As schools prepare to resume for a new academic session, many pupils may remain out of school as no fewer than 615 schools have remained shut in some troubled states owing to attacks by terrorists in different parts of the country.
Many northern states have come under attack by terrorists with many people, including children, killed and several others kidnapped. The most hit states are Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Niger, while Sokoto, Kebbi, Bauchi, Plateau and Taraba states have not been spared by the attackers.
The disturbing rate of out-of-school children came to the fore again on Thursday when a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, in partnership with Global Education Monitoring Report, showed that the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen to 20 million from about 12.5 million recorded in 2021.
This has sparked calls for an urgent intervention by the government to arrest the situation so that the pupils can return to school.
Between 2014 and now, there have been mass abductions in several states, with over 1,000 pupils kidnapped. Even though most of the pupils have been freed, there are fears that there is still apprehension in some parts of the region over the safety of schools and the pupils.
Some of the major school abductions include the April 14, 2014 kidnap of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State; another 300 pupils from Damasak, Borno State; 110 pupils from Dapchi, Yobe State; 344 pupils from Kankara, Katsina State; 276 pupils from Jangebe, Zamfara State; 140 students from Chikun in Kaduna State; and 102 pupils from Yauri, Kebbi State.
In Kaduna State, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, which is an umbrella body for the people of Southern Kaduna, an area severely hit by insecurity, said about 500 schools, mostly primary schools, had either been shut down, abandoned or destroyed as a result of the unrelenting attacks on communities in the area since 2019.
The union’s Public Relations Officer, Mr Luka Biniyat, in an interview with one of our correspondents said in all the 200 communities sacked by bandits and armed herdsmen in Southern Kaduna, all the primary and secondary schools had been closed.
“In my village, Zamandabo, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area, which was attacked twice last year, the Day Secondary School there and the two primary schools remain shut down,” he said, adding that some schools had been abandoned for over five years as a result of the attacks and kidnapping, especially in the Chikun and Kachia local government areas.
He added, “The villages that confronted the situation and refused to vacate soon found that no teacher was willing to go to the schools to teach. So, we have kids, who left home when they were five years old, which was not the ripe age for admission into public schools in Kaduna State.
“Today, they are 10 years old and have never been to school, because they have become internally displaced persons with their parents.”
Biniyat called on Governor Nasir El-Rufai to empower the people to defend themselves before the arrival of military troops during attacks, and that if the governor refuses, a state of emergency should be declared in the state.
“In the interim, we are calling on the United Nations Children’s Education Fund to come to the assistance of our stranded schoolchildren. Many of them are suffering from food and nutrition deficiency.”
Also, the Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers in the state, Ibrahim Dalhatu, affirmed that the level of insecurity had grossly affected teaching and learning in the state, but that it was difficult to give the actual number of schools closed.
He said, “I cannot give you a specific number of schools that have been shut down now, even if you go to SUBEB (State Universal Basic Education Board) or the Kaduna State Ministry of Education, they cannot give you the exact number of schools that are closed.
“I know so many schools have been shut down and many primary school pupils can no longer go to school as a result of threats and insecurity. Birnin Gwari and Kajuru are the two most volatile local government areas that are worst hit by this banditry, and some parts of Giwa and Chikun local government areas are also affected too.
“Some of the schools were not totally shut down. Some schools closed down for some weeks, while others closed down for some months and reopened again. It all depends on the nature of the security problems.”
Dalhatu stated that the state government saw the NUT as its enemy, but that teachers were partners in progress, adding, “The government takes most of its decisions without consulting us until we make our own findings and put them out through the media before the government would react and ask us why we took such actions.”
He said insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic had affected the sector and if the insecurity problem was not solved, “not only the educational sector will be affected, but all sectors in the state will grossly be affected.”
El-Rufai had said some weeks ago that terrorists had formed a parallel government in some parts of the state and called for the Federal Government’s intervention.
All calls and messages to the Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr Samuel Aruwan, to react were not answered.
In Niger State, it was learnt that about nine schools remained shut due to insecurity. After an attack on the Government Science College, Kagara, during which about 27 pupils and 15 others were kidnapped, all public boarding schools were shut in high risk areas to avoid further abduction.
