– Taming Banditry in SchoolsTHISDAYLIVE – THISDAY Newspapers

Ugo Aliogo examines the level of destruction in the country’s educational system due to the continuous kidnapping of school children and the demand for ransom by bandits, with possible solutions on how to address the menace
The continuous kidnapping of school children and the demand for ransom have been viewed as an indication of government’s failure to address the insecurity problems in the country. No doubt, this ugly development poses a huge challenge to children in actualising their dreams. It also threatens the fabric of growth of the education sector, especially in a country where the number of out of school children is currently at 10.19 million according to recent statistics.
There are myriads of challenges facing the education sector in Nigeria which government at all levels seems not to be addressing from infrastructural decay to poor funding, incessant strikes, and now kidnapping of school is the new unpleasant development that has reared its ugly head.
The arguments from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), affected parents, human rights organisations, and International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) are that there is a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the government in tackling the challenge. While some contend that there is a need to beef up security in schools in the North, others are of the opinion that there is a need to implement the recommendation of Safe School Initiative (SSI) setup in 2014 in the aftermath of the kidnap of the 276 Chibok Girls in 2014. According to the BBC report, authorities in Kano and Yobe states ordered more than 20 schools to be shut down recently because of the insecurity. Some schools were also recently closed in Zamfara and Niger states. In Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, dozens of schools have been shut for years because of the Boko Haram insurgency.
To broaden the perspective of the discourse, THISDAY spoke to Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Rafsanjani, who frowned at the the growing rate of kidnapping for ransom and banditry, said the situation would continue to escalate, if not addressed by government.
He argued that the kidnapping was still taking place in spite of huge budgetary allocation to the defence and security, rising investment in intelligence gathering to get advance information to nip their activities in the bud, and the formation of the various special task forces.
Rafsanjani expressed his worries that kidnapping for ransom and banditry still strives despite persistent public outcries over their unbearable impact including killings, physical and psychological trauma, and socio-economic setback suffered by the victims and their families. He said: “Apart from paying huge ransom, many of the victims did not live to tell their stories.”
He added: “More recently, the recurring kidnapping of school children constitutes a serious setback to our literacy level and the nation’s development. While security of lives and property constitutes the fundamental purpose of government, it is worrisome that banditry and kidnapping for ransom as a critical part of the evolution of crimes in Nigeria and direct threat to the constitutional right to live and freedom of movement of the people have received little concern from the Government of Nigeria.”
However, the Country Director, United Nation Children Education Fund (UNICEF), Peter Hawkins, said the issue of kidnapping of school children is something that Nigeria has been grappling with for many years, noting that the most prominent was the kidnap of 276 Chibok Girls in 2014 by Boko Haram, “and since then it has expanded to become a bigger issue with multiple reasons behind it.”
Hawkins disclosed that in the North-east, there were five million children who needed to attend school, pointing out that the situation of education in the North-east has improved when compared with Maiduguri in 2015, where few children were going to school.
“Presently, in Maiduguri more children are going to schools now. It is a fantastic situation, but it hides the fact that over one million children are unable to go to school as a result of the conflict. For them, it is imperative that we ensure that they do go to school. The issue of attacks in the northeast on schools is more around availability and access to schools, and quality of education. UNICEF is doing everything it can to expand the availability of classrooms, teachers and working with the government to ensure that those teachers are able to go places where the children are, not just Maiduguri. But go to the wards and Local Government Areas.”
Providing deeper insight into the discourse is the Education Project Coordinator, Actionaid Nigeria, Kyauta Giwa, maintained that since the abduction of the Chibok girls in 2014 and the Dapchi girls in 2018, the attacks have continued to spread to other parts in Northern Nigeria.
She also noted that more than 100 girls are still missing from the Chibok incidence, stating that this has huge implications on the number of children who are out of school, and “being that the zone is already disadvantaged in terms of enrolment, retention, transition, and completion of school.”
Safe School Initiative programme
The Safe School Initiative programme was launched in May, 2014 after the Chibok girls were abducted to strengthen security in schools in north-eastern Nigeria by building fences around them.
