Rising Insecurity: Are South-East schools safe?

• All boarding schools fenced to protect students —Enugu govt

• Return of schools to churches improved security —Anambra residents

• We’ve sensitised relevant stakeholders on security —Enugu govt

• No fence, securitymen in Abia schools

• Monarchs, town union leaders help to secure schools in Anambra

• Security operatives asked to protect schools in the hinterland —Imo govt

• Block walls do not prevent kidnapping —Ebonyi govt

By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Dennis Agbo, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Peter Okutu, Chinonso Alozie & Steve Oko

INCESSANT attacks on public institutions, including schools where students had been kidnapped have been on the increase in recent times. Though it has been rampant in the North, but with the spread of cases of insecurity across the country, there is urgent need to take precaution. In view of this, South-East Voice, SEV went to town to find out how prepared the governments in the South-East are to keep their schools and children safe.

For decades, security situation in most of the secondary schools in Anambra State schools was at its lowest ebb until the administration of former Governor Peter Obi summoned up courage to return secondary schools to the missionaries, who were the original owners of those schools. Before the handover, most school buildings were dilapidated and there was no protection of lives of the students and their property whatsoever as hoodlums were having a field day stealing from the schools.

However, with the handover of schools and subsequent disbursement of adequate funds for the running of the schools and payment of salaries of teachers and other workers by government, the school environment changed for the better.

The schools handed over to the churches are run by managers appointed by the church authorities, and the first task most of the managers embarked upon was fencing of their schools and renovation of the dilapidated buildings, with the result that all schools in the state are properly renovated and fenced.

Similarly, schools built by individuals and communities were also given the same facelift such that many schools in the state witnessed tremendous improvement. With the fencing of schools, great sense of security was restored and many students became boarders which ultimately brought discipline and improved standard of education.

Generally, in Anambra State, principals of secondary schools involve the traditional rulers and town union authorities in the security management of the school as a way of curbing security threats in and around the schools.

A retired school principal, Mr. Paul Onyejiaka said although teachers initially vehemently opposed the handover of schools to their original owners, school authorities over the years have discovered that it was the greatest thing to have happened in the education sector.

“I remember how the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, consistently opposed the handover of schools because of the fear that the missionaries would not implement the government-approved conditions of service for teachers and other workers. We never considered the angle of improvement in the quality of education in the state, but the excellent results students from Anambra State have been getting over the years and the accompanying discipline among the students have shown that the handover has achieved the desired results.

“Before the handover, school grounds were majorly grazing grounds for cattle and nobody did anything about it. In most schools presently, the community vigilante and securitymen appointed by the school in management committees ensure that security is adequately maintained,” Onyejiaka explained.

In Enugu State, the government said it was very conscious of the rising insecurity throughout the country and has taken some proactive steps towards protecting her people especially the young ones in schools.

The state Commissioner for Education, Prof. Uche Eze said that the State Government has continually engaged community leaders, the traditional rulers, town union officials, youth groups and women groups to be conscious of security issues and work closely with security agencies to provide useful information that will help avert any threat to their safety.

He said that the state government in collaboration with the security agencies has provided relevant training to vigilante groups, including neighbourhood watch members and the Forest guards to secure communities in the state including schools.

“Specific to our schools, a number of measures have been put in place. Teachers have been sensitized to ensure that once children are in school, they have to monitor to prevent them from loitering outside the school and to also be watchful to know the kind of visitors that come to the schools.

“The schools have been authorised to work closely with the Neighbourhood Watch group or Vigilante group and the security agencies to forestall any sudden threat. Though some of our schools are not yet fenced, government has ensured that all schools with boarding facilities are fenced to protect our students.

“Government is currently investing more and more funds into improving our schools not only to ensure appropriate learning environment but more importantly, to ensure security of our school children and their teachers,” the Commissioner said.

In Abia, most schools in the state are not fenced and lack security agents to keep out intruders from the premises. South-East Voice investigations revealed that most schools’ fences have broken, creating avenue for weed smokers and criminal elements to converge on the school premises.

Of the about 30 schools visited by SEV in Aba area, only two have fences and vigilante men to monitor activities around them; the rest are just porous with broken fences and no securitymen. Worst hit are schools in the rural areas of the state which lack fences and any form security around them. In fact, some portions of the schools’ premises in the rural areas are already covered by thick bushes.

A Principal in one of the secondary schools in Aba who pleaded anonymity, lamented that the situation exposes the students and teachers to danger as they can be attacked by hoodlums during school hours, especially in this season of insecurity everywhere in the country.

“We are worried about the security situation of our school. The fence is broken and hoodlums now use the opportunity to enter the school premises to smoke weed and perpetrate criminal activities. Sometimes, they destroy school property and even harass teachers. This has a bad effect on the teachers and students. We have complained to the Parents-Teachers Association and the Ministry of Education, yet nothing has been done. Efforts must be made to secure the schools against intruders,” he lamented.

