Education is under attack in Nigeria. With all-time high school attacks and student abductions, the country’s future is fraught with uncertainties. Across the regions of the country, there are pockets of challenges limiting the delivery of safe and quality education. The situation is more pernicious in the Northern region of the country.
Statistics reveal that more than 1,400 students have been kidnapped from schools in Nigeria since the February 2014 abduction and killing of 59 students from the Buni Yadi Secondary School in Yobe. For many students, going to school has become a nightmare because hundreds of schools have been closed due to increased attacks on schools by bandits and terrorist groups. For those still open, students learn with visible fears while parents and teachers appear helpless in cases of abuse, attack and abduction. Every day, students are at risk of radicalisation, recruitment, sexual exploitations, early marriage, defilement and rape, amongst others.
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Long before the raging physical attacks on education in 2014, Nigeria was the world’s capital of out-of-school children. This situation has since been compounded by the activities of terrorist organisations like Boko Haram, ISWAP and other bandit groups who launch brazen attacks on schools. Nigeria now has about 13.2 million out-of-school children, according to UNICEF. With the growing cases of school attacks in Northern Nigeria, the agency warned that the figure could increase, as over one million children may not return to school this session due to attacks on schools. Girls are the worst hit by school attacks and abuses due to their vulnerability and social disadvantage. With the increase in out-of-school children, previous gains of school enrolment and girls’ education are being eroded. School safety has become a luxury out of reach for many students in Nigeria.
Although Nigeria is a signatory to and a major beneficiary of the global Safe School Declaration launched in 2014, there has been no commensurate result with the level of vocalised commitment in providing safe and secure schools. Hardly has any state implemented up to 70 per cent of any of the three major components of the declaration – Schools Map out, National Emergency Response Plan, Awareness & Community Engagement.
As Nigeria hosts the International Conference on Safe School Declaration this month, it is imperative that all stakeholders – governments, parents, communities, religious and traditional entities, NGOs and development partners – rethink the value of education and the cost of grooming an uneducated populace. Beyond reverbed rhetorics and powerless promises, there has to be clarity on why citizens must receive twelve years of quality education, the current limitations to providing and accessing basic education and what is required to change the status quo. While insecurity is a current and major problem affecting education in Nigeria, governments must decisively address the adjoining issues that propped insecurity thus far. Insecurity is not an isolated problem for education in Nigeria; it is a Nigerian problem with a crosscutting effect and must be tackled as such.
Children, especially girls, are the most affected by conflict and insecurity. Hence, a coalition of girl advocates in a Girls Safe School Declaration presented to the Nigerian Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, expressed their demands for safe schools during an event to commemorate the 2021 International Day of the Girl Child in Abuja by Malala Fund. They want the government and other stakeholders to manage times of conflict in a way that enables schools to remain unaffected and take immediate steps to provide alternatives to keep students learning. The girls, through the declaration, also demanded that the government invest in making school premises safer for girls to remain in school unharmed and implement the Safe School Declaration through a gender-responsive approach, including allocating resources to address harms and threats of harms like sexual and gender-based violence peculiar to girls.
Nigeria cannot afford to host this global conference without leading the way in providing safe and secure girls, hence, the need to galvanise state and non-state actors and resources to solve the challenge of insecurity and poor basic education in Nigeria.
Yes! The safe school initiative is realistic in Nigeria, but it will require more than just mere rhetorics, lip service, call for more funds without proper utilisation. Governments at all levels must address critical issues of poverty, insecurity, poor infrastructure and work with community and religious leaders to address age-long orientations hindering the education and empowerment of the girl-child.
Chika Okoli writes from Abuja