INSURGENCY, BANDITRY AND TEACHERS
The Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) has claimed losing at least 800 of its members to the insurgency which has been ravaging the Northeast zone of the country in the past 12 years. The union has also threatened to withdraw teachers from some local government areas in the Northwest over rising cases of kidnapping, banditry and other criminal activities ravaging the zone. NUT National President, Dr Nasir Idris, said recently, “The way things are going, if this problem is not addressed you may notice that schools will be non-existent in so many places in this country.”
With students and their teachers being kidnapped and killed at random, the climate of fear is further worsening the low level of education and literacy in the north. It has been found that conflict reduces school enrolment as well as years of education. Expectedly, the number of out-of-school children in the country has spiked, put at about 15 million, and mostly from the north. The implication of such a state of affair is implicitly damaging. Education is fundamental to development. The state of education in the north is increasingly falling into disrepair and it can only worsen if teachers feel so threatened as to abandon their job.
As we keep highlighting, perhaps aside the 30-month civil war, Nigeria has never been so threatened by security challenges as it is today. That these criminal gangs now target schools from where they abduct students and teachers has compounded the problem. The challenge of insecurity becomes more perplexing when parents can no longer send their children or wards to school without the fear that they could be abducted. Repeated attacks on schools in recent years have created fear in many vulnerable students and their parents in some sections of the country and is affecting the attitude to education, especially with teachers now also targeted.
With a growing pattern of roving genocidal gangs, we must challenge the federal government and the authorities in many of the states concerned to do a little more than the usual blame game that has deepened our insecurity. Suspending telecommunications services in some states because of bandits has also proved to be counterproductive since these criminals now resort to using walkie-talkies while their victims have no means to communicate. But of utmost concern is the urgent need to adequately secure schools in areas where the activities of the bandits and insurgents are prevalent.
Since most schools in these places are owned by either the state or federal government, we hope the security agencies can extend to them their presence. It will also not be out of place for state governments in Northwest and Northeast where cases of banditry and insurgency are rampant, to buy life insurance policies for their teachers. The insurance policy will give some sense of relief that in case of any eventuality, the families of the affected teachers will have something to fall back on.
That these targeted attacks on schools and teachers are widespread is dispiriting and government, at all levels, and other stakeholders must find a solution to the challenge. In 2014 the Safe Schools Initiative was launched to counter the growing attacks on the right to education and to build community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, and community leaders. While the initiative has been abandoned, safety is an issue we cannot afford to push to the corner. We must create the right environment and a safe space in schools not only for the children who want to learn but also for their teachers.