. Bring the full weight of the law on the perpetrators of these heinous crimes -Atiku
.Address the security challenges in Nigeria as a whole – Fr. Ayeni
. Attacks on schools and abductions of children are war crimes – Ojigho
. People are committing these atrocities because they believe that there are no laws in Nigeria – Olagunju
By Neta Nwosu
There has been an alarming spike in attacks on schools in Northern Nigeria. In states across the North – East, West and Central, students, teachers, and educational facilities are under siege. The threat of kidnapping in Nigeria has generated much security concerns. Two weeks ago, armed men abducted 121 students of Bethel Bap tist Secondary School in Kaduna, Kaduna State. The latest in the wave of mass abductions, targeting school children and students is the second mass kidnap in the North – West, in less than seven weeks. The 136 students, who were taken from Alihu Tanko Islamic School in Niger state, cum the recent abductees of Bethel Baptist Secondary School in Kaduna, are yet to be released. Since December, over 857 students have been abducted from schools, coupled with ten mass abductions in the North-West, Nigeria, underlining a worrying development that is obviously, part of the alarming trend, going back to 2014, when Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Bornu State.
While some escaped, more than 100 remain missing, seven years after, despite the global and far-reaching #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Boko Haram onslaught dates back to 2010. Its attacks intensified in 2014, with the killing of hundreds of students. A spokesperson for the group said such attacks would continue, as long as the Nigerian government continued to interfere with traditional Islamic education. Thousands of children have been unable to attend school, as a result of activities of Boko Haram. Boko Haram has also been known to kidnap girls, whom it believes should not be educated. Taking a trip down memory lane, on July 6, 2013, suspected armed men from Boko Haram, attacked Government Secondary School in Mamudo, Yobe State, killing at least 42 people. Most of those killed were students, with some staff members, among the dead. On September 29, 2013, armed men from Boko Haram, gained access to the male hostel in the College of Agriculture in Gujba, Yobe State, killing forty-four students, and teachers. These killings have persisted non-stop.
In 2018, an alleged Boko Haram breakaway group known as ISWAP, kidnapped 110 girls from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College in Dapchi. Five girls were trampled to death inside the crowded vehicle, used by the suspected jihadists. A young woman, named Leah Sharibu is still being held captive for her refusal to give up her Christian faith, while the other girls taken in that incident have been released. In the prevailing circumstances, the safety and security of school administrators, teachers, students, and the entire communities, where the schools are located are no longer guaranteed; most especially the North-East geo-political zones, where activities of the Boko Haram insurgencies are pronounced. While Boko Haram is making life unbearable for people in the North-East; another organized group, referred to by authorities as armed bandits, emerged with the North-West as their main target, leaving government overwhelmed and citizens helpless. Nigerian authorities so far, have only blamed “bandits” for carrying out the latest wave of kidnappings in the north. Analysts believe they are former cattle herders who have developed into well-organized armed groups, specializing in abductions for ransom.
Authorities, though, fear there could be links between these bandits in the northwest and the Islamic extremists who have long been active in Nigeria’s NorthEast. U.S. officials say, that an American man kidnapped in Niger, across the border from northwestern Nigeria was going to be handed off to the extremists in the northeast before he was ultimately rescued, suggesting the groups may be in touch with one another. After the dreadful abduction in April, the kidnappers killed five students from Greenfield University in Kaduna state after their parents failed to meet hostage demands. Four weeks later, fourteen of the students regained their freedom. According to media reports, parents of the abducted students said they paid a ransom, in addition to providing eight new motorcycles to the kidnappers, before they agreed to release their children. Attacks by the armed gangs have intensified across North-West Nigeria, in recent weeks. The spike in attacks, since the beginning of 2021 has continued to provoke global and nationwide outrage. In reaction to the recent mass abduction, Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said: “We condemn this appalling attack, which is the latest in a string of attacks on schools in northern Nigeria. Attacks on schools, and abductions of children are war crimes.
Those found to be responsible of the abduction must be brought to justice, for these and other human rights abuses. “That, this is coming only about seven weeks after a similar incident, shows that authorities are not doing enough to protect lives. The children abducted are in serious risk of being harmed. Nigerian authorities must take all measures to return them to safety, along with all children, currently under the custody of armed groups.” Noting that Education is under attack in northern Nigeria, Ojigho further stated that schools should be places of safety, and no child should have to choose between his or her education and his or her life. “Other children have had to abandon their education, after being displaced by frequent violent attacks on their communities, and many teachers have been forced to flee to other states. The Nigerian authorities must act immediately to prevent attacks on schools, to protect children’s lives, and their right to education.
