Through its Country Representatives in Nigeria, United Nations (UN) yesterday warned the Federal Government of the consequences of the attacks on schools by Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgents and abductions of pupils by gunmen.
The UN officials were joined by major stakeholders in the education sector and civil society organisations, who also condemned the attacks that have affected hundreds of children in a number of states.
They described the attacks as a threat to Nigeria’s future and urged the government to halt the trend.
The stakeholders, who lauded the efforts of the government, especially in the Safe School declaration and other areas, called on the federal and state governments to do more to protect schools and ensure uninterrupted teaching and learning in a safe and conducive environment.
These were the highlights of messages at the anniversary of the United Nations International Day to Protect Education from Attack.
The day was celebrated with a virtual roundtable discussion organised by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA).
Those who spoke at the event, included National Universities Commission (NUC) Executive Secretary Prof Peter Okebukola, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria Peter Hawkins, NIIA Director-General, Prof. Eghosa Osaghae, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education Sunday Echono; Vice-Chancellor, Army University, Biu, Borno State Prof Kyari Mohammed among others panellists.
Prof Okebukola, who was chairman of the event, said participants noted that it was a disgrace at the ease with which insurgents gain access to our schools, calling for the mobilisation of government and the citizenry to stem the tide.
He said: “We have to equip our military even as we cut supply and logistics to the insurgents attacking our schools. We must use education to prevent education from attack.
“We must take extreme counter-measures to mobilise everything that we have to take the battle to them. Funding of our schools and support for traumatised schools are also key. We must train school personnel on intelligence gathering.”
NIIA Director-General Prof. Eghosa Osaghae said it is very obvious that education in the past, present and future holds the key to unlocking the destinies and potentialities of all societies.
He said: “The investment in education, expectations, perceptions and all of the things that education draws to itself will make it an object of not only contestation but also an object of interest.
“Even as formidable as it is, it remains one of the most vulnerable on the values of our societies. Societies have always identified and recognised the dangers in educational institutions.
“Safety first is very key to the establishment, to the institutionalisation but most of all, the physical manifestations of the places of learning.
“So, all over the world, these are supposed to be places of safety. The school environment is guarded with even specialised arms of police in manageable environments. In most recent past, we have come under enemy attack, which has been targeted at our schools.”
The NUC boss said in a personal speech: “My desire is that we raise public awareness. It is not that the public is not aware but we want to raise it from where it is today to higher heights so that all stakeholders in education which include everyone in Nigeria for everyone across the globe to be more alert to the fact that education is the key to unlock natural resources.”
“It is also the antidote to poverty and ignorance. It is at the heart of the development of countries. So, we are not going to sit here today to bemoan our situation but we are going to raise awareness as we indicate roles the government will play because it’s quite easy for people to carry a basket of blames and shift it on the government.”
Hawkins said: “The world is going through a crisis with constant attacks on schools and learning for young people, which is the basis for future of any country and society. We estimate that 1, 436 children have been kidnapped, 17 teachers and in the process of that kidnapping 16 children have lost their lives. Last academic year, about 1.3 million children had their learning interrupted due to insecurity. The cost of the disruption to the country is $3.4 billion.”
Mohammed said: “Insecurity remains Nigeria’s number one problem as of today. This is manifested in the Boko Haram insurgency, the ravaging crime and criminality in the Northwest and throughout Nigeria. Agitations in every region have stressed the Nigerian state, particularly the security apparatus deployed.”
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria Mr Edward Kallon, noted that attacks on schools are a direct attack on the future generation.