Attacks on schools have been ongoing for some time now. What do you think is the root cause of the kidnapping of children from schools?
Kidnappers before now were more in the South-East and the South-South; all of a sudden, Boko Haram came on board and even had the temerity to take over certain places and hoist their flags; while dealing with that one, cattle rustling came into place, banditry came into place, herdsmen came into place and farmers/herders’ clashes came into place. To my mind, I now feel that all these people, if you look at their stock in trade, it is to destroy and maim to make money. Maybe they now felt that holding one, two or three people to ransom was no longer giving them money and they now felt that since they know that if they go into a school, students cannot defend themselves because they are not adults, they are uninformed minds.
Likewise, because the government has made the mistake of paying ransom, the bandits now feel that when they go and get dozens of pupils, it means the more money they are going to get, because if you look at the way the kidnappings are going, you will discover that when they kidnap dozens or hundreds, they realise more money based on the number they have. So for me, that is how these things have graduated and they have suddenly discovered that anytime they go into a school, be it tertiary, secondary or primary, they will get the students in dozens and the government will come to pay ransom; so, they’ve now seen it as a stock-in-trade.
So the government pays ransom?
Yes! If you have followed the way governors in the North-West and the North-East have operated, whether in schools, villages or communities, the government is still there to negotiate with the kidnappers. I’m happy that today, they have suddenly discovered that you do not empower your enemy to overtake you.
What do you think about the manner at which thousands of the so-called bandits are coming out to tell Nigerians that they’ve repented and the government is not punishing them?
Every well-meaning Nigerian is worried about the way people are coming out and claiming to lay their arms, claiming to have repented, saying that they have surrendered and Nigerians are saying let this surrender be a total surrender, let this repentance be a total repentance, a patriotic repentance, a repentance that comes from the conscience, a godly repentance and a godly surrender. However, we are observing them and we are being very frightful.
I am not the only person in the scenario; every Nigerian that is patriotic in this country is looking at the entire thing and taking their repentance with a pinch of salt. Even though they say that the law of the military is that once somebody has surrendered, you can no longer fire at them, these people will now receive sophisticated training and now become a torn in our flesh; so, some of us are still jittery about their repentance and are still querying the so-called repentance.
What are the implications of these attacks on the education sector in the country?
Very many implications; very deep and regrettable implications that may not be seen now, but in 10, or 20 years to come, we will begin to see the implications. One, the children have gone through trauma; for instance, I watched those pupils, who came out from Niger and those who came out from Zamfara, who were saying every night, they bring them and torture them. Let me tell you, except you go through social or psycho training of these children into their psychic, with what they have seen, they can forgive but they will not forget in their lives and if care is not taken and if they are not followed up, their behaviour will no longer be the same.
Thirdly, these children, I bet you if they are hundred, only about 60 can return to school and the remaining 40 will vow that they don’t want to go to school again, especially if they are not assured of security; the only way they can go to school is if they are sent to schools, where they will be seeing security and close to their homes. Beyond that, most parents will discourage their children from returning to school; like the child that lost his life in Niger, the parents were saying that it would have been better if they had buried their child and that shows the value a parent can place on their child or children.
The out-of-school children in the North-East and the North-West were about 10 million and the figure has risen to about 13 million and we are going to see more, because with these bandits, what it means is that they are trying to let us know that Western education has no meaning in our lives. As a result, we are now going to see more girls not going to school, because no parent will allow their child to be defiled by bandits. Instead of doing that, the parents will prefer to marry off that child as a teenager than allow her to be kidnapped and defiled by bandits.
Again, you will find out that beyond the students, the teachers, wherever they are, will live in fear because today, it can happen in Zamfara; tomorrow it can happen in Niger; the next day, it can be in Kaduna; and by the time you know what is happening, it’s in Gombe; then it comes to Yobe; so, you find out that you cannot really say that the trajectory is going to the North-East or the North-West, and that is why I said that the worst mistake that the government made was to empower their enemies, because the moment you pay ransom, they use it to acquire new motorcycles and new weapons; so, you will find out that it has dealt a big blow to the education industry and we may not be seeing it now, because it’s not going to be tangible, but I tell you, in the next five years, except the government now comes out to do a kind of surgical operation to assure the citizenry that this menace will stop, many people are going to drop out of school, especially as we are starting the next academic session by September.
What is the NUT proposing to the government to solve all these issues?
First and foremost, the NUT says no to the payment of ransom by the government, because you can’t empower somebody you know is your enemy. Two, is that today, experience has shown that certain schools faraway from where you have concentration of buildings are not acceptable. Then, if you have schools that children are living in, which we call boarding schools, there should be concentration of security men and experience has shown that these kidnappers will always strike in the dead of the night from 11pm to 4am.
I’m sure that if the bandits know that security agents are ready for them, no matter the numbers and no matter the kind of weapons the bandits are using, they cannot overpower our soldiers, trained military personnel or policemen, they won’t strike; but the point is that very many times, the number we have in a particular place is so small that when they come in their numbers, they overpower the security men.
Another issue is that schools, whether day or boarding, should be well fenced; beyond fencing of the schools, the government should form a synergy, because security is not just for those who are armed or wearing uniform alone; the government should sensitise people to form synergy, because I know that every school has what they call Parent-Teacher Association; they have school-based administration and they can pay little money to either hire young men and women, who have volunteered to keep vigil for security in the schools.
Then, beyond that, we are equally saying that any security personnel within the school should be well empowered, because these things are coming in various dimensions. For instance, some of these kidnappers, when they want to come, they will dress like they are big people coming to see somebody in the school; the one that happened in Kaduna’s military formation, we learnt that they all dressed like military officers, and you know that when somebody dresses like that, the only thing a junior rank soldier will do is to salute and open the gate. So, today, the government should learn how to give sophisticated training to all those who man the gates of various schools, because these people have learnt various strategies.
The government’s first assignment to the citizens is protection of lives and property; so, this idea of making schools soft targets and this idea of when somebody says after you have maimed hundreds of people, you come out and say I have repented, the government should look at them twice. I am not saying that somebody cannot repent; after all in Christendom, somebody can be a very big criminal and can repent and begin to carry the Bible, but you cannot compare it with somebody, who has sent thousands of people to go and live in IDP camps.
Finally, we are not addressing thousands of children that are in IDP camps; yes, kidnappers have not gone there, but their situation is worse and the only difference is that when kidnappers take you, you suffer trauma; but I tell you that except the government does something very quickly, those children can come up tomorrow to become worse than the kidnappers, because I don’t really know how to explain this, where in a cubicle, which is like six feet by six feet will be housing a father, a mother and four children and they are still there breeding children. I don’t know what kind of message such parents are sending to their children and the kind of life they want them to be living; in the morning, everybody comes out without any agenda, because they have been sent out of their homes; the government should do something quickly.
I want to praise the governor of Borno State, who has faced this thing headlong to ensure that these people are beginning to be resettled by building houses, no matter how small; so, the government should try to ensure that these people that bandits kidnap and keep for two, three, four months in their dens that they will make sure that they follow them up, support them financially, support them psychologically, support them physiologically, economically and whatever so that they don’t become something else tomorrow.
So, there is no means of education for those in the IDP camps?
Yes. What they are receiving is makeshift education. If you have visited any IDP camp, it is just where men and women, who are afraid of herdsmen, hoodlums or whoever has sent them packing from their place of residence live. They don’t even go to schools because they run to the savannah and build tents; so, where will you now establish schools? What they do is that they get bigger tents, bring everybody together and just be teaching them without any curriculum.