“The protection of children’s lives is paramount, and the Nigerian government has a duty to ensure that the country’s educational sector is not further threatened by armed groups on rampage, across northern Nigeria.” “The attack on schools is a serious violation of international humanitarian law, and it undermines the right to education for thousands of children in northern Nigeria. The abduction of students by armed groups, can severely reduce the availability of and access to education for many children in northern Nigeria, where violent attacks are escalating.” The recurrent mass abductions by suspected armed bandits have created a climate of fear, and insecurity, that undermine sustainable national development and security. These security challenge continues to have a cascading effect on public safety, food security, and social cohesion in the country.
Enduring vulnerabilities, including poor security intelligence, perceived marginalization, youth unemployment, porous borders, and the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), among others, continue to facilitate the prevalence of security challenges across communities. In another vein, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ayeni, School Administrator, St. Gregory College, Obalende, Ikoyi, Lagos, described the targeted attacks on schools in Nigeria as a completely reprehensible crime that is contrary to good conscience. “It is deeply disheartening to note that these attacks, as vicious as they are, have been on the rise in our country. “The embarrassing state of the nation, under the current government is responsible for the social ills, currently perpetrated – attacks on schools, one of them. The current government has failed to prioritise the safety of lives and properties of Nigerians, like every responsible government would. The consequence of government’s inaction, even in the face of rising national threat, is clearly responsible for the targeted attacks on schools. “Attackers find it easier to hit targets in schools, since all the innocent children are together and in their vulnerable nature, do not offer any resistance to the marauding gangs.
These attackers, obviously see their attacking schools, and whisking away children as means to milk parents of such students, for as much money as possible. The attackers, know that parents will do anything in order to secure the release of their children. Very sadly, though true, they have made these attacks a form of business for themselves. They have left in their trail of attacks, a deepening emotional trauma for both victims, and the general public. It has gotten to the stage where everyone is left guessing, when and where, they will strike next. “Another factor, responsible for the targeted attacks on schools, is the awareness by the attackers of the absence of armed security guards in most schools in Nigeria. Schools, the world over are not secured by armed men and women. It is the responsibility of the government of any nation to see to the security of children, and the general populace. But here in Nigeria, those whom the law does not permit to carry arms, are dangerously in possession of very sophisticated arms, and our government seems to be doing nothing about it. Clearly, ours is an upside-down country.” Amid security interventions by the federal government to mitigate the threat, the weakness of security intelligence, and poor surveillance system of security agencies, continue to undermine security measures.
The last few years also, witnessed the Senate and State Houses of Assembly pass into law, the ‘Kidnapping prohibition law’, and Nigeria Terrorism Act (2011), that criminalises kidnapping with varying punishments, including life imprisonment, and death sentences for perpetuators. Notwithstanding this, the threat of kidnapping continues to heighten insecurity in communities within the affected States. Some elder statesmen have called on the federal government to ensure that bandits, kidnappers and criminals are made to face the full wrath of the law. Former Vice President Atiku, and former presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said adequate punishment would weaken bandits, kidnappers and criminals from carrying out their evil acts. In a statement he issued recently, he urged the federal government to invest more in securing the lives of Nigerian youths. “When criminals profit from their criminality, crime will increase. “The only response from all governments in Nigeria to acts of abduction, kidnapping and unlawful detention of persons, ought to bring the full weight of the law on the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.
“Once these criminals have clarity on what awaits them should they tow such evil paths, then their audacity to commit evil will be weakened, and gradually, this ugly chapter in our national life will become a thing of the past. “I renew the call for a state of emergency to be declared in the education sector, and for 24-hour armed guards to be posted at all schools in the affected states. “Yes, it is an expensive venture. Nevertheless, we must accept that whatever we invest in preserving the lives of Nigeria’s youth, is worth the price, as nothing is, or can be more valuable to us than our youths, who will take up the baton, after we are gone.” Sharing his thoughts, Prince Soji Olagunju, Founder and Chairman, Lumen Christi Television Network, said “You cannot say that somebody has committed any offence, in any society that does not have rules and regulations or laws. I want to believe that, the people that are committing these atrocities do so because they believe that there are no laws in Nigeria. And if there are laws, nobody is going to implement it. Otherwise, nobody would want to go to jail, ordinarily; they don’t want to go to prison. “But you are doing things that, ordinarily would send you to prison permanently. You are doing it every day, and nothing happens. So, it gets to a point that you say, ‘Okay, if it’s like this, then it means I can continue.