At least $20 million was pledged for the three-year project, which was supported by the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, and former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Many container schools were built as temporary learning spaces as part of the scheme, but it is not known if any fences were built in communities affected. There is also the Safe School Declaration (SSD) which Nigeria ratified in 2020 among other 105 countries. But Nigeria has not done much from commitment to accountability, and she will be hosting the Safe School Declaration Conference in October 2021.
Kidnapping of school children
From the 2014 incident of the Chibok girls to the mass abduction in Dapchi in Yobe State, terrorists and bandits have specifically targeted vulnerable school children.
Since December 2020, when suspected gunmen attacked the Government Boys Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State and abducted over 300 students, the payment of ransom has remained a key motivation to driving the illicit activity.
Two months after the Kankara incident, on February, 17, suspected bandits abducted 27 students and 15 others from Government Science School, Kagara in Niger State. Less than 10 days, bandits kidnapped 317 female students at Government Girls Secondary School Jangebe, Zamfara State, in an early morning raid. Then, in late May, heavily armed men on motorcycles attacked the town of Regina in the Rafi local government area of Niger State, shot indiscriminately, and abducted about 150 children of Salihu Tanko Islamic School.
Driving force for kidnapping
It has been argued by security experts that one of the driving forces for kidnapping of school children is the proliferation of small arms and overstretched security forces which makes it difficult for the government to maintain control, while peace deals and huge ransom payments create perverse incentives that encourage more kidnappings. Blanket amnesties have recently gained even more traction through the support of Sheik Gumi, a leading Islamic cleric in northern Nigeria who appointed himself as a negotiator working to secure the release of victims of kidnapping.
In his view, Rafsanjani explained that aside from increasing poverty and unemployment rate that enhanced the nation’s susceptibility to kidnapping and banditry, the recent counter-productive strategy like habitual ransom payments employed by government at all levels have paved way for sustained engagement of the unwary activities, “instead of critical diagnosis with holistic solutions to the fundamental issues that trigger the menace.”
He observed that from the cases of kidnapped students of Chibok, Dapchi, and Chikun, the perpetrators inflict sufferings on innocent school girls primarily to pressurise the system or traumatised parents to fulfill certain demands.
According to him, “At community level, the lack of an appropriate monitoring system and inadequate protection for whistle-blowers activities have discouraged vigilance and a sense of responsibility to proactively report or take lawful action on suspected persons or a group of persons.”
Hawkins’s stance is that the factors responsible are insurgency conflicts mainly in central and north-central areas between farmers and herders, adding that the crisis has affected schools and education, “what we have seen in the last six months is the kidnap of school children especially girls by criminal elements.”
He revealed that many schools have been affected and 137 pupils/school children have been abducted mainly in the north-west, and it is due to ransom, “the target is secondary schools because they have the profile that the kidnappers are looking for and a lot of these schools are girls’ schools.”
In lending her voice, Giwa espoused that the demand for ransom is one of the major reasons for the abduction of school children, stating that the collection of ransom has continuously financed their activities and ensured that they unleash terror on schools, thereby weakening the educational system in the northern region.
Impact of kidnapping
Hawkins decried the kidnapping of children in schools across the country, noting that the unpleasant development has a profound impact on children’s education, and it is believed that 1.3 million have been impacted in the last academic year by the abduction or attacks on schools.
He affirmed that the impacts are in three folds; one directly on the children because it is traumatic and shows lack of value for their personality, the second impact on the parents of these children who begin to have doubts if they are going to send their children to school especially the girl-child.
The CISLAC Executive Director lamented that kidnapping activities constitute a serious setback to the country’s educational system with potential impact on literacy level.
He maintained that education is a fundamental human right that should be availed to all citizens irrespective of age, sex, and nationality.
He further stressed that there should be no discrimination as to who goes to school and who does not, hence education recognizes and helps to unlock the potentials in every child.
“To educate means to train the mind, character, and abilities of individuals. The importance of education in the life of an individual can never be overemphasized. As a result of this and related development, low enrolment of the girl-child in school is evident and already widening the educational and socio-economic gaps in Nigeria.
“Addressing the challenges of the kidnapping of school children in the country has become paramount in view of not only the ignorance of rural dwellers on the importance of education but also the dehumanizing impact of keeping children out of school,” he asserted.
