By Hassan Zaggi
Last week, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day to Protect Education from Attack.
The United Nations General Assembly on the May 29, 2020, proclaimed September 9 every year as the International Day to Protect Education from Attack.
The day is aimed at re-echoing the importance of ensuring safe and enabling learning environments in humanitarian emergencies.
The Nigeria Education in Emergencies Working Group (EiEWG), was among the top organisers of the event in which international agencies including United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) featured prominently.
Borno state being the epicenter of the Boko Haram attacks and the most devastated state in the North East in terms of the destruction of lives and property, especially educational infrastructure, hosted the event.
Over 5000 classrooms have been destroyed as a result of the Boko Haram crisis since the past 9 to 10 years in Borno state.
School facilities including laboratory equipment, ICT centres, WASH facilities, instruction materials and many others have also, either been destroyed or carted away since the beginning of the crisis.
As the Chairman, Borno State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Shetima Kulima, puts it, it will take the state over 50 years to recover from the magnitude of havoc suffered by the education sector in the state.
Speaking at the media briefing to commemorate the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, the Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, who was represented by the state Commissioner for Education, Bello Ayuba, revealed that as a result of the insurgency over the years, most schools were destroyed, parents, teachers, learners were killed and many people dehumnanized.
This, he said, resulted in the escalation of the number of out –of- school children.
He, however, said that, “as a responsible government, we are very proactive in trying to tackle the issue of infrastructure and making sure that the issue of out-of-school children is addressed squarely.”
According to him, schools in the four local government areas of Abada, Moba, Guzamala, Mungono, have been relocated to the state capital.
“We have what we call learning centres whereby each school will accommodate other schools to make sure that learners from that angle are not left out in the pursuit of their education,” the governor further explained.
He insisted that even though the issue of Boko Haram has thrown learners out of school, his government was working hard to address the situation.
He applauded Education in Emergency Working Group (EiEWG), UN and donor agencies for their intervention and complimentary roles.
“The government has been very proactive and with the intervention of the donor agencies, the issue of out- of- school children has been reduced to the barest minimum.
“As far as this government is concerned, effort is being made to construct new schools and renovate the destroyed ones and eventually more new ones will also be constructed to address the issue of out-of- school children.
“I want to thank international donor agencies including UNICEF and Save the Children,” he said.
On his part, the UNICEF Field Officer in Borno State, Mr. Maulid Warfa, who called for reflection on the relevance of the commemoration, lamented that, “we have lost our humanity, we lost the fact that the schools are the centres of civilization.
“We lost our humanity because we forgot that the children and their basic rights are undermined and individuals both legitimate and illegitimate use the schools and education facilities as the centres for their operation.”
He called for the protection and provision of quality education for children, insisting that any nation that does not to protect, look after and educate its children, has a bleak future.
“The future of our country and our communities is with these young children and if we do not protect them, if we do not educate, look after them, show them love and kindness and if we do not allow them to play and be children, the future of this nation is covered with dark cloud,” the UNICEF Field officer, insisted.
While saying that UNICEF will give the government all the needed support, Mr. Warfa said: “I want make a commitment on behalf of UNICEF that we are standing side by side with the effort of the government, with the effort of the donors and other development partners that pushing the agenda of safe schools, pushing the agenda of protection of children, pushing the agenda of education is a critical priority for UNICEF for yesterday, today and for tomorrow and we are with you.”
In his presentation at the media briefing, the SUBEB chairman, Shetima Kulima, revealed that the state, in line with the Safe School Initiative, “made it as a policy that all our primary and secondary schools are being built, there is an idea in fencing our schools, not only in protecting them from potential attacks by the lunatic groups, but we also do that to allow children to focus in their education.
“We also made it as a policy to provide WASH facilities in our school. As a policy, boreholes are being dug in all our schools so that children will not go out looking for water which is not safe for them.
“Most of our schools that are being liberated from the hands of the insurgents, learning and teaching is effectively going on but then the irony is that there are still few schools under the occupation of security operatives.
“While we are saying that Boko Haram are destroying the schools, on one hand, we are also getting our own liberators occupying the schools. This also goes to show that effective learning is also being disrupted.
“We have been partnering with the military to do a lot in making these schools absolutely demilitarized and we have written a strong letter to the Commissioner of Police to check his men out of some schools.
“Although they are occupying the schools for the purpose of security of that area, but at the same time, it is inimical for effective teaching and learning.
“We have discussed with one of the General about the military intervening in classrooms. Initially, there was these hues and cries about the military coming into the classroom with weapon as teachers.
“That campaign was followed, thanks to UNICEF, Save the Children and other useful organisations who clamoured that the military should not go to the class, even if they will go to the class, they should be disarmed.”
Speaking, a representative of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Ambassador Shehu, called on the stakeholders to engage on sober reflection, work together and continue to be inclusive in their approach.
“This is also the moment for us go back and ensure that the necessary education is provided.
“We all know that education was not given to some groups and that is why we find ourselves in this situation.
“What I am saying is that, we should make all deliberate efforts to ensure that the little effort made so far is sustained and the issues on ground are tackled because our future can only be better when we have education.
“I want to commend the EiEWG and other stakeholders for commemorating this day.
“To us, this is a call to action on how we can reinvigorate the education sector, a call to action on how the children in the street can go back to their classes, and a call to action in order to work together for the betterment of our country,” he said.
A prominent feature at the press briefing was a presentation by school children.
The presentation which was very touchy and emotional passed what many described as a strong message to everybody at the event.
They school children portrayed their school in good shape and at a later stage the school was attacked and how the insurgents were running after them making them to run halter-scalter. They also showed how their schools were left in complete mess.
Earlier, on the first day of the week- long activity to mark the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, a delegation from the EiEWG paid a courtesy visit to the Borno State House of Assembly.
Speaking, the Chairman, House Committee on Education, Mr. Ayuba Steven Wakama, who was represented by his deputy, Alhaji Shetima Garba, who represents Bama Local Government Area, disclosed that there were over 1000 villages in Bama before the insurgency.
He, however, lamented that “but as at now, only two are in existence. One is Bama in the local government headquarter, the other one is Banki.
“All the rest are somehow. You cannot say they are under the control of Boko Haram, but they are no go area.”
He noted that the Assembly would continue to work closely with the government in its effort at reconstructing and ensuring schools in the state are protected from attack.
Responding to questions from Journalists during the courtesy visit, the Director, Education Services, Ministry of Defence, Mrs Afolake Taiwo, noted that her ministry is working hard to ensure that education is protected from attack in the north east.
According to her: “The Defence Ministry is taking seriously with the efforts of the community, giving them useful information in ensuring that education is protected against attack.
“Of course, you know that education is the bedrock of development of any nation and so it must be protected and the Ministry of Defence is behind ensuring education is protected so that we can have national growth.”