Learning under spectre of abduction, terrorism

University-of-Maiduguri

Last week’s abduction of three pupils and five staff members of Nigerian Tulip International Colleges (NTIC), Ogun State, as well as the recent attack by Boko Haram insurgents, which led to the death of five persons at the University of Maiduguri, has for the umpteenth time, stirred the need for a safe school policy in the country. Apart from putting on display the price the country is beginning to pay for abandoning the very ambitious Safe School Initiative (SSI), it also re-enforces the need to prioritise security in Nigerian public and private institutions of learning. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI write.

When penultimate week, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, alleged that the N500 million set aside by the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration for the rebuilding of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, under the Safe School Initiative (SSI) is missing, and cannot be accounted for, not a few were appalled at the penchant of the elite to make a fortune out of the misfortune of the downtrodden.

The SSI, a fund set up to pilot 500 safe schools in the North East, and led by Nduka Obaigbena, was intended to bring the Federal Government and Nigerian business leaders to interface with the international community to ensure that children are secure wherever they converge to learn.Jonathan kicked off the initiative with a start off fund of N3.2b, with half of the amount coming from the private sector.

After a meeting on the initiative between Jonathan, former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and governors from the three least educationally developed states, the then Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, informed that the fund would help ensure that children in schools in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states got educated in a safe environment.

Okonjo-Iweala, while explaining the initiative said former Brown, who was also an envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nation on children, was expected to also assist in raising some funds in addition to the benchmark set for the programme.

A total of sum of $100 was the targeted take-off grant for the Programme by the Federal Government and the international community. According to the Shettima, the Jonathan administration released the money to the Chibok Community shortly after the abduction of over 200 Chibok schoolgirls on April 14, 2014. And Okonjo-Iweala, flew to Chibok to lay the foundation stone for the N500m school-rebuilding project.

But two years after that exercise, the project is yet to be completed, while students of the affected school continue to remain at home without classrooms.Perhaps if the Jonathan government and the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, which succeeded it had taken the SSI seriously, the issue of safety in Nigerian schools would have by now been accorded the deserving premium.

With the trend of events in the past 24 months or thereabouts, it is obvious that both the federal and state governments can do little to stem the tide of attacks on educational facilities, other than deploying its officials to the scenes and making high promises after that attacks have been carried out.

Having played the ostrich for this long, the first suicide bombing to take place on the campus of University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) coming in the sixth year of terrorists attack in Bornu State, and the abduction of eight persons from the Nigerian Tulip International Colleges (NTIC), Ogun State (NTIC) has, once again shows that attacks on education by subversive element has not relented.

These incidents must also serve as a timely reminder to the Federal Government that it has a responsibility to ensure that youths acquire knowledge for self-development and to be able to contribute their quota to national development in a safe atmosphere.

In the first of the two latest incidents, armed men stormed the Ogun State-based school at about 9: 30pm last Friday and kidnapped three female students and five female staff members.

Spokesman of the school, Cemal Yigit, in a statement said, “The school security noticed some movement on the CCTV §camera at the girls’ section and promptly deployed security personnel and alerted the relevant security agencies in the area as customary. Upon hearing the security alarm activated and sighting our security personnel, the armed invaders opened fire on the security staff and managed to escape through a very dangerous route with the hostages.

The kidnappers initially asked for a N1.2b ransom for the release of the victims before they reduced it to N750m. In the UNIMAID blast, where a seven-year-old male suicide bomber detonated his explosive at the senior staff quarters of the school, a professor of veterinary medicine and four other were left dead with scores scarred with varying degrees of injuries.

Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Ibadan, Isaac Olawale Albert, is worried over the terrorists’ new modus operandi, suggesting that government and security agencies must scientifically device new means of tackling the menace.

He said: “The situation is now very disturbing. While kidnapping is now mass-based as the perpetrators are no longer interested in taking one person, but two or more, Boko Haram is now showing more interest in killing senior officers since it is a well-known strategy in terrorism that when you kill commanders, the fighting forces become less committed.

“The government is trying its best, but we must approach the situation more scientifically. Why are kidnappers taking groups and not individuals? Why is Boko Haram focusing on commanders? Why the attack on a high profile institution such as the University of Maiduguri? Answers to these questions should inform strategy. As the Nigerian security forces redouble their efforts, they must be provided support by the civil populace.”

For former vice chancellor of Caleb University, Prof Ayodeji Olukoju, with the scenario playing out, intelligence operatives must reappraise their counter insurgency approach in order to contain emerging extreme crimes.

According to the fellow of Nigerian Academy of Letters, “We are dealing with a situation of insurgency and counter insurgency and therefore it appears as if our intelligence operatives have failed or are failing us, may be in some measure or in large measure. I’m not an expert in this field, but looking at it from the outside, I think that for such thing to happen at UNIMAID, it means that those in charge of our security apparatus need to reconfigure the infrastructure of intelligence gathering, because the whole purpose of counter insurgency is to anticipate and preempt such occurrences. What we are seeing in a great sense is a failure of intelligence.

Olukoju, who is currently of the Department of History & Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, added, “In a situation of war like this, the terrorists are out to attack schools, markets and public places where people are most vulnerable. So we need to put on our thinking cap in dealing with them by preempting what they are likely to do and understanding how they operate because they will always seek to strike when we are most vulnerable. We must therefore, put up strong defense at our most vulnerable points.

Olukoju, who stressed that our aerial monitoring, surveillance capabilities must be steadily updated, just as it is important to have drones in troubled and critical spots, added that the time has come for our waterways to be monitored since they are now facilitating the escape of kidnappers.

“It is clear now even to the common man that our waterways are vulnerable and in most cases, these people tend to escape through that route to places that are inaccessible. Therefore, there should be reinforced patrol of waterways in Lagos State. By now the government should have been able to identify the critical and vulnerable areas, so that patrol teams can be deployed there to ensure that any vessel crossing out of Lagos State is apprehended and searched. Riverine communities in Lagos State must have extra policing.”

Professor of Forensic Pathology at the Lagos State University College of Medicine, John Obafunwa, is of the view that the country cannot tackle the issue of insecurity in schools and other challenges confronting it in isolation as a lot of factors need to be addressed.

“We cannot deal with the issue of insecurity in schools in isolation. The latter constitutes part of the country and we need a holistic solution. This will involve a plethora of approaches, like job creation and publicly dealing with corrupt officials (executive, legislative and judiciary). Others include the police and other security forces, the so-called academics, civil servants, among others,” he said,” said Obafunwa, who is the immediate past and vice chancellor of Lagos State University.

He advised parents to start educating their children and wards about living an honest life, while the society should stop celebrating thieves in all shapes and forms. Corporate bodies should divert their energies to promoting and outstandingly rewarding academic excellence as opposed to mundane acclaims.

“We should discourage everything that predisposes us to worshiping money. We should boldly confront religious fundamentalism be it among Moslems, Christians or traditionalists. These must be clearly separated from the state.”

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