Planned safe schools corps: Novel solution to students’ kidnapping

In this report, BENJAMIN SAMSON examines the move by the federal government through the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to deploy School Safety Protection Squad to schools across the country in the wake of the increasing cases of the abduction of students.

Worried by the rising cases of attacks in schools and mass abductions by terrorists, the federal government has disclosed that it had concluded plans to train newly recruited personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as the School Safety Protection Squad to halt the cases of abduction of school children from their schools.

The commander of the National Safe Schools Response Coordination Centre of the NSCDC, Hammed Abodunrin, made the disclosure in a recent interview with newsmen.

He said the government had also resolved to employ more security personnel and had procured equipment to bring an end to the kidnapping of students by terrorists.

The Safe School Response is an initiative of the NSCDC in response to the ever-increasing cases of attacks on schools by bandits.

The National Safe Schools Response Coordination Centre was established by the federal government and saddled with the responsibility of coordinating safety and security responses against violence in schools and host communities.

The resolve 

Providing updates on the steps taken so far by the government to halt cases of abductions of pupils from schools, Abodunrin said, “The federal government has declared zero tolerance on kidnapping for ransoms and has resolved to empower security agencies more to prevent reoccurrence. 

“Equipment such as vehicles, motorcycles and ICT facilities are being procured while more personnel are being employed to tackle the challenges squarely.

“For instance, the Centre will soon train some of the newly recruited personnel of NSCDC across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT as the school safety protection squad. This team will be able to provide a quicker response when needed. They will work with the Corps’ female squad nationwide as well as with the police and military resources where available and when required.

“These problems did not just come in a day. Solving them will follow processes, but the most important thing is that actions are being taken fast.”

He also said the Corps and other paramilitary agencies had begun security education, adding that “the NSSRCC has commenced community engagement to build confidence and capacity of the members of the community.”

Continuing, he said, “The Centre is also collaborating with relevant stakeholders on child protection. The Centre is being repositioned to improve on the deployment of technology to obtain quick information, especially where there’s no network. State and local government centres are to be established by relevant authorities with timely information and quick response.”

Significant steps 

 A security analyst, Danjuma Lukeman, told this reporter that the planned safe schools corps represents another significant step towards mitigating the impact of insecurity on education.

He linked kidnapping in schools to inadequate installation of closed-circuit televisions by schools and the poor use of technology.

“The most challenging issue is the lack of security culture. How many schools have identification cards for their students? How many members of staff care to know the number of pupils/students in their schools? Even when you ask some principals in the middle of the term, they will tell you they will check records,” he said.

Pleas

He urged the 36 governors across the country to promptly establish Safe School Response Coordination Centres that would work with safe schools corps to forestall further attacks and kidnappings in schools.

“The National Safe School Response Coordination Centre (NSSRCC) is located at the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) headquarters in Abuja. Governors must work with the government at the centre to take proactive measures to safeguard schools in their domains,” he said.

He said the collaboration became necessary owing to the recent kidnapping of students and teachers in Sokoto and Kaduna states.

“Education is the key ingredient for individual, communities and international organisations for rapid development; hence an attack on the system would have a ripple effect on the nation.

“The abduction of school children by bandits is an attack on education which should not be condoned. 

“We implore all the state governments in Nigeria to see how they can quickly, in the next few weeks, establish their own centre that will be directly connected to this centre. The act of attacks and kidnappings on schools is a key factor to the out-of-school syndrome that Nigeria is currently facing,” he said further.

Experts’ views

In a chat with this reporter, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Diamond Intelligence Limited, Mr. Uzi Oniga, said enough corrective measures had not been taken to prevent a re-occurrence.

He said, “When the Chibok incident happened in 2014, the reasons were clear; our schools were already vulnerable, and since then we have had three major programmes aimed at improving security in schools; the Safe Schools Initiative, the Safe Schools Declaration and the National Policy on Safe Schools and its implementation guidelines. Now, none of these three major policies has been fully implemented to make schools less vulnerable to these types of attacks. So, that’s number one.

