16 February 2017

Nigeria: Making Nigerian Schools Safe From Kidnappers

Daniel Obafemi, an 11-year-old JSS2 student in a private school, has always wanted to be a boarding student. But his father, Mr. Albert Obafemi, would have none of it. His reason? Boarding schools are no longer safe, especially with the increasing spate of kidnapping in both public and private schools.

This is the fear of most parents, as majority of schools in the country are poorly secured or, in most instances, are not secured by trained security personnel.

From the abduction of over 200 female students from Government College, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014, to the kidnap of three female students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary, Lagos State, on February 29, 2016, and the kidnap of four students, a teacher and a Vice Principal of Lagos Model College, Igbonla, Epe, on October 6, 2016, the vice is now a big money spinner for gunmen who carefully select and plot their escape with their trophies.

The most recent, the kidnap of five students and three staff of Nigerian-Turkish International School, Isheri, Ogun State, on January 13, just underscores how porous security in most schools are and the need for more to be done by government, school owners and security agencies to ensure safety in our schools.

Product of lack of employment

Worried over the spate of kidnaps in schools, Vanguard Learning sought the opinions of parents, school owners and security experts on best measures to be employed to secure lives of staff, students and general safety of the schools' premises.

For a retired Commissioner of Police and presently a security consultant, Mr. Frank Oditta, kidnapping is a product of lack of employment though not at a very disturbing level.

Adding that government is already promulgating laws that will act as a deterrent to criminals, he urged school owners to provide adequate security measures such as perimeter fencing, access control and security awareness education for staff and students to make them security conscious at all times.

Listing three key measures to be put in place for the safety of students in schools, the Principal, Melville College, Ojodu, Lagos, Dcn Onikoyi Enoch Abiodun, said security at school should be paramount to all stakeholders. "Three important measures to be put in place are: the installation of Close Circuit Television, CCTV, sensitization during Parents Teachers' Association, PTA meetings, and the orientation of students during assembly.

"Since security at school should be paramount to all: teachers, parents and students, the installation of CCTV at designated points, sensitization of students and parents on security alerts during PTA and other school programmes, orientations in class and during assembly should be routinely done."

In agreement is a London-based Nigerian and former teacher, Queens College, Yaba, Mrs. Felicia Peter-Thomas, who further outlined more security tips schools, especially those with boarding facilities, should adhere to.

She said; "Schools should take safety seriously by having one entrance and one exit gates. CCTV should be installed and must be managed by trained personnel, while all staff and students must carry their identity cards at all times which could electronically tagged at the gate.

"Dates and times for visiting must be clearly specified and displayed at the entrance and all visitors must be subjected to checks at the gate. Parents must also be adequately informed of the activities in the school and their schedules. Also, walls, if present, should have some form of computerised safety gadget with warnings for any intruder.

"Communications privacy should be ensured by one-to-one encryption of conversation between teachers, parents, students and any other caller. Playgrounds could be indoors, if planned in building the school, but should be monitored at all times.

"In addition, the location of the school is important for government protection, therefore, there should be permanent links on safety issues between the state and schools' administrators. So at a touch of a button, the security officers should report to the school within seconds. This means they must have their pass to get in for emergencies."

Community policing

Calling for the introduction of community policing, a parent, Mrs. Tina Akamkpa, said it would reduce to the minimum, cases of kidnapping as community members would be on the lookout for each other and know when a stranger comes in.

Her words "Some of the kidnap cases wouldn't have occurred if community policing were in place because some residents reported to have noticed strange characters with sinister movements that indicated they were surveying the school to know how secured it is before the attack on Lagos Model College. Also, if they can afford it, schools should invest in CCTV that can be placed in strategic points for monitoring purposes."

Not deterred by the incidences of kidnapping, Mr. Chidalu Onyema, a banker with three children in boarding schools, said his children would remain in boarding schools till they finish as the life lessons learnt from boarding house are too immense compared to a threat that has a slim chance of happening to them.

He said "In a sense, you can't say you won't buy or drive a car because people have died from accidents. In the same vein, you can't say children will not go to boarding schools because of kidnapping because the likelihood that your own child or children will be kidnapped is one in as many public, private, day and boarding schools that exist in Nigeria.

"How many can they kidnap? What is stopping them from kidnapping them on their way from or to school as day students or when the driver drops them off in your flashy car? My children are still in their school in Enugu, and will remain boarders till they finish.

"Don't get me wrong, I am in support of schools beefing up security, particularly patrolling the premises, and if there are porous parts, they should be dealt with. Parents too need to teach their children basic safety tips, cooperate with school authorities on school safety measures and trust God."

In the same light, an educationist and school proprietor who declined to have his name in print, disclosed measure his school has taken, which he implored other school owners to emulate.

According to him, "First of all, I believe God is our safety. Be that as it may, despite the size of the school, every school should have strong and viable security, especially at the gate. When this is done, strangers should not be allowed into the school and people should not be allowed to walk in and go to the classrooms to pick up or check on their children.

"For nursery and primary schools, when children are to be picked up, only familiar and regular faces are to be allowed. If the regular person would not available, the school authorities should be notified and the person should come to the school regularly for a week with the new person.

"In secondary school where the students can come to school and go on their own, the school should also make sure that there is a time frame for students to come in the morning and in the afternoon. This means that lateness to school should be curbed, parents and students need to cooperate. Once the students are not in the premises at the stipulated time they are assumed absent and the school will be locked. In the afternoon when they leave, the school can no longer be held accountable. Nonetheless, parents need to educate their wards, as we do too, to go home straight, keep away from strangers."

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