However, the pupils were later released.
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the state Ministry of Education, Jibrin Kodo, confirmed that 18 schools were closed down initially and that the students were integrated into other schools close to them pending when the security would improve.
He noted that as of last month, nine of the government schools shut down as a result of insecurity had been reopened and that others would be reopened as the security situation improved.
Situation in Benue
In Benue State, the persistent attacks by suspected herders have also led to the closure of some schools.
The Executive Secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Emmanuel Shior, told Saturday PUNCH on Friday that he did not have the figure offhand, but that many schoolchildren were in internally displaced persons’ camps in the state.
Governor Samuel Ortom had on several occasions said about two million persons were presently in IDP camps across the state.
The SEMA boss said, “Many schools across Benue State are shut down on account of Fulani herdsmen attacks. Majority of the schoolchildren are in IDP camps and are receiving education through the Emergency Education Programme provided by the Benue State Government with the support of other humanitarian partners as well as volunteers.”
Shior stated that it would be wrong to open schools now due to non-stop attacks on communities in the state by the attackers.
“It’s difficult to reopen the schools now because the Fulani herdsmen’s attacks have continued, especially in the rural communities, where the schools have been shut down,” he added.
100 Zamfara schools
In Zamfara State, Saturday PUNCH learnt that over 100 schools in different parts of the state were shut down owing to incessant attacks by terrorists.
It was also learnt that most of the affected schools had been converted to bandits’ abode.
The Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Education, Alhaji Kabiru Attahiru, had during a two-day event organised by SUBEB in partnership with UNICEF in Gusau, the state capital, said at least 75 secondary schools in the state were closed due to security concerns.
Attahiru had noted that most of the schools, which were for girls, had been shut since September 2021 following attacks on two of them.
But speaking with one of our correspondents, the state Chairman of the NUT, Labbo Hassan, said residents of the affected areas, who could not flee their homes, were being compelled to work for the terrorists.
Hassan stated, “It should be more than 75 (schools). About 106 schools were shut down due to insecurity. They (terrorists) have made most of the schools their accommodation sites. They go out, do what they want and return to the schools.
“Most of the residents left the places and those who are there have to be loyal to the terrorists and work for them. If they (residents) want to go to their farms and work freely, they pay some money. Notwithstanding that, when the crops are mature, the terrorists can seize them.”
In Adamawa State, the NUT Chairman, Chief Rodney Nathan, said the problem in the state was the lack of adequate fencing of most of the schools.
Nathan lamented the sidelining of the union on the issue of proper manning of schools.
But the Commissioner for Education and Human Capital Development, Mrs Wilbina Jackson, said the number of schools shut as a result of insurgency or insecurity had not been documented.
She said she needed to get the details about the schools that have been shut down by the state government owing to insecurity.
In Katsina State, following the December 2020 abduction of 344 students of the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, by terrorists, the government said it had adopted strategies to tackle insecurity.
It said no school had been closed. It, however, directed the perimeter fencing of all schools. It also directed boarding students, especially in areas with security challenges, to relocate to day schools close to their places of residences.
The Commissioner for Education, Dr Bademosi Charanchi, could not be reached for comments but he had told Saturday Journalists in an earlier interview that the government was not toying with safety of students and workers in its schools.
Attempts to speak with the Chairman of the state branch of the NUT, Swidi Dayi, proved abortive as his phones rang out and he had yet to respond to an SMS sent to him since Thursday as of the time of filing this story.
Sokoto schools’ merger
In Sokoto State, the Director of Planning in the state Ministry of Education, Abdullahi Marafa, told one of our correspondents in an interview that the state never closed any school on account of insecurity.
“If you can remember, we never closed any school for insecurity in the state. What we did was to merge schools, especially those with boarding facilities and located in the local governments that are hitherto prone to insecurity with their counterparts in the metropolis. In fact, I’m happy to tell you that all our students are receiving their lectures and those that are due for external exams are able to sit them,” he said.
The NUT Vice-Chairman in the state, Babangida Sai’du, also confirmed that schools in the state remained open all along.
5.3 million displaced – UNICEF
Meanwhile, indications have emerged that the 5.3 million students affected by the closure of 11,536 schools in 2021 were responsible for the significant increase in the number of out-of-school children from about 15 million in 2021 to 20 million currently.
