Bandits moved kidnapped Kuriga pulpils to Zamfara within 48 hours– Kaduna ex-commissioner

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Ex-Kaduna State Commissioner for Education and politician, Mr Mataimaki Tom-Maiyashi, speaks to AJIBADE OMAPE on the state of schools in the North with regards to attacks and kidnapping of schoolchildren and their teachers

What factors do you believe are contributing to the rise in kidnapping incidents targeting schools?

I think what you need to understand from the beginning is that it is a breakdown of morals in society; and when you talk of morality, a school is a place where morality is moulded; it is a socialising institution. When public morality breaks down, then you question what you can make work, not only in the schools, but even in all aspects of governance. Why should citizens take up arms against their fellow citizens? It is a fundamental question, and to the extent that they have questioned the existence of the country as a nation, and they don’t care, they don’t spare anybody, they have kidnapped community leaders and royal fathers; they have kidnapped educationists and legislators; they have kidnapped a whole lot of dignitaries, so you see that if they can go to that extent, then you should see that kidnapping schoolchildren is the easiest thing for them to do.

These bandits have gone to the extent that they can go and attack military men at their base; these bandits once went to the Nigerian Defence Academy, where Nigerian soldiers are being trained, to attack; and in Borno State, these bandits have attacked military men at their barracks; they have also laid siege to military men several times; so where do you place innocent schoolchildren who are completely harmless in such a situation? That is the way to look at it, but we always make the mistake that it is when something happens that we now frantically begin to react to what has happened; we don’t even see these things ahead of time.

Education itself is a security project, because once you are properly educated, you will know how to behave within the community and society, and you will not take up arms against your own country; so it is very important to understand that our morals have gone down. Can you believe that we have had instances where some people will arrange for their relatives to be kidnapped so that ransom could be paid, of which afterward such a person will receive his commission; that shows you the level at which our morals have gone down. If you take a census, at least some 30,000 schools in the North have been closed down as a result of banditry and insecurity; so many teachers have been killed, and at least 15 years is required to train a teacher to the basic level.

In Kaduna, as we speak, I can tell you that there are classrooms with over 60 students because there are not enough teachers, and the infrastructure is not there, and do you know what it means for a country to have so many children out of school? You have laid the foundation for training more bandits.

Can you provide an overview of the current situation regarding the frequent kidnapping of schoolchildren in the northern region?

For the ones that were taken in Kuriga, who were just rescued, the incident happened in broad daylight during the school assembly, and these children were carted away just like that within 48 hours they were already in Zamfara State, and nobody not even intelligence tracking could say what direction the children went; if bandits can go and break a bank secured with armed men and take money, how about schoolchildren who are in environments where there is the complete absence of governance; there are some areas in this country where there is a complete absence of governance; but we are glad they have been rescued. If education is destroyed you know that the foundation of development has been destroyed. To abduct about 100 children in broad daylight is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. I’m sure that you heard the news that the teacher who was abducted alongside the children in Kuriga died in captivity.

How are the kidnappings impacting the education system and the overall safety of students in the affected areas?

Who will send their children to school knowing that the child is not secure in the school? It’s a basic question; people will withdraw their children from school, and there are people whom you will still have to convince that education has value; when they find their children in such a situation, they question the importance of school, and these things give most parents sufficient reasons not to send their children to school. They would rather keep their children at home. Where you have bandits now going to school to kidnap children this isn’t the first time; I’m sure you remember the Chibok girls, and it still has the same style of attack and the same style of resolution – negotiate with the bandits.

Imagine when as a parent you learn that bandits kidnapped some children in a school; you will not put your child in such a school. If you are talking of impact, the lives of some of these kidnapped children have been destroyed; mentally they would be damaged; it is obvious that a school is the most vulnerable community, and the image of education has completely been blurred. So if a school environment is so porous that anybody can come and abduct a student, it will hinder learning.

What measures should be taken by the government and relevant authorities to address frequent kidnappings?

Let me tell you, whatever steps will be taken, I am sure the fallback position will be to provide more police and soldiers in the schools and that may be for the communities to have community police or vigilante groups; but if these bandits can go to the defence academy to attack, then the situation is still the same.

