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Published On: Sun, Aug 3rd, 2014

Reopening Borno schools amidst insurgency: The security implications

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Gov-ShettimaBy Maryam Garba Hassan

As the aborted 2014 NECO/SSC Examinations in Borno state is coming to an end, the state government is making arrangement to re-open its public schools to other students after the examination in Maiduguri and Biu.

However, the state Commissioner for Education, Musa Inuwa Kubo, has said only schools located in Maiduguri and Biu headquarters of Biu Local Government Council, which are relatively peaceful, would be re-opened since the state was still faced with the Boko Haram insurgency.

Part of the plan to ensure the safety of the students according to the state government, is to adjust some of the schools to accommodate the students that will be transferred to the designated schools either in the  Southern part of Maiduguri or Biu which are the only safe locations for now.

Although the state government said the reopening of the school is not immediately as the process might take a little time but it will ensure that the schools were re-opened in a short while for academic activities to continue.

With this new development and for the students to catch up with the classes they missed in the last 5 months while the schools were closed, that means students in the state will remain in classes while their counterparts in other states are on vacation.

It would be recalled that schools in Northeastern part of the country were shut down on March 14, 2014, following series of attacks on schools in Yobe and Borno states by suspected Boko Haram insurgents.

 The schools closure led to final year students to remain behind in schools to write their NECO/SSCE examinations, a situation that led to mass transfer of final year students from schools located in unsafe communities within the state to either the capital or some few locations considered safe while the few schools available were temporarily turned to examination centres to accommodate all the final year students.

The question here is what are the necessary security measures put in place in the state to ensure the safety of those children and their teachers as schools and students have become major targets of the Boko Haram insurgents?

To some Nigerians, the idea of reopening schools in a state that is worst hit by the activities of Boko haram is unwieldy. The attacks are carried out on daily basis despite the presence of security operatives. The security operatives and government are yet to secure its communities coupled with the fact that a sizeable number of students kidnapped by the insurgents are yet to be rescued months after their abduction. Opening schools may not be the right decision even as the state government said it had put in place machinery for the reopening of the schools to ensure the safety of the children.The first implication of this plan if the schools are reopened is that the lives of those innocent students may be put in danger as most if not all students in public schools trek to schools as majority of such schools are located within the communities.

 Secondly, most public schools in the northern part of the country employ the services of retired and old civil servants or retired soldiers without equipping them with the necessary and updated or sophisticated weapons to aid them in the course of discharging their duties or in providing security to more than 2000 school children.

Again, these security guards are sometimes not well paid and as at when due and do not get incentive to motivate them.

With the recent approval but yet to be released $1.6b by President Good Luck Jonathan, for the Save School Initiative Programme aimed at providing security in schools nationwide, starting with schools in Yobe, Adamawa and Borno states, the expectation is for the state to wait for the release of its own share of the money while it gradually take the necessary steps to enhance the security of the schools in the state rather than opening such schools now.

However, the state Commissioner for education who is also a member of Federal Government’s technical Committee on Safe School programme, told Peoples Daily that even though there is relative peace in some Southern part of the state which includes about five local government Areas namely, kwayar kwasa, Hawul, Biu and Shani government areas, the state government will not take that for granted and for that it has put in place the necessary measures to ensure the safety of the school children.

On the readiness of parents to allow their children to resume school amidst the insurgency and government’s inability to rescue the over 200 Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram over three months ago, Kubo said the dramatic event is that despite the series of attacks on school in the state, parents are still determined to send their children to school because they know the importance of education to the development of the nation.

He said parts of the measures put in place are incentive to boast teachers’ morale and encourage them to redouble their commitment and to reorganize them.

 He said the state government is working closely with the state security agencies to provide security in those communities before the formal reopening of the schools marked as safe.

“We are going to move all the students to schools in either Maiduguri or Biu which are the only safe locations we have now. “This means that we have to adjust some schools infrastructure to accommodate the transferred students. Student who live in those safe communities within the state will become day students while those who are coming from other communities will stay in hostels as boarders to control their movement and protect them against any attack”, he said.

Commenting on when the schools would be reopened, the Commissioner said it is not immediately as reported in some national dailies as the process might take a little long but that the state government would ensure that the schools were re-opened in a short while.

Kubo said the state government is willing to implement the Safe School programme but that the best solution to the problem is to tackle the insurgency head long which is the cause of insecurity in schools.

Some stakeholders in the education sector,  who commended the Federal Government’s Safe School Initiative, said the reopening of the schools in Borno is a good idea but the timing is wrong.

According to them, the state government should wait until the communities are secured and the $1.6b approved by the federal government for the initiative is released to all the 36 states of the federation and after the implementation of the pilot scheme in the three most hit states by the insurgence before embarking on such important journey.

Responding, the Minister of Education who spoke through his Senior Special Adviser, Media Malam Sule Ya’u Sule, said the opening of public schools in the state can only be possible based on the security information from the state security agents.

He said the federal government cannot determine the security situation of a state as it is their right and under the state jurisdiction adding that the Ministry’s advice on the issue is based on the security information reaching it.

He said the ministry has not received any information from the state in that regard.

“The federal government cannot say no to a decision taken by any state government but it has the right to advise it, especially on such important issues. The security situation in the state is still not good enough for it to reopen its schools as the state government is quoted to have said.  I can tell you that the federal Ministry of education has not received any notice to that effect. When we do, we will contact the state security agencies for their assessment of the security situation in the state before the reopening of the schools’, he said.

A parent who has three of his children in Shehu Garbe Government secondary school, Malam Bakura Ali saw he is happy that the state government is making arrangement to reopen public schools in the state.

“Education is the right of every child but our children have been denied that privilege by the unfortunate situation for years. Reopening of the schools is a good idea but the communities should be made safe first to avoid the repeat of Chibok episode’, he said.

Habu Kabiru Baba, an immigration officer said reopening schools in the state is a good idea but not until the schools are secured with the necessary security devices to safe guard lives and property. “There is need for the state government to convince parents that they have taken the necessary steps to keep our children safe in school. We don’t want lip service that will endanger the lives of our innocent children who have now become the target of these blood suckers” he said.

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