By Uangbaoje Alex, Kaduna
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday called on the authorities in Nigeria to make schools safe and provide a secure learning environment for every child in Nigeria, especially for girls, to increase girls’ enrolment, retention, and completion of education.
This was contained in a statement released by its Communication Specialist, Samuel Kaalu, to mark the 8th Anniversary of the Abduction of 276 students at Government Girls’ Secondary School Chibok.
According to UNICEF, a total of 11, 536 schools were closed since December 2020 due to abductions and security issues and these school closures have impacted the education of approximately 1.3 million children in the 2020/21 academic year.
The statement said the interruption of learning contributes to gaps in children’s knowledge and skills and may lead to the loss of approximately 3.4 billion USD in these children’s lifetime earnings. This, risks to further perpetuate cycles of poverty and inequality.
It stated that “UNICEF, with generous funding from donors, is collaborating with the government of Nigeria to protect children’s right to education in a safe and inclusive learning environment. This involves building the capacity of School-based management committees (SBMCs) on school safety and security and strengthening community resilience”.
The UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, said unsafe schools, occasioned by attacks on schools and abduction of students and the brutal violation of the rights of the victims to education, are totally unacceptable.
He stressed that attacks on learning institutions render the learning environment insecure and discourage parents and caregivers from sending their wards to schools, while the learners themselves become fearful of the legitimate pursuit of learning, adding that the invisible harm school attacks inflict on the victims’ mental health is incalculable and irredeemable.
“Girls have particularly been targeted, exacerbating the figures of out-of-school children in Nigeria, 60 percent of whom are girls. It is a trajectory which must be halted, and every hand in Nigeria must be on deck to ensure that learning in Nigeria is not a dangerous enterprise for any child, particularly for girls,” said Hawkins.
Hawkins disclosed that in Katsina State, government and communities have fenced some schools, and that has encouraged girls to attend school, underscoring the reality that collaboration is required in addressing insecurity in schools and making schools safe, especially for girls.
The statement further reads; “Today marks eight years since the first known attack on a learning institution in Nigeria on 14 April 2014, in which 276 students at Government Girls Secondary School Chibok in north-east Nigeria were abducted by a Non-State Armed Group. Since then, a spate of attacks on schools and abductions of students – sometimes resulting in their deaths – has become recurrent in the last two years, especially in the north-west and north-central regions of Nigeria. Since December 2020, 1,436 school children and 17 teachers have been abducted from schools, and 16 school children lost their lives”.
“In Katsina State, 300 SBMC members have been trained, and schools, supported through the Girls’ Education Project (GEP3) funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK, have developed Emergency Preparedness and Response Plans to mitigate the impact of potential and actual threats.
“Multi-sectoral task teams on school safety have also been established across all the 34 LGAs of Katsina state to provide timely and efficient networking among actors on school security, with particular focus on the safety of girls. Additionally, 60 Junior Secondary Schools have developed emergency plans and tested the plans in evacuation drills”, said UNICEF.
UNICEF reiterated that althoughh Nigeria has ratified the Safe Schools Declaration, schools and learners are not sufficiently protected, hence the need to pay greater attention in protecting children, teachers and schools, else they will continue to come under attack. Urgent, coordinated action is needed to safeguard the right to learn for every child in Nigeria.