When kidnappers target schools – Thisday

The authorities must do more to secure the children

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. Criminal gangs now target schools from where they abduct students and teachers, and with damaging implications. Dozens of students and five teachers were last Thursday abducted from Federal Government College, Yauri, Kebbi State, a third of such mass kidnapping within a month. “They killed one of the (police officers), broke through the gate and went straight to the students’ classes,” the school security man told reporters.

While the assurances being offered by the authorities are understandable, payment of ransom and doing deals with bandits whenever they steal our children 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 United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), “not only are their lives shattered, the future of the nation is stolen.”

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

The challenge of insecurity becomes more perplexing when parents can no longer send their children or wards to school without the fear that they could be abducted. The pertinent question to ask therefore is: What have the security agencies done to understand the nature of the sundry forms of criminality that now engulf the country and what are the strategies for countering them?

With a growing pattern of roving genocidal gangs, we must 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.

The Safe Schools Initiative, launched after the 2014 Chibok kidnap, was meant to counter the growing attacks on the right to education and to build community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, and community leaders. “We cannot stand by and see schools shut down, girls cut off from their education and parents in fear of their daughters’ lives,” said former British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, then UN Special Envoy on Education at the launch. “The Safe School Initiative will put Nigeria on track to help more and more girls and boys go to school and learn.”

Unfortunately, the idea has long been abandoned with many of the schools left to their individual devices. There is an urgent need to go back to the drawing board on how to keep the schools safe. We cannot afford to leave our children at the mercy of bandits who are bent on truncating their future.

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