However, efforts to ascertain what the state government is doing to remedy the situation was not successful as the state has not appointed a Commissioner for Education as the last one was among those affected by the partial dissolution of the state executive council by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu some months ago. Also, the Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi Kalu, did not respond to calls and messages sent to his mobile number on the matter.

In Imo State, the government said that it has given instructions to security operatives especially those in the hinterlands to protect schools in the rural areas.
Governor Hope Uzodimma’s Senior Special Assistant, SSA, on Public Enlightenment, Stanford Nwokedi, said the government took the decision to ensure the protection of schools in the rural areas against any attack.

Nwokedi said that the government gave the order because the security of lives and property in the state is its priority. He also said that almost 90 per cent of schools in the state are already fenced.

“The government of Imo State is proactive in securing the lives of Imo people, including the school children and every other segment of the society. I said proactive because barely two months into his administration, the government set up the Operation Search and Flush security outfit.

“In making sure he achieves his aim, the governor has additionally launched hundred security vehicles and communication gadgets to completely secure the state. So government is not oblivious of the fact that the desperate opposition politicians fueling the insecurity may be targeting this way.

“All these things government is doing is to ensure that some of these attacks do not happen in the state. With the level of security within the length and breadth of the state; it is not going to be easy for anybody to try anything criminal in this state right now. We have enough security even in the most remote places in the state.

“I want to say that the security of our children is a priority to this government. There has been instruction to security operatives working in the hinterland to oversee the security of our children, so that these hoodlums do not have their way. And government is providing the necessary personnel, logistics and other material needs that the security outfit needs to operate effectively,” he explained.

According to the governor’s aide, “The schools that do not have their perimeter fencing are a priority to this government. You can say that almost 90 per cent of schools in Imo are already fenced and others are being given adequate attention because we value the lives of our children.”

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In Ebonyi State, the Commissioner for Education, Onyebuchi Chima said that though fencing the schools is good but according to him, it will not prevent the crime of kidnapping from taking place. What his Ministry of Education is doing, he explained, is “sensitizing our parents, our teachers and children in ensuring that when they see, they should talk; and when they identify, they should notify”.

According to him, everybody that has something to do with the school environment including teachers, parents and children are being sensitized to be aware of the current security situation in the country and on what to do in case of any problem.

“Fencing a school is not a guarantee that your school is secure because as you may have known, most of the schools where children were kidnapped were fenced. What we use in fencing our school is sensitization of the entire population, the children, parents and teachers.

“Our children are aware of the present security threat and we as Ministry of Education, are engaged, vigorously in sensitizing our parents, our teachers and children in ensuring that when they see, they should talk and when they identify, they should notify.

“So, that is what we are using to fence our schools. Yes, our schools are fenced but as I said, having a block wall around your school doesn’t prevent the children from being kidnapped.

“What prevents the children from being kidnapped is making them aware of the danger and making everybody to be part and parcel of security like our mantra; We are all in it together to keep ourselves safe, to ensure that the other person is aware of the dangers and collectively, we will continue to provide safe environment for our children.

“One thing is clear, we have not witnessed any such security challenge in our state and we pray that what we are doing is safe and we want to commend Governor David Umahi for what he is doing in terms of security, especially for our school children,” the commissioner said.

He also commended town union leaders and Local Government authorities for the security network they have put in place to forestall such occurrence in their respective areas. “Currently, we are engaged in school sports and that is one of the ways through which we are reducing physiological fear in what is happening. We are also sensitizing our children on what is happening in the country,” Chima said.

In his contribution, a security consultant, Dr. Freedom Onuoha said that government at all levels ought to liaise with school managements to evolve early security warning and response plans to save schools from any criminal attacks.

He also recommended for security communication codes to be used in alerting authorities and security agencies in times of security breaches. He also noted that host communities must cooperate with school managements to ensure total security of our schools in their area.

“The worrisome deterioration of security in Nigeria has heightened unprecedented victimization of vulnerable people in communities and population centres. Nowhere is this more evident than the growing targeting of schools for mass abduction of school children and students.

“Primary, secondary and tertiary institutions have all been targeted by terrorists, bandits and kidnappers seeking to seize their victims until ransom is paid by victims, their relatives, third parties or authorities.

“Familiarity with Nigeria’s internal security arrangement clearly indicates that almost all schools are vulnerable to criminal attacks, especially those in rural communities.

From the North to the South, most schools lack protective structures like fence and reinforced accommodation or classrooms. In addition, there is no measure in place in the form of security early warning and response system or contingency plans. These account for why most attacks have been successful.

“To better secure these schools, government and authorities should quickly conduct vulnerability assessment risk of criminal attacks on the schools; work with school managements to evolve security early warning and response plans, undertake the hardening of soft spots in the schools’ premises and facilities; introduce security-conscious and situation awareness refresher programme for staff and students, and deploy sufficient protective guards for schools.

“There is equally the need for short communication code to be used in alerting authorities and response agencies in case of security breaches. Also, government needs to partner with host communities of schools to increase their commitment to sharing information and intelligence on suspicious development,” Onuoha said.

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