The current insecurity in the country, especially in the Northeast, and the COVID-19 pandemic that is taking its toll on the world have compounded the problem of out-of-school children in Nigeria.
According to data provided by the Federal Ministry of Education, the number of out-of-school children stands at 10.1 million, an increase of more than three million from last year.
The out-of-school children do menial work such as washing cars, cleaning windshields, etc.
Although no reason was given for the increase, experts attributed it to the coronavirus pandemic and the current insecurity in the country, including the abduction of schoolchildren.
They said the constant attacks on schools by militants and kidnappings for ransom have frightened many parents, who have withdrawn their children from school for safety.
Some northeastern states have had to close boarding schools for fear of attacks by militants, who now see these schools as easy targets.
The reason given by some of these states is that they can no longer guarantee the safety of students in boarding schools.
A security expert, Dr. Deji Ozomo, believes that the country needs to put in place a new security architecture to reverse the trend.
According to him, apart from the lack of synergy between our security agencies, Nigerians must see security issues as everybody’s business.
While commending the efforts of the security agencies, Ozomo said more investment and training is needed to combat urban violence and “unknown gunmen” attacks.
Malam Mohammed Ramo, a father of five, says he prays every day for the safety of his children and his neighbors from kidnappers.
“Every time I hear that children have been kidnapped, I cry, I think, God, those children could have been mine,” he said.
“I want my two boys to become doctors and engineers, and now the kidnappers are threatening those dreams. I have to look after them because I don’t have the huge amount of money demanded by the kidnappers,” he said.
Mrs. Winnies Ojekri, an Abuja resident, says that while “security is the Lord’s business,” wisdom is necessary for good judgment.
“As a parent, I am not happy that some children are not in school, my husband and I decided to take the risk but we decided to stay close and watch our children. Safety is of the lord,” she said.
She said the arrival of COVID-19 was an added problem because it caused a lot of panic in the home, especially at a time when there was not much information about the virus.
She said that when COVID-19 started, once you contract the virus, they take you away. “The idea of being taken away and kept in another place where I can’t have access to my family members was pretty scary,” she said.
“So I couldn’t take that risk, we had to stay back until the situation improved,” she said.
The Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), meanwhile, said recent attacks on schools by kidnappers in parts of northern Nigeria were responsible for the increase in the number of out-of-school children.
According to NUT spokesman Emmanuel Hwande, this development is beyond us because we are doing everything humanly possible to keep children in school.
“The bandit attacks on schools have prevented most of our children from going to school, as most schools are now closed.
“The desire of parents to equip their children with formal education will be low as fears are still there, kidnappers are rampant,” he said.
He said about 700 students have been abducted from schools since December, and many are still in captivity.
He named the states where the kidnappers are active as Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Niger and Kaduna.
To address the problem of out-of-school children, stakeholders called for the implementation of the Child Rights Act by all states of the federation.
The law provides for zero tolerance for out-of-school children, but at last count only 18 states had adopted it.
Commenting on this development, UNICEF says that unless urgent action is taken, the more than three million out-of-school children recorded last year could double by the end of the year.
The hardest hit states are those in the northeast, namely Borno, Yobe, Kebbi, and Adamawa, due to bandit activity.
At last count, there are more than 18 IDP camps, or 1.2 million displaced persons in the region.
UNICEF also says Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of out-of-school children in the world.
The global body puts the number at 13.2 million, attributing the high figure to insecurity and a spate of school abductions, which has exacerbated the situation as some states have closed boarding schools due to insecurity.
UNICEF also said the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to an increase in the number of out-of-school children.
“At the time of the pandemic, some parents took their children out of school, and did not send them back to school,” it said.
“Insecurity, poverty and threats to schools have exacerbated an already difficult situation,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria.
With President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent declaration that the government will “take a strong stand” against criminal gangs, the high incidence of out-of-school children will be significantly reduced. (NANFeatures)