Then, others that are not so criminally inclined will say, if this person is doing it and no one is arresting him or no one is doing anything about it, what stops me from doing it? And you see, if you look at the poverty level in Nigeria, rather than it getting better, it’s getting worse. This tends to attract more people to crime. “But if there are rules and regulations, and laws, and people are ready to enforce it, definitely, it will come down. But unfortunately, Nigeria is in an abnormal situation, whereby people are doing things that are very wrong. The authorities that are supposed to do something about it, rather than saying what you are doing is wrong, they are even aiding and abetting the person. So, prayers, prayers, prayers because things will get to a stage where we will say ‘this is beyond individual effort, we need divine intervention. And it has come to that in Nigeria.” Increased cases of kidnapping, and other related crimes have prompted several interventions from the federal and state governments in communities and schools.
As of March 2, 2021, Yobe, Zamfara, Niger, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano and Sokoto States, ordered the closure of all boarding schools, while others shut down all schools in volatile Local Government Areas in the states. Additionally, the Federal Government, on March 2, 2021, declared Zamfara state airspace as a no-fly zone to airlines due to the rising level of insecurity, in the State, while other States in the country, have been placed under surveillance, by intelligence agencies. The Lagos State Police Command has also taken steps to enhance security, through the deployment of police officers around primary and secondary schools in the State. Other security measures, include, construction of fences in Government schools in the state. But many believe, these interventions are too mild to adequately address the security threat. Some analysts have accused the federal government, of treating the issue of kidnap with kid gloves, when armed bandits are daily killing Nigerians in their tens, and others in their hundreds. On how these security challenges in schools can be addressed, Fr. Ayeni said that, he sincerely does not think we can address security challenges in schools without first addressing the security challenges in Nigeria, as a whole. He explained, “It is not just about schools, but the entire country.
The Nigerian Government must value human lives above any other thing, and must do all it takes to secure the lives of her citizens. The current attitude is repulsive and will not take us anywhere good. If anything, there would be more damage and no solution. The Nigeria Government must be responsive and responsible for her citizens, and should make conscious, concrete and sincere efforts to let everyone know what the red lines are. “It is indeed true that the first responsibility of any sovereign government is the security of its citizens. The elected government of any nation has the responsibility to ensure the management of the security sector is in line with democratic best practices, and the provision of security as a public good. Government also bears the political responsibility for the activities of the security sector.
As a result, it needs detailed and extensive plans and management structures, to ensure security policies and practices are transparent and accountable. “Schools can neither access nor afford the kind of security needed against bandits or kidnappers, that have made schools their targets. So, the question is left for the Nigerian government to answer,” St. Gregory College’s Administrator stated. What roles should the stakeholders, comprising relevant Government authorities, School Proprietors/Administrators and parents play to promote safe schools? Fr. Ayemi recommended that the roles of stakeholders should begin with acknowledging that our children are the future of our families, nation and world.
According to him, the children are our legacies. Speaking further, he said, “They are our posterity. Therefore, we must explore every option and spend every available dime to guarantee their safety, especially in school. But, as I earlier pointed out, our schools cannot be secured unless our streets, homes, farmlands, highways, places of worship, and entire nation are secured. “There is hunger, unemployment, corruption, and the celebration of lies everywhere. All of these setbacks need to be addressed for there to be peace and security. All of us, beginning with our government, must work together to put an end to these cankerworms. It is not impossible, but we must be willing to begin today. “Permit me to say that the unfortunate reality is that the current government does not seem to want to hear the truth, even from the pulpit. That is why they violently go after peaceful protesters, celebrate lies, even when everyone (including themselves), know that they are deceiving themselves and that no one believes what they are saying, fail to listen to the voice of reason and are unconcerned with the progress that other nations are making, while we wallow in self-destruction.” With each mass kidnapping in recent months, government officials, including President Muhammadu Buhari, have vowed to escalate the state’s actions to, in the words of Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, “identify the leaders of these bandits, kidnappers and take them out … using the traditional methods that the armed forces have been trained to deploy.
” Purely traditional security responses to Nigeria’s crises – whether Boko Haram, banditry or communal fighting – continue to be inadequate, in part because of the centralized police system, thin presence of state governance and the lack of public trust in state security agencies. Indeed, Nigeria has entered into a vicious circle where insecurity drags on the economy. The weak economy drives crime in the Gulf of Guinea, and banditry on land, which the inadequate security forces are unable to prevent, which continues to weigh down the economy. President Buhari has less than two years before the next election in February 2023. It’s unlikely he will be able to address all the problems in the country in that short price of time. But improving the security apparatus will serve as a good start.