Keeping Schools Safe In The North By Reuben Abati

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April 14, 2014, 276 Nigerian female students of the Chibok Girls Secondary School were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists. It was a very disturbing moment for Nigeria and the rest of the world. Most of the abducted girls were Christians. Six of them reportedly died. About 57 escaped subsequently, but till date, more than six years later, many of the Chibok girls are still in captivity. Four years later, on February 19, 2018, history repeated itself. About 110 school girls were abducted from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, in Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State. Following negotiations between government and the abductors, 104 girls were released about a month later, on March 21. One of them Leah Sharibu, is still in captivity because she refused to renounce Christianity. She is a prisoner of faith and victim of the Nigerian problem.

In December 2020, more than 300 boys were abducted from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State. 344 boys eventually regained freedom. The Katsina State Government had to negotiate with the bandits. There was also Kagara, Niger State. On February 16, 2021, 27 children were kidnapped in a night-time raid on a boarding school, along with 12 of their relatives and three staff members.  On February 25, 2021, the terrorists struck again. They kidnapped 317 girls from the Girls Science Secondary School, in Jangebe, Zamfara State. 279 girls have since regained their freedom.  There have been in-between many other cases of abduction of boys, girls, men and women in parts of Northern Nigeria, but the aforementioned specific examples have been cited because of the recurrent pattern that they present. Altogether, they paint a picture of anguish, and the tragedy of the failure of the state to protect young, vulnerable Nigerians, and even the old, and all citizens generally, from the menace of terrorism.

Boko Haram, the name by which the local terrorist group in Nigeria is known is propelled by the ideology that “Western education is a sin”. This clearly explains the focus on schools, particularly boarding schools. In each of the cases – from Chibok to Jangebe, the terrorists targeted boarding schools, and abducted young children between the ages of 11- 18. In terms of numbers, young girls have been the majority of victims. They are dehumanized, raped, subjected to the most inhumane conditions possible, turned into sex slaves or even forcibly put in the family way by their abductors. They are carted away over long distances, and security agents are unable to intercept the unholy movement by gun-wielding criminals. After a pattern, the authorities suddenly raise an alarm when the incident has occurred, only to embark on the same routine: assurances that the students will be rescued, reports of negotiations with the bandits, eventual release of some or all of the abducted students, reunion with their parents, and shallow promises that the government will take every step to keep our schools safe. Oftentimes, indeed, in virtually every case, there are discrepancies in the reported numbers. Nigeria is one country where a human being can disappear, say from a school, and there will be no record, absolutely no trace of that person’s existence on the register. I mean, yes, literally. What do you expect in a country where population data is unknown and identification is a problem?   

Reuben Abati

This is tragic. The North is the most educationally disadvantaged part of Nigeria. Most of the over 15 million children that are out of school, are from the North. And now the ones that are in school face the constant threat of abduction. No one should be surprised that some of the students who recently regained their freedom declared that they would rather not go back to school. They are traumatised. Their parents are scared. Boarding schools have become unattractive. School itself has become a place of fear and danger. Every school that has been a target of terrorist attack, is said to be without perimeter fencing and adequate security. Terrorists stroll in, pack the children and a few teachers like chicken and lead them into the forest. The terrorists may be opposed to Western education, but they seem to be more interested in science schools (Dapchi, Kankara, Kagara, Jangebe). In a country where science education should be encouraged, terrorists are turning science students in the North into objects of trade. No state government, not even the Federal Government has ever admitted that ransom was paid to the kidnappers, but it is very obvious that kidnapping has become a source of livelihood for those we call bandits. It is the new big business, not just in the North, but across Nigeria. Widespread unemployment, poverty, hunger and bad beliefs and choices have turned kidnapping into a lucrative option. Just carry a gun, abduct a few persons, children are easy targets because they are defenceless, then negotiate with government and smile to the bank. Official spokespersons would step forward to make the usual noises that no ransom was paid and that government will not tolerate any act of impunity. Just like that. Lori iro!

Governors of the Northern states, according to a report in ThisDay newspaper, March 8, are now taking steps to “tighten security to curb abduction of school children.”   In total, 11 states are said to be adopting measures including the merger of boarding schools, provision of security, perimeter fencing, operational vehicles for the police, sensitisation of school authorities to be more security conscious and so on. I am sceptical. I hope this is not one of those usual excuses to award contracts and profit from other people’s agony. The Northern elite have been holding meetings about how to develop and promote education in the North since 1959. They meet. They talk. Nothing happens. In May 2014, the Nigerian Government embarked on a Safe Schools Initiative in collaboration with the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Global Business Coalition for Education and another NGO – A World At School. This was in response to the Chibok girls’ abduction. The Federal Government of Nigeria committed a sum of $10 million; seven years later, not much has been achieved. The schools remain unsafe. The Jonathan administration also built 165 primary schools across the North – what became known as the almajiri schools with the primary goal of getting children off the streets, and back into classrooms. Many of those schools have been abandoned by the state governments. The children are still out of school. President Buhari most recently stressed the importance of the Safe Schools Initiative. Keeping the schools safe should indeed be a top priority at all levels of government.  But is anyone doing so? If terrorists succeed in instilling fear in children who have a whole future ahead of them and drive them away from the classrooms, then they would have won a major psychological war, with far-reaching implications for the future.

