Nigerian parents hand over their children to schools with the absolute trust and faith that the children would not be hurt, harmed, kidnapped, much less killed. And that is how it has been for several decades. It often sounds like the end of civilisation to talk about protecting and securing primary and secondary schools, places where security was always taken for granted. Yet by last count, at least six Nigerian schools had been victims of mass abductions by kidnappers in the last seven years.
The last school to be violated is the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi Local Government Area, Kaduna State. The state’s commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, said at least 30 students were abducted, as were several staff of the school. The attack was carried out, Aruwan said, by a large contingent of bandits eventually thwarted by the Nigerian troops who were able to take some 180 other students and staff to safety. An unspecified number of the students were injured and receiving treatment at an Army facility.
This is probably the first resisted abduction, leading to the students’ injuries, since 2014 when the sensational Chibok abductions were carried out by Boko Haram. The worst nightmare of a parent is the news that her child has been killed or injured in a violent incident like a kidnapping or a school shooting. Such things are so inconceivable; they do not exist in her frames of reference, and are, therefore, not expected to happen. And this is why it appears extremely difficult to devise a solution for the protection of schools. In the United States, in the shocking Sandyhook Elementary School massacre in December 2012, Adam Lanza first killed his mother before turning his guns on 20 little children, almost all of them under five. Then he killed their teachers, six of them.
Even the shell-shock effect, the enormity of the barbarity, did not make it any easier for Americans to find an easy way to protect school children. So different suggestions were made. The National Rifle Association, always out to sell more guns, declared that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Others suggested that teachers should take lessons in marksmanship. Still others suggested a school security unit or something akin to the so-called “Safe School Initiative” for which $20 million was raised for the North East to be executed by former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Apparently, the grand plan was to fence off and protect all the vulnerable schools in the North East region. Thus, the Initiative did not envisage the mass school abductions in Kankara, Kagara, and Jangebe in the North West region, if it could not even offer protection against the Dapchi abduction. In like manner, there have been several school shootings in the US since Sandyhook.
The argument about ransom is sometimes off the mark. On May 6, 2017, 82 girls were released following weeks of negotiation between agents of the Federal Government and the Swiss Foreign Ministry and the Red Cross. Three million euros, approximately $3.7 million in cash, was handed over in two duffel bags as ransom to Boko Haram. The 83rd girl refused to join the freedom train, choosing to stay with her Boko Haram husband. Ransom is bad if the life of your most beloved daughter is not at stake in the free-the-hostages-by-all-means and at all costs. It is often too heartbreaking to recall that on September 29, 2013, Boko Haram massacred 44 boys in their sleep in their dormitories at the College of Agriculture, Gujba, Yobe State, nor can we forget the grisly massacre of 29 boys at the Government College, Buni Yadi, also in Yobe State, and several instances that often demonstrate the hair-trigger difference between life and death.
Kidnappers have eroded the credibility of Nigerian governments at federal and state levels and have turned them into laughing stocks. It is shocking these governments have not come together to end the embarrassment. And the way to do this is to ensure that all and any incident of kidnapping is recorded, their perpetrators arrested and prosecuted very quickly. The government must be able to demonstrate that no one can attempt a kidnapping in Nigeria and not be caught.
The technology to do so exists; the detectives can be trained if the police are short on personnel. But it is wholly mystifying why the government has not moved. As long as there is a slight danger of any Nigerian being kidnapped anywhere at any time, the pervading sense of insecurity and fear will subsist. If the schools are insecure, nowhere else would feel secure. School abductions seem to be more rampant in the North which would make an already educationally backward region worse.
The governments must put their acts together, if need be, conduct continuous aerial surveillance to help the police on the ground. If kidnappers are not controlled and stamped out forthwith, they will soon begin to dictate to governments as they do in places like Mexico and Colombia. Already they control the lives of many Nigerians who now live in fear. Therefore, we call on the federal and state governments to map out workable measures to ensure the safety of schoolchildren.