“Number two is the presence of these perpetrators, the non-state actors, the gunmen who have found kidnapping students a very lucrative venture, as it were; they are able to do it and, of course, collect the benefit.

“The third point is our inability to take into account or hold responsible those that we have mandated constitutionally to protect our schools. There are agencies of the government whose responsibility it is to do that and overtime, after incidents after incidents, we haven’t seen them being held to that kind of level of responsibility or account. So, unfortunately, that is why these things continue to reoccur.”

 A security expert, Col. Segun Oguntimo (retd.), told Blueprint Weekend that security agencies must invest more in intelligence in a bid to address the menace of attacks on schools.

He noted that deploying men to schools across the country, especially in violence-inclined areas, was not enough, adding that security personnel must be proactive rather than reactive.

He said, “The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps cannot carry out this safe school initiative alone. To secure our schools, we must leverage intelligence because it makes planning precise and makes actions quite direct.

“With the number of schools that we have across the country, it is not possible to deploy men to secure the environment. “Though there are some critical infrastructures such as perimeter-fencing and gadgets among others that we need to procure, the bottom line is that we must invest more in intelligence.

“We want the security personnel attached to our schools to be more proactive than reactive. At every point in time, the security agencies must be ahead of the criminals. If we are creative, we must always give the criminals a hard time for them to figure out what our strategies are.”

He said further that, “Being proactive has a lot to do with intelligence. I want to see schools in the most turbulent places secured as those in the Federal Capital Territory.”

Col. Oguntimo called for a full implementation work plan for the Safe Schools programme to reduce the rate of out-of-school children.

 “The Safe Schools initiative is one of the best initiatives of the government in recent times. The question is not about the rationale of the initiative, but it is about the effectiveness and implementation of strategies of the initiative.

“For me, as a country, we are not short of fantastic and brilliant ideas, but we are short when it comes to effectiveness.”

A CSO’s take

Likewise, a civil society organisation (CSO) which focuses on security in schools and students, the Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative (BBYDI), notes that if the Safety Protection Squad initiative was well-implemented, it could improve security within and around schools which would in turn halt the growing number of out-of-school children in the country.

In a chat with this reporter, the executive director of the CSO, Mr. Abideen Olasupo, lamented that the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria stood at over 10.5 million.

“The attacks on schools and students are a threat to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goal Four which focuses on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes life-long opportunities for all.

“The number of children being prevented from accessing education has been on the increase due to partial and total closure of schools occasioned by attacks on schools and abduction of students.

“It is the responsibility of governments at federal, state and local levels to provide safe and accessible learning environments for children in emergency situations, especially in isolated schools and vulnerable areas where attackers can get away easily,” he said.

He added, “Children and young people are our greatest assets; we must, therefore, provide a safe environment where they can acquire education and skills they need to realise their potential.

“Teachers should also be protected, adequately trained and remunerated. The government should organise regular training for teachers and students on what to do during emergency situations.

“In the event of an attack on schools, leading to destruction of school facilities, the government should ensure quick fixing of these facilities. Schools must also have security plans and surveys.”

He said further that ensuring security in schools and among students is the responsibility of every stakeholder.

“Keeping our schools safe should not be seen as the duty of the government alone. We all have a role to play – community and religious leaders, security agencies, civil society organisations; people with special needs, parents, and community-based groups must all get involved. In matters of security, we are all stakeholders. We must assist security agencies with information and intelligence-gathering, which is key to preventing some of these attacks on schools.”

Parents’ role

In his reaction, the president of the Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria (PTAN), Federal Capital Territory (FCT) chapter, Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, welcomed the plan by the federal and state governments to draft security agencies to strategic locations as schools across the nation.

Danjuma, speaking with Blueprint Weekend, said the move became necessary in view of the fact that kidnapping, banditry and terrorism still persist and schools are still soft targets of attacks.

He said it behooved the federal government and the state governments to be proactive in averting the menace of kidnapping in schools in the nation.

“We are begging all the 36 states and federal government of Nigeria to help us protect our children through the provisions of adequate security in both primary and secondary schools and this is a great step forward,” he said.