Speak on Safe Schools Initiative
By Wahab Adesina, Education Editor
Amid serial kidnapping of schoolchildren in the northwest of Nigeria, especially in Katsina, Zamfara, Niger and Kaduna states of late, parents, teachers and principals lament that criminal elements now use children to make money. They also spoke on the Safe Schools Initiative (SSI) designed to secure schools amid heightening insecurity in the country.
There were no fewer than three attempts to kidnap schoolchildren last week by suspected bandits on the rampage in Kaduna. In another attack that saw the bandits succeeding in their abductions in Kaduna, they kidnapped over 200 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, out of which about 180 were rescued.
The rest were yet to be freed at press time. In a video footage of the captives released last weekend, the captors demanded N500million ransom. But Governor Nasir el-Rufai has ruled out the payment of ransom to kidnappers, arguing that such payment only encourages criminality.
Before the Kaduna incidents, there had been Katsina, Niger and Zamfara schoolchildren kidnappings which saw respective state governments negotiating the captives’ release. It could not be ascertained if ransoms were paid to secure the schoolchildren release but some reports said some bandits in government custody may have been freed in exchanged for the schoolchildren.
The parents, teachers and principals spoke to Sunday Vanguard through the National Parent, Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and the All Nigerian Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS).
Abductions unfortunate, embarrassing —ANCOPSS President
Principals of Secondary Schools, ANCOPSS, Mr Anselm Izuagie, in this interview, says abductions of schoolchildren unfortunate, embarrassing:
How do you see the constant abduction of students and teachers in some parts of the country?
It is very unfortunate and embarrassing to the education industry. Some criminal elements now use the lives of our children to make money. It is growing family and that is very disturbing. Those doing this want to cripple development in the country.
Education is the bedrock of any nation and when it is crippled, the nation herself cannot be on her feet. What is happening now has some immediate disturbing effects, but I can say that in the next 15 to 20 years, the devastating effects on the country could be unimaginable. The situation is not making people have peace of mind, students are affected, parents are apprehensive sending their children to school and teachers are afraid to go to their places of work. The government must look at the matter critically and do the needful.
What do you think the government can do to curb it?
For a very long time, we have been talking on the need for our schools to be fenced. As a body, we have made a series of suggestions to the government. That has always been part of our communique when we hold meetings and issue of that kind comes up. Apart from perimeter fencing of schools, day and night security men should be engaged to keep watch. There is an urgent need to fortify our schools. The lukewarm attitude of the government is unacceptable.
The Safe Schools Initiative was adopted in 2014 when abduction of students in the Northeast was rampant, has it been effective?
To me, it is a failure. It is not succeeding. Where are the results? In this country we believe too much in theories and we do little of putting things into practice. If it has failed there, where is the assurance that it will work anywhere else.
The Minister of State for Education was recently quoted as saying the government cannot secure all schools, what is your take on that?
Definitely, government cannot do it all alone. They should be assisted by parents, communities and other stakeholders. However, one thing I have observed is that when people want to assist the government in doing some things, they sometime feel people want to interfere in matters that belong to the government.
For instance, the issue of Parent Teacher Association in schools, occasionally you will hear the government saying school heads are using the association to make money or do illegal things. Meanwhile, we have had instances where this association has helped schools to provide facilities and even engage teachers and pay them. Development like that kills Initiative and ideas. Government should agree that they need help and gladly seek it and when it is offered, take it.
What is your association planning to do about the current situation?
School principals don’t carry guns. We are crying to government to provide adequate security in our schools. Very soon, we shall be having a seminar for our members on how to manage themselves in such challenging situations. We only manage the schools on behalf of the government. Help us cry to the government to live up to its responsibility. What is happening is killing education in Nigeria. There is fear everywhere and that is terrible. We are in a state of fear.