MUHAMMAD SABIU and OLAKUNLE MARUF report that kidnapping of students in the Northern part of the country is causing lots of concern among stakeholders, noting that the task of keeping the schools safe is daunting.
When the students of Federal Government Girls College in Chibok, Borno State were kidnapped in 2014, it soon became an international issue. World leaders took up the challenge to release the girls with the #Bring Back our Girls campaign. Not long after, another set of girls, 305 in number, were kidnapped in Dapchi, Yobe State; many of these girls remain in captivity.
Since then, more school pupils had been kidnapped with millions of naira collected by their abductors as ransom. Recently, when students of Bethel Baptist Secondary School in Kaduna were abducted, it was the 10th major abduction of students since December 2020 by which time more than 700 students had been kidnapped.
Today, most of the states in the Northern part of the country are in dread of kidnappers and possible cases of kidnapping. Not only are government schools targets of kidnapping, private schools, including faith-based institutions, have also become easy preys for the gun-weilding bandits.
Spate of kidnapping
Apart from Yobe, Borno and Katsina, Kaduna State has witnessed series of kidnapping of students in the last five months.
The first case of kidnapping that took place in a tertiary institution in the country was recorded on March 11, 2021, when armed bandits broke the perimeter fence of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka and kidnapped over 50 students.
Again, on the 20th April, 2021, bandits stormed Greenfield University located at Kakau village and kidnapped more than 20 students and two staff members and were only released after payment of more than N100m by the parents.
Almost, a month after, on the 11th June, 2021, six students and two staffers of Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, Zaria, were kidnapped and released by their abductors after one month.
On 5th July, Bethel Baptist College was the target of the bandits. The assailants broke the perimeter fence and abducted 121 students of the school. So far, out of the 121 abducted students, Sunday Tribune gathered that only 41 students have so far been released after the payment of N60million, while 80 students are still with the bandits.
According to Reverend Joseph Hayab, Secretary General for the Christian Association of Nigeria’s (CAN) Kaduna State, in an interview, “the bandits are now asking each parent to pay N1m each on the 80 remaining student under their care. That’s N80 million.”
Based on this precarious situation, 13 schools considered as vulnerable to attacks were closed down two months ago. The affected schools, according to Director-General, Quality Assurance, Ummu Ahmed, are Faith Academy, along Kachia road; Deeper Life Academy, Maraban Rido; ECWA Secondary School, Ungwar Maje and Bethel Baptist High School, Damishi.
Others are St. Peters Minor Seminary, Katari; Prelude Secondary School, Kujama; Ibiso Secondary School, Tashar Iche; Tulip International (Boys) School and Tulip International (Girls) School.
Also marked for closure were Goodnews Secondary School, St. Augustine, Kujama, Comprehensive Development Institution (CDI), Tudun Mare and Adventist College, Kujama, the statement said.
But things have changed since then as other schools have joined the list of closed institution in the state owing to the military operations against the bandits. Government, apparently to safeguard the lives of students, announced the closure of all schools in the state. In a joint press conference by both the Commissioner for Education and Internal Security, Shehu Mohammed and Samuel Aruwan respectively it was stated that schools would only resume when security operatives give the go ahead.
Findings revealed that at least 15, 000 schools are affected by the closure. A source at the Ministry of Education told Sunday Tribune that more over 4,000 public primary schools across the state, and over 4,000 public secondary schools were among the closed down schools.
According to him, over 300, 000 to 400,000 thousand students and pupils are at home, saying this is a serious matter.
Fear in Kano
The fear of kidnapping is not limited to Kaduna State. The Kano State government has also closed down many schools in the state, especially those on the borders with neighbouring states where cases of kidnapping had been rampant.
Consequently, 10 boarding schools had been closed as announced by the Kano Commissioner for Education, Sanusi Kiru, just as Bagauda Technical College, had been closed down with immediate effect for fear of possible security breach.
“Following disturbing security reports, we hereby announce the immediate closure of Bagauda Technical College to protect the lives of students and staff of the college. We call on parents and guardians to immediately evacuate their children from the school while they await further instructions.
“I wish to express appreciation of the state government to parents and guardians for their unflinching support and cooperation on government’s policies and directives especially on security-related matters” the commissioner stated.
He listed the affected Kano schools as Government Secondary School, Ajingi; Government Girls Secondary School Sumaila; Government Girls Secondary School Jogana; Government Girls Secondary School Gezawa and Government Secondary School, Kafin Maiyaki.
Others, according to Mr Kiru, are Maitama Sule Science Secondary School Gaya; Government Girls Unity School Kachako; Government Girls Secondary School Kunchi; Government Unity College Karaye and Government Girls Arabic College, Albasu.
Several measures are being taken by states to curtail the spread of kidnapping. In Sokoto State, government has ordered the immediate closure of 16 boarding schools at boarder communities.
The state government took the decision at the end of its 17th Security Council meeting, according to the statement disclosed by the State Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Dr Muhammad Bello Abubakar Guiwa. Dr Guiwa said the decision became imperative due to prevailing circumstances.
The affected schools are; Government Girls Model Secondary School, Illela; Sultan Muhammadu Tambari Arabic Secondary School, Illela; Gamji Girls College, Rabah; Government Secondary School, Gada; Government Secondary School, Gandi and Government Secondary School, Goronyo.
Others included Government Secondary School, Isa; Government Secondary School Sabon Birnin Gobir; Boarding Primary School, Isa; Boarding Primary School, Balle and Boarding Primary School, Jabo; UBE Junior Secondary School, Sabon Birni; Government Secondary School, Kebbe; Government Secondary School, Tureta; Government Technical College, Binji and Olusegun Obasanjo Technical College, Bafarawa.
According to Dr Guiwa, “Governor Tambuwal who directed the schools temporarily closed for two weeks, also directed the ministries of Basic and Secondary Education and that of Science and Technology to temporarily merge the students of the affected schools with those of other schools for the continuation of their studies pending the improvement in the security situation of the affected areas,” he added.
Even the Bauchi State government is not taking chances. The state’s ministry of education had already made presentations to the state government on how to secure the boarding schools across there, particularly the girls boarding schools at Kafin Madaki, Yana, Hardawa, Nabordo, Tafawa Balewa, Bauchi, Alkaleri and other towns where surveillance had been mounted by joint security operatives.
Local hunters and other vigilance groups at various locations have also been engaged by the state government to secure the schools with other security personnel making frequent surveillance visits to the schools in focus.
Disaster waiting to happen
A professor of education at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi, Professor Mansur Usman Malumfashi, in an interview with Sunday Tribune, expressed concern that spate of kidnapping and insecurity in schools across the North is discouraging parents from sending their children to school.
Professor Malumfashi warned that if allowed to fester, the problem was capable of retarding education in the region.
“It is alarming because here we are today in a situation where the school system is disrupted in the sense that parents are not willing to take their children to some schools because they are not safe,” he said.
The don added that, “People will prefer to have their children stay at home than to go to school and be kidnapped. The North is far behind in terms of western education. We are trying to catch up and now look at this situation retarding progress in that area.”