachers, and remediate accordingly. Other elements are establishment of counselling services for psychologically traumatised students and staff and periodic training for teachers and school administrators on strategies for lowering anxiety and stress levels”

CSO John also counselled; “In primary schools and secondary schools, the police should ensure that they stay at the gate of schools till the school hours are over. With this, parents would have confidence in ensuring that their children are well protected. Some standard private schools have security personnel that make sure that the students are well protected.”

Conclusively, the words of Prof. Okebukola are apt as they advise; “It needs to be stressed that safety in schools should be approached creatively. A planned approach is needed not just to prevent physical and psychological danger to both staff and students but to build a culture of safety consciousness, linked to the university curriculum where teaching young people can develop their capability to assess and manage risks associated with schooling.

While schools should make sure staff, students and visitors are safe, they also need to make sure that, as citizens of tomorrow, students are helped to become risk aware without unnecessarily becoming risk averse. Hence ‘teaching safely’ and ‘teaching safety’ need to go hand in hand.

Laws on safety in schools should be reinforced as well as provision of robust insurance net for staff and students. In spite of the foregoing entreaties there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen. However, in event we apply the minimum standards, the possibility of something happening will be less probable.”

 


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.