This week, the management of my children’s school notified us about their intention to take the students on a visit to one of the government’s public schools in Kano. The kids were encouraged to come with their old school shoes, clothes and bags to give out to the less privileged children. Some parents bought brand new shoes and bags and distributed them among the pupils. Elitist as it may sound, the visit to the school was a monumental success in my opinion, as many of my children’s friends had never come in contact with real poverty before.
Some of the older kids shed tears when they saw how the other half lived. Some classes had no chairs or benches but only bare cemented floors without mats, in this harsh harmattan weather. A few children did not have shoes or socks on their feet, and so their cracked blistered feet were visible throughout the visitation. Their uniforms were torn and ill-fitting and majority of them were not wearing sweaters. The sight of them haunted my son so much that he has talked about nothing else since the visit. He is now on a mission to raise enough money to buy slippers, mats and sweaters for the school. Kudos to him!
The visit to the public school was on Thursday, 20th of Jan, 2022. While making a mental note to commend the school management, Hanifa’s story broke.
Hanifa was a five-year-old girl who attended Noble kids’ school in Dakata, Kano. On the 4th of December, 2021, she went missing. I remember seeing the story briefly on my timeline and saying to myself- ‘not again!’ The frequency of these kidnappings has gradually made us desensitised. We hear and read about these occurrences, mutter silent prayers for protection and then move on with our lives. Because, in the end, there is precious little we can do.
People flocked to Hanifa’s parents’ house to console them, relatives, friends and well-wishers. Among them was Abdulmalik Tanko, the proprietor of the private school she attended. He was reported to be deeply saddened by Hanifa’s abduction and prayed along with other family members for her safe return.
The police were informed and the commissioner of police, Kano state command raised a team called ‘operation puff adder’ (you gotta love these names!) to investigate the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, the kidnapper faced another problem; the victim recognised him and if released, would report him as her abductor. On the 18th of January, her kidnapper fed her tea mixed with rat poison and waited for her to die. With the help of one Hashimu Isyaku, he buried her in a shallow grave located in the school premises at Tudun Murtala Quarters, Kano.
When people say ‘someone was poisoned to death’, the words do not do justice to the suffering of that person. It sounds instantaneous, doesn’t it? Like you drink poison and you just die? The reality however is even more gruesome. The person screams and writhes in pain depending on the type of poison until the respiratory muscles are paralysed and he or she can no long breathe. This is the mechanism of action of most rat poisons. Pardon me; it is not my intention to scare you.
Police investigation led to the arrest of Abdulmalik Tanko, the school proprietor who went to ‘console’ her parents. This man confessed to the police that after two attempts to convince others to help him, he finally lured Hanifa (this student) and took her to his house after which he contacted her parents and demanded a ransom of six million naira. Despite killing Hanifa, AbdulMalik, still went ahead to collect the ransom. The police confirmed that he was arrested at the venue of the collection of the ransom. Well done NPF!
On Thursday, the story broke that Hanifa had been found, although not in favourable circumstances. Her body was exhumed and rushed to a hospital for forensics and confirmation of death. Once again, her family and the entire community of Kano were thrown into mourning.
After hearing my kids recount their experience of their visitation and then reading about Hanifa, my emotions were in a quagmire. What the hell are we supposed to do as parents? What does Nigeria want us to do? Are we now supposed to keep our children at home and home-school them? What about the numerous benefits of classroom learning? Has it suddenly become a crime to send children to school? You send them to a government boarding school- some terrorist group abduct them and yet, when you send them to a private school, a teacher, a God-damn proprietor kidnaps and kills them? What in God’s name are we supposed to do?
I did not sleep much that Thursday night as I wondered whether I would send the kids to school the next day. What was the point really? I read that KNSG had closed the particular school in question. My heart went out to the real owner of the school- that will be the end of his or her business, just because of one bad staff.
On Friday, the kids insisted on going to school, but not before I sat them down and warned them to never follow anybody, anywhere, outside school premises except me. My paranoia had me researching ways of inserting GPS trackers on their wrist watches. This is what parenting in the 21st century has become.
The school as an institution of learning has long since become a harbinger of violence. From the repeated mass kidnappings of boarding students in Nigeria to the numerous school shootings in America, one has to wonder if there isn’t a mass conspiracy to shut down the educational sector altogether. Schools have existed for centuries and classroom learning has consistently shown to be superior to other forms of learning even in the age of online classes. Apart from lessons, kids learn interaction and learn life long habits that help shape their characters for the rest of their lives. Therefore, the importance of class-room teaching cannot be over-emphasised.
But how do we protect our children?
Another dimension to this story is the breach of trust by the alleged teacher. Once upon a time, a teacher was the most respected member of the society; someone whom you could trust with your ward and go to sleep without worry. What this man has done now is to destroy many years of trust between school owners and teachers. Teachers all over Kano or even Nigeria will now be subjected to rigorous checks and random searches as no one can be trusted anymore. How can someone be so evil as to abduct a little girl and then have the courage to go to her parents’ house and shed crocodile tears?
Truly, the heart of man is desperately wicked.
The public is demanding that, if proven, Abdulmalik and his cronies face similar treatment. ‘An eye for an eye’ as the good books say. However, we have been taught that ‘An eye for aye’ only leads to more blindness. But this time, I think, more blindness will not be such a bad thing, if the rate of kidnapping and killings will reduce.
The death of a child is no joke.