Saving her Young
On the night of April 14, insurgent group, Boko Haram decided to take its war against the Nigerian state to a rather regrettable dimension.
The group which has held up war against the country in its north eastern states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno decided to abduct more than 200 young school girls aged between 16 and 18 from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State.
No doubt, they succeeded with their terror plans on the young girls who were mostly in their final year in school and reportedly getting ready to take their final certificate examinations. Of course, the insugents also gained for Nigeria and themselves some sort of ignoble popularity.
Almost every globally recognised institutions and persons who heard the news came down heavily on the Nigerian government and Boko Haram and in no time, the abduction saga became a trending global issue with popular social media hash-tag-#BringBackOurGirls assigned to it and frequently used across board to demand for the release of the schoolgirls.
Created to raise awareness about the kidnapping, the hash-tag attracted the attention of such people like the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, global girls’ education advocate, MalalaYousafzai and United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown.
Nigeria’s artist, Sarah Peace was also reported to have created an artistic impression in Epping Forest, south-east England depicting the young girls with black veiled figures; all these were however in addition to offers of help to locate and rescue the girls from Iran, United States, United Kingdom, China, Israel, France, Canada and European Union amongst others.
By their often maze-like objectives, Boko Haram seeks to destroy formal/western education and has in 2014 alone, reportedly over 1700 people, including 173 school teachers. It is also reported that the group has within this period burnt down 80 primary school building in Borno State alone while an estimated 300 number of educational facilities have been destroyed by them in the three worst affected states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
In addition to the impact of the group’s activities on education in the north-east Nigeria, over three million people are reported to have been displaced from the communities that have seen the group’s rampaging acts.
Severally reprimanded for its reported sluggish management of intelligence reports prior to the attack on the Chibok school and subsequent abduction of the girls, Nigeria was bruised by very harsh criticisms from her citizens and the world; indeed, there were valid questions on the country’s reputed exploits in helping to restore peace and sanity in troubled countries across the globe as it seemed overwhelmed by the activities of Boko Haram.
If not for anything, the news and subsequent reactions to the abduction of the young school girls had hit the federal government like a thunderclap, and perhaps reminding it that Boko Haram’s war against the country was becoming a lot more complicated than it was initially made to appear.
By abducting vulnerable young school girls and reportedly imposing choices on them, Boko Haram indicated that it was in a total war with Nigeria and no one was exempted from its assault; the government in this regard decided to complement its military efforts on improving security in the north-east with targeted development intervention packages.
As gathered by the THISDAY from government sources, the government will within the extent of the packages, combine its resources and contributions from concerned members of the international community to deliver basic services in healthcare and education and help families whose lives have been overwhelmed by the conflict rebuild their livelihoods.
In addition, the government in collaboration with Gordon Brown and a coalition of Nigerian business leaders will undertake an initiative-the Safe Schools Initiative (SSI) which was launched on May 7, 2014, during the World Economic Forum Africa (WEFA) in Abuja primarily to provide young Nigerian school children with safe learning environments.
SSI by its objective will urgently protect hundreds of schools across the country from future attacks and kidnappings, starting with schools in the North-east. Its announcement was however followed by the inauguration of a steering committee by President Goodluck Jonathan on July 9, 2014.
Following from a recent visit of the SSI steering committee to Adamawa State where it was discovered that over 4000 people have been displaced from their homes and are now living within a camp created for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at Bajabure, THISDAY also learnt that as many as 2400 young students had put in requests to be transferred to safer places where they could continue their studies.
A member of the committee that was led by the Minister of Finance, Dr.NgoziOkonjo-Iweala on the visit told the paper that about 589 children were amongst the IDPs while five new deliveries had been recorded within the camp so far.
In clarification, the committee member disclosed that the SSI is planned to halt interruptions in the school calendar and educational programs of students as well as provide secured environments for school children, particularly girls to learn through thought-out measures.
Some the measures to be adopted in securing the schools include, proper fencing, installation of alarm systems, trained guards to protect school environments and most importantly, community policing which THISDAY learnt has received endorsement of the communities within the troubled zones.
