Criminals and the education space – Thisday

The stakeholders could do more to secure the future of our children

The concerns expressed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) over growing attacks on schoolchildren, as well as child abductions in Nigeria, should be taken seriously by the authorities. No fewer than 950 students have been abducted in the country since last December, according to a statement by UNICEF Executive Director, Ms. Henrietta Fore. About 500 of these children were abducted within the past six weeks. “It is not enough to condemn these crimes, not when millions of children face a worsening protection crisis,” said Fore. “Children living in these areas need concerted action to ensure that they can safely live and go to school or fetch water without fear of being attacked or taken from their families.”

We agree with UNICEF on the urgent need to tackle this growing pattern of roving genocidal gangs who target schools and homes to abduct innocent children. We challenge the federal government and the authorities in many of the states concerned to do a little more than the usual display of incompetence and blame game that have deepened our insecurity. Indeed, repeated attacks on schools in recent years have created fear in many vulnerable students and their parents, especially in some sections of the country and is affecting the attitude to education.

The implication of this unfortunate state of affair is damaging and enduring. Dozens of students and five teachers were recently abducted from Federal Government College, Yauri, Kebbi State in a third of such mass kidnappings within a month. They reportedly killed one of the police officers on duty, broke through the gate and went straight to the students’ classes. Meanwhile, the number of students abducted from Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna State in the early hours of Monday have been put at 121 with their captors threatening that the students would starve to death if their parents do not supply foodstuff before negotiations could begin on payment of ransom.

However, while we urge the authorities to move quickly to ensure the safe return of all our children that are in captivity, including in Niger State, payment of ransom and doing deals with criminals cannot be a sustainable approach to handling a challenge that borders on law and order. When a school is under attack and students become targets, according to Manuel Fotaine, West Africa Regional Director of UNICEF, “not only are their lives shattered, the future of the nation is stolen.”

When gunmen enter school premises almost at will to cart away children, government must understand that it is dealing with a serious problem. From Federal Government College, Buni Yadi where no fewer than 58 male students were brutally assassinated to Government Secondary School, Chibok where more than 100 girls are yet to be accounted for seven years after to Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi where Lear Sharibu remains in captivity on account of her faith three years after her colleagues were released, these criminals not only target the most vulnerable of our citizens, there is also a calculated attempt to further polarise the country.

Since we cannot afford to leave our children at the mercy of criminal gangs who are bent on truncating their future, there is an urgent need to go back to the drawing board on how to keep the schools safe. As Fore argued, “every effort must be made to reverse the spiralling protection crisis for children” who have now become sitting targets for criminal cartels. When parents can no longer send their children or wards to school without the fear that they could be abducted, the future of our country is in jeopardy.

ACF’s alarm on youth unemployment – Tribune

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the apex socio-political organisation in the North, recently raised the alarm over the burgeoning statistics of unemployment in the northern part of the country. Linking the ugly phenomenon to the increasing wave of insecurity predominant in the region, the forum described it as a ticking time bomb that could explode in the face of Nigeria. The ACF made this declaration in a communiqué issued after its Board of Trustees’ meeting held in Kaduna, Kaduna State. Predicating the situation on, among other things, the absence of financial institutions that could advance the economic growth and fortunes of the region, the ACF called for a concerted effort to address the menace. It said: “On the problems of unemployment in the North, it is regrettable that the North has not realised it is sitting on a time bomb which can explode at any time. The board resolved that there is the need to take immediate action to salvage the youth from lethargy, drugs and substance abuse, despondency and banditry.”

Unemployment is indeed one major threat to the country’s corporate existence. School leavers and even skilled workers consistently find it herculean to get jobs, and this raises the level of hopelessness in the country. The alarm raised by the ACF is thus real and frightening, a threat that has the capacity to dwarf whatever economic and political advantages Nigeria may achieve in the foreseeable future. A number of factors have been cited for the situation, including the high population growth rate. There are also the factors of deficient school curricula, poor teacher training, the inability of many educational institutions to attune their teachings to the requirements of the 21st-century world, as well as the inability to provide appropriate skills that could make the students employable.

The unemployment menace is certainly not restricted to northern Nigeria; it is a national problem. Unfortunately, governments at all levels do not seem to realise the immense damage it is doing to the system and the colossal havoc it could wreak on the country’s future. Very scant attention is being paid to the teeming youth who are in their active years. Due to this absence of engagement, the youth are expending their energies on anti-social activities that have become the albatrosses of the society, including the “lethargy, drugs and substance abuse, despondency and banditry” which the ACF outlined. There are also allegations that the few job openings available are filled by the children of the elite of a certain part of the country. This, among others, increases the perception of injustice in the land and brews hatred and disaffection for the Nigerian state among the youth and Nigerians as a whole.

While it is a known fact that the government alone cannot accommodate the spiraling figure of the unemployed, the private sector too has remained largely unable to bridge the yawning gap. The argument is that the comatose economy has sapped it of the required financial energy to cater for the unemployment needs of the country. This has left the unemployed youth at the mercy of a society that does not care about them. It goes without saying that the government must be encouraged to look for remedies to the poor economic situation. The damning statistics on unemployment shows that governments at all levels are merely taking the public for a ride. The federal, state and local governments must, by all means possible, create jobs that will take Nigerian youth off the streets and keep them engaged in productive endeavours. The absence of this is what is responsible for the spiraling social crises in the land. Crimes and anti-social behaviours are on the upswing because, responding to that ancient cliché, the youth have become the workshop of the devil who has given them something to do.

The time has come for school curricula to be reviewed. Anachronistic courses and subjects should be weeded off and substituted with those that teach self-employment and independence. We urge governments at all levels to take the ACF’s alarm very seriously, think out of the box and create jobs in their millions. They must address the bad business policies that are currently holding the private sector back. Reinventing the private sector holds the key to massive job creation. The youth must be taken away from the streets and creatively engaged if the government is serious about curbing the country’s innumerable social crises. The unemployment situation is indeed a ticking time bomb.

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