Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, has shown the world Nigeria’s helplessness in dealing with the problem of student abductions by terrorists often referred to as bandits. Between December 2020 and now, more than 1,000 Nigerian students and staff have been kidnapped and held for ransom in the northwest region of the country. Over 500 of this figure were abducted in the last three months and the problem shows no sign of abating. Now, Nwajiuba is pleading with bandits to stop targeting schoolchildren. He has also begged them to free the abducted ones in their custody.
He spoke as another set of three students of Bethel Baptist Secondary School in Kaduna, who were part of the 121 kidnapped on July 5, reportedly escaped from their abductors on Tuesday. The students were found by troops at the Kankumi forest general area in the Chikun Local Government Area of the state. So far, seven students have escaped from their abductors — four had earlier escaped on Sunday, July 25. This is in addition to the first batch of 28 students the kidnappers released. Over 80 students of the Bethel school are still in the forest at the moment.
Elated at the news of the students’ escape, Nwajiuba said, “This is the kind of news I want to be hearing every day. They should please return our children to us. I am so happy for these parents. So, I am really glad to have these three back and I think we should have all of them back. Please, any kind of help we can get. I appeal to parents to please bear with us.”
Yes. This is where we are. Things have degenerated to the level that those who still have conscience among our government functionaries now rejoice over a remnant of students that escape from kidnappers’ dens even when hundreds are still in lions dens across the tick forests of Nigeria’s northwest. As we speak there are over 300 students who have not been returned to their families.
I talk about conscience here because there are some people in government who can look at Nigerians in the face and tell them that the challenge of student abduction has been solved and that the ones in the forests are mere remnants of the handiwork of a defeated foe. After all, that is how they told us that Boko Haram insurgency has been defeated when terrorists still hoist their flags and kill military personnel in the northeast almost on daily basis.
Even as it is, I am not sure the junior education minister will not be reprimanded for talking too much. Aside urging the ‘bandits’ to leave Nigerian students alone, he also appealed to “whoever talks to them” to help tell them to “leave our schools alone.” I don’t know why the minister refused to mention the name of the person that talks to them. We all know him. His name is Sheikh Gumi. He has been the official spokesperson for bandits in Nigeria. The cleric has spoken openly on behalf of the bandits and visited them in their hideouts with pictures of such visits in public domain. He has not hidden his relationship with them. So, begging him to beg the bandits wouldn’t have been out of place.
Of course, as usual, the minister tried to defend the federal government saying it was doing as much as it could possibly do. “I know it is disheartening how you feel and I am appealing as one of the ministers you have put in government that we take responsibility and we are doing the most we can on this matter,” he had said. But we all know that this defence is feeble. It is another way of paying lip service to the problem. Anyway by now, the minister ought to know that the federal government’s best apart from being poor is far from being enough!
It seems this country just loves to go from bad to worse when it comes to poor indices. Kidnapping of students has grown from being an aberration to a lucrative business in our clime. What started as an aberration in Chibok has moved to Dapchi to Kagara to Jingali to Jangebe and so on without any form of check. How can criminals abduct over 100 students at once without being apprehended? How do they move these students — are they moved in trucks, do they trek, how do they operate so freely in a country that has 17 security and law enforcement institutions? Yet, none of the gangs has been arrested in the eight mass kidnappings of Nigerian students since December last year.
A senior analyst with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Bulama Bukarti, quoted the deputy director of Nigeria’s intelligence agency, the Department of State Services as saying that kidnappers have extorted N2billion ($4.9 million) from ordinary Nigerians in the first six months of this year alone. Yet, our leaders prefer to beg criminals than make them pay for their crimes. They would rather subject innocent citizens to unnecessary hardship under the pretence of making the country secure as witnessed in the ongoing compulsory registration for a National Identification Number. I don’t know what they want to achieve with this when it is obvious that they aren’t using the basic technology that is available now to its full advantage. Or what do you make of a country that can’t deploy basic technology to track the numbers kidnappers use to communicate with parents of abducted students to find their location. I even learnt the people in the north don’t have any emergency number to call when attacks are underway and that kidnappers now accept ransom payments through bank transfers!
Our education minister has not been the only one begging criminals. It’s just that he has expressed his views publicly. Many state governors have also been begging criminals in their domains to stop kidnapping their citizens. I heard that in one of the peace meetings with the criminal gangs, which by the way, had representatives of our security units in attendance, the bandit leader threatened to wreak more havoc and everybody including the security reps at the meeting kept begging for mercy. The state governments are saying that they have minimal powers to do anything about physical security, since the security agencies answer to the federal government. But the same governors will oppose a review of the constitution to accommodate state police. Who is deceiving who?
As bad as it is for a government official to display cluelessness and helplessness in the midst of a gargantuan challenge, I think the minister probably fared better when compared with the lacklustre performance of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari at the recently concluded global education summit in London, United Kingdom. At least, the minister acknowledged our problem. The President’s outing is something else. Anyone that listened to his contributions at the summit would think Nigeria is an Eldorado as far as its education sector is concerned.
Hosted by the UK and Kenya, the Global Education Summit brought together world leaders to make progress towards goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (quality inclusive education for all children). The centrepiece of the summit was the opportunity for leaders to make 5-year pledges to support GPE’s work to help transform education systems in up to 90 countries and territories, where 80% of the world’s out-of-school children live.
While leaders like Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, were forceful and emotional about the challenges confronting the sector, emphasising the urgency required in tackling the problem of the underserved, unreached as well as out-of-school children population across the globe, the President of Nigeria where more than 10 million children are out of school, the highest figure in sub-Saharan Africa, spoke as if Nigeria had no challenge in this sector at all.
On the panel with Buhari were Presidents Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, Faure Gnassingbe of Togo, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi. Everyone spoke on the peculiarities of the education sector in their countries. All that our president could tell the world was that Nigerians were acutely aware of the priority of education, and parents were making sacrifices to ensure that their children and wards get educated. He said Nigerians already knew that “You can’t succeed outside your educational qualification. So, no Nigerian parent jokes with education, as they are aware that if their children missed the opportunity of being educated, they have missed a lot.”
If Nigerian parents truly knew the value of education and were already doing their best in this area as the President claimed, why do we still have such a huge figure of out-of-school children in the country? Does it mean that such children don’t have parents? Did they just fall from the sky? Why are they not in school? I really don’t get the point that the President was making. Is it that Nigeria is too proud to accept its challenges or is it a case of delusions of grandeur? Whatever the case may be, I think the President should be reminded that almost everyone in Nigeria, except probably him and others in government, knows that Nigeria is not doing its best as far as its education sector is concerned.
We also know that the solution to our problem is very simple provided our governments choose to be responsible. Majority of the criminal gangs operating in the north have never gone to school. Out of the over 10 million Nigerian children that are out of school, over 70 per cent are located in the north. I noted in my article of September 4, 2019, that Nigeria was breeding children of anger every day. That is still the case now. Investing in quality education is one of the ways to tackle the root causes of insecurity in Nigeria. The more out-of-school children we have, the more criminals, bandits, terrorists and other criminals we will see tomorrow. And the more half-baked education we provide; the more bad leaders we will produce tomorrow. Nigeria is today suffering the consequence of being governed by educated illiterates. The situation will grow worse except the few educated ones in government choose to do things differently.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile (PhD) is the editor-in-chief of franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: email@example.com