By Afe Babalola, SAN
LAST week, I considered some of the reported cases of kidnap and closure of schools especially across the Northern part of Nigeria. I also examined the opinions of some experts on what will be the immediate and long-term effect of the spate of kidnappings and resultant closure of schools, not onlyon education in Nigeria, but even the concomitant exodus of people from the volatile areas in the North to a place of relative safety in the South.
The incidence of kidnappings in Nigeria has caught the eye of the world. By a World Bank report, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria and according to a survey by UNICEF, Nigeria has 13.2 million out-of-school children. The British Broadcasting Corporation, in its recent news report, stated that: “Authorities in Kano and Yobe states ordered more than 20 schools shut at the weekend because of the insecurity. Some schools were also recently closed in Zamfara and Niger states. In Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, dozens of schools have been shut for years because of the Boko Haram insurgency. For a region with a high rate of out-of-school children, this is a massive disruption to gains that have been recorded in recent years, made worse by last year’s restrictions imposed because of Covid. According to UNICEF, there is a net attendance rate of just 53 per cent in primary schools in northern Nigeria though education at that level is free and compulsory. The levels for girls is even lower because of socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in formal education, it said. The implication of these [abductions] is parents or guardians get scared of allowing their wards to go to school… This literally takes us back on the gains that we have made [especially] when it comes to girl-child education,” she said.
The spate of attacks on schools in the north-west signals a double assault on education in the region.The bandits, motivated by money, might be ideologically different from groups like Boko Haram in the north-east, which are against secular education, but together, they are having a devastating effect on education across northern Nigeria.
The effects of kidnapping on the school system
Many patriots have equally lent their voices to the unfortunate incidence of abduction of school children prevalent in Nigeria and its consequences. The House of Representatives, through the Chairman of the House Committee on Basic Education Services, Professor Julius O. Ihonvbere, reportedly noted that:
“The clear consequences of these attacks are that children are afraid to return to school, parents are uncertain if their wards would be safe in school, and teachers and administrators can no longer concentrate fully on their duties. Insecurity is now breeding a palpable fear for education in Nigeria. “Without doubt, it is the view of our Committee that these happenings constitute a huge embarrassment to our nation. With the largest number of out-of-school children in the world, now, insecurity of steadily shutting down the school system in historically underserved communities, even war-torn nations do not experience such levels and frequencies of attacks as they affect our schools. There are serious gaps in our state and federal policies on basic education especially school administration and safety. When school reopens, the girl child will be the biggest loser in this unfortunate development. Already suffering from all sorts of deprivations, many will not return to school and the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria will increase further. Government at all levels must begin to design new and sustainable policies and programmes to protect, encourage and keep the girl-child in school. The state of infrastructure in many of our schools all over the country remains embarrassing. The infrastructure at the Government Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State is just a sampler in the widespread neglect of the school and environment that our children are expected to live and study in. The basic education sector is under attack. Our children are under attack and our collective future is under attack. The consequences of the current disruptions will be evident very shortly unless urgent steps are taken.”
As rightly noted by Professor Julius O. Ihonvbere, one of the devastating effects of kidnappings is that the victims of such attacks, or those who narrowly escaped, will be highly wary of returning to school, and even if they are not, it is highly improbable that their parents will permit their return. According to a report by Vanguard, the attacks affect the psychosocial well-being and mental health of the children, apart from the loss of learning period. They also affect the confidence of parents on the safety of their children while in school. Attacks do not give parents any assurance of the safety of their children while learning. Parents are likely to be afraid to send their children to school. The recent kidnappings would definitely leave the abducted schoolchildren traumatized, scared and parents may lose confidence in schools being able to provide adequate safety for their children. This is affecting boarding schools more than day schools. Meanwhile all boarding schools in the affected states do not have any hope of resumption. Students in boarding schools have been requested to register with day schools within their communities. Nigeria is already suffering from learning crisis and the recent abductions will worsen the situation.
COVID-19 and the attitude of many countries to education
The importance of education in any civilization, community or region cannot be overemphasized. Therefore when, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools all over the world were forced to shut down, the attitude of the governments of these nations towards the reopening of schools is worthy of emulation. Of particular note is the statement of the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson when he remarkably noted as follows: “Keeping schools closed a moment longer than is absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible. Without the resumption of formal education, a generation of children is likely to have its employment and earning prospects blighted. This pandemic isn’t over, and the last thing any of us can afford to do is become complacent. But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so.” I cannot agree less.
Due to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the educational system of many nations was shut down. However,the Nigerian situation wherein incessant abductions and the consequent closure of schools have nearly collapsed the education system in the North is inexcusable. There is a need for the government to beef up security in our schools in order to ensure the safety of the students and teachers alike, and in the long-term, to maintain the standard of education in our institutions. The constant target of students of educational institutions by armed bandits calls for urgent attention. It seems to be a calculated ploy to discourage students, particularly in the Northern region, from taking up any interest in education. However, this portends a great danger in the nearest future for, I dare say, the survival of this nation. If you want to destroy a nation, you don’t need bayonets or bombs. All you need is to destroy the education of such a nation.
To be continued…
AARE AFE BABALOLA, SAN, OFR, CON, FNIALS, FCIArb., LLD.