The ActionAid Nigeria Education Coordinator bemoaned that the impact is on the education of the girl child, where data has shown that the girl child is disadvantaged in the northern region compared to the southern region.
She admitted that though no current statistics have been provided in terms of the number of children who have dropped out due to the kidnap of school children, but certainly, there will be an increase on the already existing figures of 13.2 million in Nigeria.
UNICEF’s role
Hawkins explained that the UN and UNICEF have been involved in safe schools for a number of years, and it is a growing issue.
He maintained that UNICEF had a meeting with the Ministries of education, finance, state governors, and security forces about the safe school initiative.
“Some of the conclusions drawn from the meeting was: Better sharing of intelligence and understanding of who was perpetrating the attacks on education, what their incentives were and how we can differentiate between the two types of attacks. The security forces knew the schools that are involved and they are mapping out intelligence and we are developing that intelligence. We are also working with the National Security Adviser and other security apparatus to see how their intelligence will be shared across the country especially in areas where insecurity was profound,” he posited.
Sustainable Development Goal
The UNICEF Country Director expressed worries that Nigeria would not achieve SDG 4, even if there is massive investment in education, adding that the first step is to ensure that government at different levels commit to investments in primary education, transition to secondary education.
He explained that primary and secondary educations are critical if Nigeria is going to not only achieve the SDG goal 4, but it is going to be halfway there.
Hawkins advised government to consider alternative ways to assist school children to learn, adding that there should be learning in the classroom, at home, and community which is a continuous effort especially, “in a situation where education is interrupted with the COVID-19 pandemic, and attacks on schools.” Continuing, he added: “Moreover, government should look at alternative ways such as digital platforms to ensure that children are able to have access to learning.
Payment of ransom
Giwa argued that the constant payment of ransom has continued to provide the financial power to the kidnappers and boost their activities in spreading within the country.
“Parents have told the media that they paid ransoms to secure the release of their children as the government did not help much, a situation that analysts say will worsen the crisis. Government has also paid ransom to secure the release of the abducted children while others are still held in captivity,” she said.
Rafsanjani corroborated the point made by Giwa by saying that the continuous payment of ransom is never a sustainable solution to the banditry and kidnapping, rather proper diagnosis of the fundamental drivers of insecurity must be made for holistic and actionable recommendations.
FG’s role
Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, asserted that insurgency, banditry, and kidnapping were further impeding the growth of education in the north, considering its backwardness in the sector.
He assured of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration commitment to do all in its powers, with the support of the National Assembly, to reverse the insecurity not only in the north but also nationwide.
According to him, “This is a situation that needs all hands to be on deck regardless of what you believe in. We all need to survive first before we achieve any excellence and I believe we can do so well.
“We can reverse the current trend of insecurity in our country. It is a very sad development that our education is suffering, especially with so much kidnapping of school children, particularly the girl-child.
“In northern Nigeria, education has always been a problem and it is making it worse with the abduction of students, either in Islamiya School or normal secondary school or even in tertiary institutions as it happened in Afaka in Kaduna State. I believe we should continue to fight this kind of insurgency, and banditry for us to restore normalcy in our country for our country to make progress.”
The CISLAC Executive Director affirmed that although the creation of employment opportunities to absorb the teeming youth constitutes majorly campaign promises and political agenda of successive administrations, but government has, however, “failed in initiating realistic needs assessment and appropriate ideology to address the scourge. This must be put into urgent consideration”.
He avowed that there is need for a comprehensive review of the recruitment process of the security agent to enable qualitative system reform.
He added that the security reform must re-direct attention from absurd protection of politicians and governmental executives, to prioritized intelligence gathering and prevention.
According to Rafsanjani, “Prompt response by the relevant authorities to bring under control the menace of mercantilist kidnappings with holistic policy which will rapidly improve prevention, sanctions, and investigation of the kidnapping epidemic. There must be a clear line of responsibilities and consequential dismissal of political appointees and commanding officers in absence of rapid improvement measured by the decreased rate of kidnappings across the country. An emergency response system must be institutionalized and strengthened to respond adequately to kidnapping.”