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There is a lot that government can do to provide security. But the Northern elite must embark on serious introspection. The security of the North lies in education, and that requires ensuring that the emerging generation is given every opportunity to go to school, and acquire skills that can fit into a world that has become more competitive. The Northern elite must be ashamed that right in the first quarter of the 21st Century, – the age of Artificial Intelligence, electronic vehicles, space science and high-end tech –  it is more preoccupied talking about cattle rearing and nomadism! The real revolution that the North needs is greater investment in education and the people. The Governors should stop making empty promises and get to work. Otherwise, when next another boarding school is attacked and school children are kidnapped in any part of the North, we would remind them of their own criminal negligence.

II:

Okowa and Idumuje-Ugboko Crisis

On March 8, 2021, the Vanguard newspaper online in a story titled “Delta Committee makes all-inclusive recommendations to end Idumuje-Ugboko crisis” by Emma Amaize reported that a committee set up by the Delta State Government which investigated “the kingship tussle and land acquisition crisis at Idumuje-Ugboko Kingdom, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State has concluded its assignment and made far-reaching submissions to the state government on how to bring lasting peace to the troubled domain. In October 2020, some concerned stakeholders reportedly approached Senator Ifeanyi Okowa to intervene to ensure peace in Idumuje-Ugboko, an agrarian community in Delta Ibo part of Nigeria that has not known peace since the death of its former monarch in 2017. The main conflict is between Prince Ned Nwoko and Prince Chukwunomso Nwoko on one hand, bitterly opposed to each other over land acquisition issues, and between the latter and other stakeholders who are challenging his right of ascension to the throne. Idumuje-Ugboko has thus been gripped by a fratricidal, filial conflict that has affected the entire community. Cases have been filed in court. There have been accusations of murder, threats of assassination and the spread of bad blood in the community.  

The details of the committee’s recommendations have not been made public, but Senator Ifeanyi Okowa must be decisive in dealing with the situation. Peace should be the main target, and getting the various gladiators to sheathe their swords. Idumuje-Ugboko is like a typical Nigerian community where a few persons think that they are more important than others just because they have a fat bank account or their palm kernels have been cracked for them by benevolent spirits. They should be told to heed Chinua Achebe’s advice in Things Fall Apart and be humble. Such persons often fail to realise that the people who suffer at the end of the day when they embark on ego conflicts are the ordinary people as has been the lot of the ordinary people of Idumuje-Ugboko in the last four years.

Prince Ned Nwoko whose stories and engagements I follow closely in part because of his marriage to Nollywood star and beauty queen, Regina Daniel is a key actor in the Idumuje-Ugboko story. He wants to build a university and a golf course. He wants land and more land. It is alleged that his cousin, Prince Chukwunomso Nwoko, heir to the throne, thinks he already has more land than he needs. Prince Nomso wants to ascend the throne. He is having issues because according to some accounts, Prince Ned Nwoko, a man of no small means and influence is blocking him. Without Ned Nwoko’s support, Prince Chukwunomso may not get the endorsement that he needs and a staff of office. There have been public fights in the kingdom. People have been arrested. Prominent members of the community like Dr. Gabriel Ogbechie have been dragged into it. In one public intervention (Vanguard, May 23, 2019), Dr, Ogbechie of RainOil sued for peace. He says Prince Ned Nwoko is his friend.  Prince Chukwunomso is also his friend. But in the community, no one trusts the other. The Idumuje-Ugboko Development Union (IUDU) is divided down the middle. The matter has gone so messy that even Edgar Joseph, my Akwa Ibom brother, had to write about it in this newspaper. Can you imagine how the people of Idumuje-Igboko not being able to manage their own affairs are attracting busy-body attention from everywhere?  Even a man from Akwa Ibom is now trying to make peace in Idumuje-Ugboko!

These are the kind of village square fights that show us the other side of Nigeria, and they cannot be taken for granted.  In the 21st Century, Nigerians are still fighting over land and traditional stools, and who is the biggest man in the clan. I think Idumuje-Ugboko is blessed but the people are behaving badly. It has prominent sons like Prince Ned Nwoko and Dr. Gabriel Ogbechie of RainOil, and many others in a state that is richly blessed with some of the most prominent Nigerians in the world today. Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, the Governor of Delta State, should step in and stop the reign of madness in that kingdom. A Delta Ibo from neighbouring Ogwashi-Uku, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, just got a job as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Some of her contemporaries are busy back home fighting over ancestral land and title and they are so determined about it.  Some people are just shameless.

The people of Idumuje-Ugboko deserve to have a king that is their choice according to tradition. Ned Nwoko wants to build a university. He should be encouraged to do so. He must put the community’s interest first. If Gabriel Ogbechie wants to build a refinery in Idumuje, why not? He too should be encouraged to do so. If Prince Chukwunomso wants a staff of office, the kingmakers should look into it and ensure that justice is done. They must all stop fighting and give peace a chance. For Prince Ned Nwoko’s benefit, I will like to recommend a story titled “How much land does a man need?” by Leo Tolstoy, with best wishes to Regina. 

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