In Nigeria, students have been risking their lives for an education. Like in most parts of the world, schooling comes with its fair share of challenges but when students risk losing their freedom or lives at school, our tomorrow is under attack. Where going to school is tantamount to charging into battle amid a swarm of bullets, what chances do the average Nigerian child have for a better education?
According to reports, about 800 secondary school and university students have been kidnapped in coordinated attacks by terrorists and bandits in 2021 alone.
Although these abductions did not begin recently, it has become frequent today than it was in 2014 when 276 girls were abducted from Government Girls’ Secondary school, Chibok, Borno State.
If anything, the frequency of these abductions now, in a way, normalizes the nightmare. Once outraged, Nigerians are now in a state of acceptance. Acceptance that education in Nigeria will never be safe; that schooling is a risky venture that portends the loss of life and freedom; that it is normal to scurry around to raise millions in ransom for your child.
Towards the ending of last year to date has been quite a rough road for Nigerians. It began on December 11, 2020, when 344 male students were abducted from their hostels in Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State. Barely two weeks later on December 20, 2020, 80 pupils of the Islamiyya School, Mahuta, Kaduna State were abducted. February 17, 2021, saw another outburst of rage when 27 students were abducted from GSS College, Kagara, Niger State.
In Zamfara State, 279 more girls of Government Secondary School Jangebe were abducted on February 26, 2021. The Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State also had its fair share of the insecurity, when 39 of its students were kidnapped on the midnight of March 11, 2021. Nine days later, another bandit attack led to the abduction of 23 students of Greenfield University, Kaduna State. Three more students were kidnapped on April 24, 2021, from the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State.
Though the 27 abducted students were recently released, it serves no succor to the four Greenfield students who, today, lie silently in their graves; Dorothy Yohanna, Precious Nwakacha, Sadiq Muazu and Benjamin Habilla. These young people would have grown up to become responsible Nigerians but the failed system, like a stray bullet, silenced them without warning.
The families who had their children back are left with mixed joy. On one hand, they have their loved ones back alive. On the other hand, they are swarming in debt they had incurred to raise millions of naira in ransom.
Consequently, the risk of schooling in Nigeria today is death. Where going to school could be compared to charging into battle amid a swarm of bullets, what chances do the average Nigerian child have to a better education?
Responding to the unrest, several states are shutting down boarding schools in violence-prone areas. This will, no doubt, add to the over 13.5 million out-of-school children in Nigerians today. According to available data, 30% of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54% transit to junior secondary schools. While these figures are results of extreme poverty, child labour, early marriage in girls, insecurity currently takes the cake.
About 80% of out-of-school children today are in Northern Nigeria. With security systems destabilized, schools closed due to insecurity and poverty ravaging the core north, these former students are ready targets for terrorist recruitments. This is no prediction.
Where do we start?
Like most societal issues, the visible part of the problem is hardly the real thing. When we focus on stopping kidnappers alone, we will continue to treat symptoms without success. In my opinion, we must begin with our laws, their enforcement mechanisms and strengthen our institutions to withstand external pressure.
Terrorism and kidnapping are intelligence-driven. If we must tackle them head-on, we must raise our national intelligence as Nigerians to fight this menace on an individual level.
In schools, we must teach students how to respond to security emergencies. They must be taught basic self-defense and evasive skills that make it harder for kidnappers to simply whisk students off without a run for their money.
Schools must invest in their security infrastructure to make themselves less vulnerable to kidnappers. Round-the-clock surveillance systems and well-lit surroundings are a turn-off for kidnappers.
Schools must also arrange with law enforcement agencies for periodic patrols and inspections within and outside the school fence to ensure there are no ongoing breaches.
Fighting kidnapping and kidnappers is a costly endeavour. But we rather spend that money, time and attention where it matters than hand it to unscrupulous elements of society.
Schooling in Nigeria does not have to be a suicide mission.