It is very unfortunate that with 62.5 per cent increase in out-of-school children from 12.5 million to 20 million in just one year, Nigeria has joined India and Pakistan as the top three countries with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.
Coupled with the continued closure of schools over the incessant abduction of school children by terrorists, and the unwillingness of affected governors to provide alternative means of formal education for children in their respective states, this revelation by the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has reinforced the belief that the terrorists are winning in their resolve to jeopardise formal education in the country.
Similarly, speculation is rife that the Federal Government cares less about the public education system in the country. Although this speculation may be dismissible on the ground of lack of putative evidence, the glaring fact of inaction and palpable insensitivity are witnesses to complicity.
Since December 2020 when abductions prevented children in Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Niger states from attending school, more schools in other northern states have been shut down as these criminals get free reins to invade communities.
Besides, claims of security forces that terrorists are being decimated do not conform with other reports indicating the festering of banditry, kidnapping and mass murders of innocent citizens across the country; suggesting a failure or unwillingness of security authorities to forestall successive abductions. All this is further compounded by the public expression of helplessness and bland analysis and rationalisation on insecurity from political officials who leave no one convinced about any genuine intention to serve.
This is disturbing not only because of its calculated backsliding from efforts expended to empower already disadvantaged affected communities but also because it bears the dangerous consequence of multiplying the breed of destructive elements that are turning Nigeria into a gigantic human tragedy.
Given the uncanny silence over abductions, the Federal Government and the state governments affected must demonstrate to Nigerians that they are not in collusion with the bandits and terrorists in this shameful and ignoble act. In order to express their sincerity and commitment to the people, they should take visible steps towards a reversal of these shameful statistics.
First, as a matter of policy, the Nigerian state must urgently comply with the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child to which it is a signatory.
The government must earn the trust of the people and its self-respect by frontally attacking elements that are inimical to progress. It must take concrete steps to prevent the abduction of children and ensure that those suspected of criminal responsibility face justice in fair trials, and it must rescue the hundreds of children who remain in captivity.
In this regard, governors as chief executives of states must begin to smoke out enemies within that promote these lucrative industries of banditry and kidnapping. It does not matter who they are and the political influences they wield. These abductors do not spirit their victims out of the country; they occupy a space in a ward, in a local government area of a state of this federation. They live amongst us. Moreover, politicians and powerful persons in society arming and sponsoring bandits and kidnappers should be identified and brought to book.
When a reasonable measure of security is assured, the state governments will need to re-sensitise their people about the value and practical utility of education to their lives and in addressing the problems of insecurity and should be made to own whatever value in education they have expressed.
The government should also be decisive about the protection of the people as its primary function. Nigerians are aware that governors and political officials are the main beneficiaries of state protection, and are rarely targets of bandits and abductors. They should inject the same energy with which they protect themselves and their families into providing an environment conducive to learning for their people.
It is for the reason of the absence of a conducive environment for children to freely attend a school that the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, should positively back up his threat to prosecute parents and guardians of out-of-school children.
In particular, the government should first ensure that all amenities to facilitate schooling are duly provided by the government, while it is honourable that Nigeria is a signatory to conventions enjoining member countries to ensure free and compulsory basic education, it will be ill-advised and misguided for anyone to enforce compliance when the schools are neither equipped nor the environment conducive to basic education.
The governor should ask whether the schools are safe for the students; and whether the parents indeed have the means to sponsor their children if education is not free. Also, what kind of funding has the government given to education? Do their schools meet the standard stipulated for the provision of quality basic education? Are teachers well remunerated? Are the parents empowered and appropriately sensitised to educate their children? What has government put in place to ensure that the law works?
As a primer to governors, they should emulate the smart action taken by Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum, who is providing incentives for parents and guardians whose wards are in school. Governors of Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Niger states should not just lament, they should also rise up to their responsibilities as leaders and shore up the support of the people.
A situation where basic formal education has been denied to children for nearly two years without any feeling of compunction on the part of the government is a clear indication of sympathy for the cause of terrorists. It is only a wicked administration that would remain aloof or carry on as if the country has been deliberately designed to fail. This is more so when highly placed public servants, including governors are known to send their children to schools abroad without any fear of abduction or disruption. Nigerians deserve a safe and secure social and psychological space for education to thrive. The government’s duty to provide this is sacrosanct.