Upgrading of infrastructure in schools like provision of sustainable solar power system to ensure that schools are well lit while water and sanitation facilities are kept functional, development of security plans and rapid response systems for schools, training of staff on safety measures as well as counsellors to help affected pupils regain consciousness for education, are also part of the measures planned in the SSI.
The committee member however noted that the SSI will also include the introduction of a resourceful mode of educating pupils “off-site”. What this means is that students whose schools have been greatly affected by acts of terrorism and whose location still pose great threats to their safety during learning, will be accorded the opportunity to continue with their studies at various off-site learning centres that will be established by the government.
“The SSI is to urgently protect hundreds of schools across the country, starting with schools in North Eastern Nigeria from attacks and kidnap.Also, the task of the SSI will be complemented by other development programs such as the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) which is expected to focus on medium to long term development projects within the region, as well as a Victims’ Support Fund (VSF), targeted at providing emergency relief and other support to families whose lives and livelihood have been devastated by the crisis,” the committee member stated.
The member also noted that the school transfer requests by the students who are majorly in their final classes of studies were backed by the parents of the students.
The parents, it was learnt had expressed fear that the instability associated with security challenges in the three states will affect their children psychologically and thereby hamper their education.
It was also disclosed that the requests which sums up to about 800 from each of the three states has been acknowledged and under consideration by the government; Okonjo-Iweala reportedly assured the parents and students that everything was being done to support them.
Okonjo-Iweala was said to have noted at the visit that the technical committee of the SSI is working out modalities to place students where they feel safer in line with their transfer requests.
“The minister is a mother and grandmother. She feels the pains of the parents and she has assured that the team is doing everything possible to respond to the needs of the parents and students in this regard,” the committee member said.
The member stated further that: “The SSI experts have begun work already. We cannot disclose some sensitive information but we have had very fruitful discussions with some communities, the state governments and other partners involved in this project.
We have also begun to discuss with groups that will provide counselling for the students and parents. Some of the students have just started school while some have one or two more years to finish. Some of the parents feel strongly that their children will be served relocating to other states to finish their education.”
“With the next scheduled visit to Yobe, the team continues to visit communities to listen to them, give support, encouragement and to seek modalities to sort things out within the communities,” the member added while insisting that halting interruptions in school calendar and educational programs, providing secured environments for school children, upgrading schools infrastructure and introduction of innovative education methods are top on the priority of the team.
Now that the government has taken up the safety of pupils in schools as a priority, it is important for such measures created within the Safe School Initiative to include addressing the mental health challenge of the pupils that have seen horrific acts of Boko Haram in their schools and communities, such acts as psychologists posits, could deter the consciousness of students to assimilate in their learning processes.
Additionally, collaborative efforts between schools, families and communities should be reinforced and this is because, the underlying importance of building and implementing such policies on evidenced-based approaches cannot be overemphasised.
As stated by the US National Association of Schools Psychologists (NASP) in its compliment of President Barack Obama’s commitment to identifying concrete and comprehensive strategies to ensure that the United States meet its responsibility for keeping every school, child, family and community safe within the context of safe schools initiative, “effective school safety is a day-in, day-out commitment that infuses every aspect of school life.”
Nigeria’s challenge with keeping her school children safe from external attacks should not be defined by the horrible abduction tragedy of Chibok but by a proven desire to checkmate internal and external violence in schools across the country.
Parents, schools, communities must become more united with government in the task of safe schools for young Nigerian pupils. Civil societies must also seek to become constructive vocal advocates for policies that support what government and schools can do effectively to supports children in learning without hindrances.
In line with the thoughts of NASP, the urgency to develop safe and supportive schools with psychological and physical safety initiatives across the country has become more important with the Chibok abduction episode; the crisis however should be considered too good to be wasted in developing sustainable safety measures for schools across Nigeria to teach without endangering the lives of young students and teachers alike.
Quote: Some the measures to be adopted in securing the schools include, proper fencing, installation of alarm systems, trained guards to protect school environments and most importantly, community policing which THISDAY learnt has received endorsement of the communities within the troubled zones
Quote: Now that the government has taken up the safety of pupils in schools as a priority, it is important for such measures created within the Safe School Initiative to include addressing the mental health challenge of the pupils that have seen horrific acts of Boko Haram in their schools and communities
Article Credit: Thisdaylive