CRIMINALS AND THE EDUCATION SPACE
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.
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