What are some of the root causes of insecurity in the northern region, particularly as it relates to the safety of schools?

Once the dignity of a citizen is not assured, and you have to struggle for everything, and that which is even your right is being denied you, then you are raising anger and dissatisfaction, and people can go to any length to vent their anger; so when people are wreaking havoc, it is because of dissatisfaction and rage, this is the reason I mentioned that every member of the community should be involved in the development of the communities because someone cannot wreak havoc where they are loved.

How are teachers, parents, and students coping with the fear and anxiety caused by the threat of kidnapping?

Parents will not put their children in a school previously attacked by bandits or a school prone to bandit attacks; teachers have also been killed in some of these bandit attacks and people are even becoming scared to take on roles as teachers.

What strategies or interventions do you consider necessary to enhance the security of schools and protect students from kidnapping?

I think anything that is going to be done to secure the schools should be community-based; the whole community should be involved without discrimination. There should be the presence of governance in every community where there are schools and other infrastructure, and the government should work out a strategy to mobilise the local community, and the best way is to make sure that these communities take ownership of their schools, and once they are mentally and psychologically attached to their school, they will do all it takes to protect it.

Look at missionary schools for example, the communities contribute resources to establish the schools so they are attached to it by default, and woe betide anyone who wants to do anything to destroy the school. Education is a community product and you cannot tell parents that you love their children more than them. It is important because the community members know their surroundings very well, then again the government is so distant from its people, so the government needs to come closer to the people because you cannot have enough security personnel to post to all the schools.

The government also needs to develop the confidence of the community members so that they can look after their schools, and it is very simple, you give them rudimentary basic training in security because if one is security conscious, one will know what to look out for, so the best bet is for the government to go back to the community and create security consciousness, and if the teachers or community members sense something, they will be alert to it because the reality is that we do not have enough police and soldiers to post in all the schools in all states of the country, and this is not just for the schools, they should also protect their dispensaries and their hospitals, and every other thing that the government has there because it all belongs to the community, and also make the community members have a sense of worth.

Are there any particular challenges or obstacles hindering efforts to address the issue of school kidnapping effectively?

First of all, the location of most schools is in very remote areas where there is a complete absence of government presence, so it is very easy for someone who wants to commit havoc to come around because they know the terrain well enough to lay an ambush, so the extensive location of these schools is a great challenge, and we are still in need of more schools; another challenge is the number of security personnel available for deployment in schools; we do not have enough to go round all the schools in all the states of the country; we have 774 local governments in the country, and in each local government you will need a battalion, so where are we going to get 774 battalions for all the local governments, and to even be able to finance such a structure is very huge. The way you develop your society determines the way the society grows.

How can communities and civil society organisations contribute to efforts to prevent and respond to school kidnapping?

The state and local governments have responsibilities to carry out in their respective communities

What role do you think the media plays in raising awareness about the issue of school kidnapping and holding relevant stakeholders accountable?

The media plays a huge role in raising awareness about the issue of kidnapping, especially social media. Social media has created so much awareness about kidnapping in educational institutions, but what the media has failed to do, and which I have always said is simply to report; they rarely point fingers at those in authority to ask them how certain things happen. I know most media practitioners are scared because they do not want to lose their jobs; some will even edit the interview or whatever you said so their boss will not fight them.

How can the government and educational institutions work together to create safer learning environments for students in the North?

At the state level, teachers should be given basic training on security; security sensitivity is very important, so if teachers are given some element of basic security training, it will help. Village heads and ward heads should also be given basic training in security because they know their environments more than outsiders, and with such training, they will analyse situations better in their surroundings and immediate environments; so you will see the local government and the community coming together. Before now, I know that district heads and traditional rulers in the North used to be given security training, but I am not sure that they do it anymore with the emergence of the police and the army, but the mere fact that citizens are security conscious, they will be alert to the differences in their environment.

The state government can partner with local government and the local government can partner with the community leaders because the community leaders will play a prominent role in securing their communities because they know their communities inside out. The Federal Government will liaise with the state governments and help in different situations. So the state governments must make conscious efforts with the local governments and the community leaders to ensure security consciousness in all the corners of their respective communities; moreover, these security people are human beings and not robots.

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