The program for rehabilitation of the released Chibok girls may be coming to an end, but the revelations of deep problems thrown up by this most horrific event remain un-tackled. There are basically two questions here.
First, what is the quality of education for the Nigerian child, especially the one found in rural areas and second, are our schools any safer today than they were three years ago when the Chibok kidnapping and Bunu Yadi massacre happened?
Let us address the first. One of the persistent arguments advanced by conspiracy theorists and denialists of the Chibok incident is that for girls who were about to write their final exams, they didn’t seem to speak English. This is because up to a point, all interviews held with the girls were done in Hausa.
On the surface, this sounds like a compelling argument, but from personal experience, I have met countless Nigerian students and graduates who cannot proficiently express themselves in English…even from urban schools. I am also aware that a lot of people who live in rural areas feel far more comfortable speaking in their local languages so much so that in some schools they are taught English in their dialects.
This is a testament to the crisis in our educational system. every year we churn out graduates who are unemployable and as a manager in a foremost media organisation, I can provide the bleak statistics.
A good 90 percent of student and graduate interns and applicants that I have interviewed have not been able to express themselves fluently or intellectually. Most of them show massive deficits in critical thinking. Some even display an acute lack of curiosity about how the world around them works.
It is no wonder that recently, none other than Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai called for a declaration of a state of emergency for education in Nigeria when she met with acting President Yemi Osinbajo. My worry about this is that it has taken a 20 year old to point out to the administration that Nigeria has an emergency that deserves special attention. It took the same individual, then only 18 years old to convince former President Goodluck Jonathan that it was the right thing to meet with parents of the kidnapped school girls.
It makes me question if teen aged foreigners have a better understanding of the dark consequences our persistent failures in education than our exalted, well titled political leaders who brag of their educational certificates.
One of our biggest character flaws as a people is that we think of those who suffer tragedies in terms of numbers and not as individual human beings with lives that matter. Even the numbers are scarcely accurate because our security and emergency agencies have enshrined a culture where death toll numbers are reduced.
The justification for this is that if the true figures are released it will lead to panic and further loss of lives. Though I struggle to accept this perspective, I can understand the rationale when it has to do with ethnic conflicts. The real problem is that it has made us comfortable with lies. It discards the biblical principle that truth exalts a nation.
Another damage it does is that rationalisation of casualty figures has been extended to situations that are not conflict oriented…like the Synagogue building collapse of 2014 where Nigerian officials initially gave a figure of less than 60 deaths. Imagine the embarrassment when South African President Jacob Zuma confirmed that 67 South Africans had died in that incident, less Nigerians.
Just two months before Chibok, on the 25th of February at the Federal Government College, Bunu Yadi, Kebbi State, 59 teen aged boys were brutally murdered by suspected Boko Haram terrorists. To this day, we do not have a name of any of the boys. No sense of who they were or what their hopes, dreams and aspirations were. Yet sixteen years after the 9/11 attacks where over 4,000 Americans who were killed in New York, the names of each victim are not only engraved in marble but are called one by one at memorial ceremonies.
I believe we need a shift from numbers to names. Coming back to the released Chibok girls, rather than think in terms of over 80 who were released, lets think of Helen Musa, who wants to read medicine or Rebecca Mwalin who wants to be a doctor, or Hauwa Ntakai who dreams of becoming a lawyer but still had compassion enough to note that the government invested a lot of time and energy in their release because they were Chibok school girls and she wants that same energy invested rescuing others who are not in any school.
She gives a first hand account saying Sambisa forrest is “a place of sorrow” . The challenge before us is that the dreams and aspirations of these and other students as well as those over 10 million out of school Nigerian children must not be allowed to die.
We would be the ones to pay dearly for that neglect. No Nigerian child should be left behind. Even if you can afford to send your children to the best of schools across the globe, they would still have to share the same operational space with these underprivileged kids, many of whom may grow up to be angry young men and a menace to society.
This problem concerns each and every one of us.
Moving on to the question of safety. I travel often on our highways and see countless public schools devoid of safety and security considerations. It raises the question “what have we learned from Chibok and Bunu Yadi?”
Are our schools any safer today than they were on those fateful nights. If another set of lunatics were to decide to massacre or abduct children from school, do we have any new protocols in place for their protection?
Here are some urgent steps we need to take and systems we need to put in place in…yes… all our schools as part of the state of emergency.
1. Survey all Complexes for Safety and Security Improvements: This can include everything from security fences and cameras to lighting and emergency electric power, to provide school staff anytime, anywhere access to student information.
Once fences are in place, having a secure single entrance is one of the most important factors contributing to the safety of schools. The main entrance to a school should be the most scrutinised location when evaluating the current level of safety on the compound. If the school has video surveillance, that’s even better.
2. Form a Team: In an emergency, you need to respond quickly. Ensure that every member of your team knows what role they need to perform in an emergency.
3. Set up a Communication System: Communication is vital in any crisis situation. Let us equip our school teams with two-way radios and smartphones with 24/7 access to student data (including student/staff medical information and emergency contacts).
4. Define, Publicize and Practice Plans: Write a policy that defines protocols in event of emergencies. Lets train our faculty and staff how to defuse potentially violent situations.
5. Promote parent participation. We must outline procedures for crises management. Practice those procedures regularly.
Improve Student Relationships: They say prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to prevent violence is to work together constantly and show that we care.
Another important part of a secure school is having a strict visitor policy in place that staff habitually enforces. The basics of a good plan is to make sure you know who is allowed to pick up students, and deny leniency, no matter what.
Schools can also determine whether contractors and volunteers need to pass a background screening prior to entry.
One final comment to keep in mind. According to discovery software, Improved school safety and security doesn’t have to cost huge amounts in capital improvements that make our schools more like jails.
We can have simple improvements that can go a long way. Start with the most economical means of reducing risks, such as trimming overgrown bushes and involving parent volunteers.
We can make strides towards getting a comprehensive database of students, and ensuring that security and admin teams always have access to student emergency contacts, medical information, police and NEMA contacts. These do not cost billions of Naira.