8 May 2014

Nigeria: Business Leaders Launch 'Safe Schools' Initiative

- Nigeria to protect the right to education - Brown, Obaigbena call for united front against terror

By Ndubuisi Francis, Jaiyeola Andrews and Uchechukwu Nnaike

A former British Prime Minister and United Nations Special Envoy on Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, said Wednesday that the plight of the over 200 kidnapped schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State had touched the conscience of the whole world and that the global community was united and ready to support Nigeria not only to free them, but to guarantee the safety and future of the young ones.

As part of the global effort to stem the tide, he said the United States of America and the United Kingdom had already deployed special security personnel and equipment to free the girls before their abductors embark on the trans-border movement of the young girls.

Brown said the international community was sending a message that it was ready and willing to support Nigeria in its fight against terror, adding that his discussions with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, whom he described as a personal friend, as well as other world leaders were reassuring that they were ready to help Nigeria.

Brown, who spoke at the launch of the Safe Schools Initiative at the ongoing 24th World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA) in Abuja, said the world could not stand by and watch thousands of girls afraid of going to school.

"Can I first of all thank the World Economic Forum for hosting the forum and I thank Nduka (Obaigbena), who is the President of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, for leading the business initiative which is being launched today.

"First of all, all our thoughts and our prayers are with the families of the 270 girls who were abducted and kidnapped nearly four weeks ago, and who have been held in captivity.

"I worry about their safety, our thoughts are about their families, and our worries about their future, are at the epicentre of our attention. The pains, sorrows of parents, the harrowing nightmare of the parents and the young ones themselves have touched the conscience of the whole world.

"I believe also that the banner headlines about the girls have been heard in all corners of the world," he said, adding that the global community was helping Nigeria in her desperate efforts to locate and save the abducted girls.

The former British premier said with the 'Safe Schools Initiative', there was a desperate need to reassure the whole country that school children in the northern part of the country are safe to acquire an education.

He expressed hope that although the initiative is the brainchild of Nigerian business leaders, it would attract the needed support within and globally, stating that no effort would be spared to make it thrive.

Brown, who also expressed confidence that members of the global community were ready to support the initiative, said a message was being sent to the terrorists that the international community is behind Nigeria in this trying time.

In his remarks on the initiative, the Chairman/Editor-in-Chief of THISDAY Newspapers, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, said: "We are all stunned by the recent events in our country and the impact on the country... At the same time, we could lose a generation of students if nothing is done urgently to address the situation in the northern part of the country, which is fast threatening education in that part of the country." He said the coalition of business leaders across board met and decided to step in to halt the drift, noting that for some other reasons, many of the business leaders and Brown (Gordon) might not be visible, but would support the initiative.

He said the group was working and collaborating with the United Nations to put in place a structured response, noting that the pilot scheme would involve 500 schools in the first instance. "It will involve Nigerians coming together to put resources on the table to work with communities, work with students, teachers at all levels to provide security and infrastructure for our schools.

"Inclusive growth means building for the future. The Safe Schools Initiative is a public-private partnership that will help protect our greatest asset, our young people, by giving them a safe environment where they can acquire the skills they need to realise their full potential," he said.

Obaigbena also called for a united front against terror, declaring: "We can't be defeated by terrorism in any shape or form."

He recalled that the THISDAY Abuja office was attacked in April 2012 with a colossal loss in lives and assets, adding that this did not dampen the resolve of the newspaper as it appeared on the newsstands the next day and had remained so since then.

Obaigbena urged Nigerians to also remain united and resolved to confront terror, noting that the people would triumph in the long run.

The Safe Schools Initiative is a collaborative effort of Nigerian business leaders led by Nigerian businessmen, who are poised to take the lead in safe schools in the north through the Global Business Coalition for Education.

The initiative with a $10 million take off fund, will cater to 500 schools in the north. Towards this end, Brown is also expected to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan this week, and will take a plan from the international community to partner Nigeria for the largest school expansion in the country's history to get out-of-school children back to schools.

He will also seek additional resources from international partners and the government to scale up safe schools.

A petition with over 400,000 signatures will be delivered later this week to Jonathan showing international support for creating safe schools in Nigeria so that every girl and boy can go to school and learn.

The Global Business Coalition for Education will solicit more corporate partners to support the expansion of safe schools in Nigeria to protect the right of children and young people to education.

Safe Schools Initiative, which is part of the growing movement to "Bring Back Our Girls", is an initial $10 million fund, challenging matching investments by the government, to promote schools as safe places. Starting with 500 schools in northern states, the initiative will focus on school and community interventions, with special measures for the most at-risk and vulnerable children.

It will build community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, community leaders and young people.

In the longer-term, the initiative will focus on bolstering the physical protection of schools; providing school guards and police in partnership with Nigerian authorities; training staff as school safety officers; and providing communication tools and school counsellors.

It will also work to help schools create security plans and work with the government to develop a rapid response system so that even when faced with attacks, response units would be set up to quickly repair or rebuild and replace destroyed education materials and facilities.

According to the Head of Gender Parity and Skills Initiatives, World Economic Forum, Saadia Zahidi, "One of Africa's greatest assets is its young people who will drive its future development. The Safe Schools Initiative can help Africa unlock its potential and in this light, could be seen as a crucial intervention."

In the meantime, the president has thanked world leaders and participants for defying terror threats to attend the World Economic Forum‎ holding in Abuja. Terror group, Boko Haram, in recent weeks, has unleashed mayhem through two successive bomb attacks that claimed lives and injured many others in Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja, as well as the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Borno State.

Jonathan at the high level closing plenary of Grow Africa‎, held at the Sheraton Hotels, Abuja yesterday, gave kudos to participants for not bowing to the threat of terror by attending the forum, as well as the WEF team not cancelling the event.

Speaking on the importance of agriculture as a business, the president who was part of the panelists, including the Presidents of Tanzania Jakaya Kiweta, ‎Paul Kigame of Rwanda, Boni Yayi of Benin Republic and the Prime Minister of Cote d Ivore, Daniel Duncan‎, told his audience that Nigeria was committed to self sufficiency in rice production by 2015-2016 for domestic consumption and export.

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