The latest data released by UNESCO in collaboration with the Global Education Monitoring Report on Thursday showed that the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen to 20 million, and that sub-Saharan Africa remained the region with the highest out-of-school children.
The report added, “Nigeria holds the unenviable position of being the country with the largest population of out-of-school children of primary school age: 9.6 million in 2020, up from 6.4 million in 2000 and 7.5 million in 2010. The number of out-of-school children continues to rise.”
In his response to an enquiry by Saturday Journalists
on Friday, UNICEF in Nigeria said the series of attacks launched on schools by terrorists dissuaded many parents from sending their children to school, which contributed to the figure.
The Communication Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria, Dr Geoffrey Njoku, said, “As a precautionary measure, a total of 11,536 schools were closed for specific periods in 2021, with 5,330,631 students affected – whose schooling was disrupted and learning severely impacted.
“When schools are attacked, children and parents begin to see them as places of danger. The damage is tremendous – making parents afraid to send their children to school and affecting the mental health of children. Those directly impacted are traumatised and slow to recover from the shock of an attack on their school.”
NUT demands safety
The President of the NUT, Audu Amba, told one of our correspondents in an interview that many public primary and secondary schools were cited in remote areas that had been overtaken by terrorists or become susceptible to attacks.
Amba added, “We are compiling the statistical data of the number of schools that have been shut down because of banditry and insecurity, especially in the northern part of Nigeria.
“It will interest you to know that some of our schools are located in the remotest areas of our country. If you talk to a victim of banditry, they will tell you that they were camped in a school in a village where the residents have fled and the bandits colonised the government structure as a camp.
“Recently in the Federal Capital Territory, schools were closed when there was a high level of insecurity when a prison was attacked and some military men were attacked. If schools in the FCT were closed, what would be the fate of schools in the states that are more vulnerable to attacks?”
Asked if the deployment of security personnel would address the problem, he said the country did not have the personnel for such.
He added, “The government should nip this thing (attacks) in the bud. Before now, we didn’t have anything like that but now, things have changed. The government should map out a strategy to assure parents and the affected communities that these things will not happen again.”
A Lagos-based educationist, Mr Aniedi Akpan, asked the government to fix insecurity as it had caused many children to be forced out of school.
Akpan said, “The rate of out-of-school children in Nigeria is alarming and that trend is unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue. Many Nigerian families cannot afford education because of poverty. Nigerians account for most of the poor people in the world.
“People frequently complain that our leaders lack education and cannot understand the value of education. What will happen is that Nigeria’s cycle will continue, and our next generation of leaders will not have any education. In a short time, illiterates will rule and live in Nigeria, and that should be a matter of concern to the ruling class.”
Another education administrator based in Rivers State, Ikechukwu Onuoha, asked the government at all levels to show responsibility by making the school environment safe for children.
Onuoha stateed, “You hear people saying public education is free, but we have seen in this country where people’s children were kidnapped from the four walls of their schools. Some have not been reunited with their families as we speak. Was it not how Leah Sharibu found herself in the hands of Boko Haram?
“Government must be proactive and show that it is responsible. Else, the number of out-of-school children will exponentially keep increasing as the educational environment does not support the education of Nigerian children.”
Reopen schools – Police
Speaking on the closure of schools on account of insecurity, the Nigeria Police Force spokesman, Muyiwa Adejobi, said state police commands had deployed operatives around schools in line with the directive of the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, some weeks ago.
He advised proprietors, who shut their schools out of fear of attack, to reopen them. He further asked them to liaise with the divisional police officers in their areas.
While acknowledging that the police might not be able to post men to all the schools, Adejobi explained that the police would collaborate with the schools to strengthen their internal security system.
He added, “We may not be able to deploy men in all the schools, but the command can deploy men to cover schools in a particular area. The commands are to carry out strategic deployments as directed by the IG some weeks ago.
“They are expected to carry out patrols and work with the school owners. With this, we don’t have any problems. We want to urge parents to monitor their children’s activities; they should check their bags in the morning and at night.
“School owners who shut down out of fear should reopen their schools. Proprietors should work with the DPOs to fortify their schools.”