Nigeria: Dapchi and the Agony of Refusing to Learn Lessons


On the evening of Monday, February 19th, 2018 Boko Haram terrorists attacked the Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, in Yobe State and kidnapped 110 out of the 926 students in the school. What happened subsequently was shameful. In the days following the abduction, various conflicting accounts emerged of the number of missing female students, ranging from 50 to 111. Nigerians were told that that over 40 girls who fled into the bush in the aftermath of the attack had returned in small numbers. The State Governor announced that the girls had been found only for him to retract his statement later creating more anguish in the hearts of parents and relations of the girls. The authorities were unable to give the number of girls abducted and frustrated parents realizing that the authorities were thoroughly disorganized had to step up, organise themselves and do a head count of the missing girls. Days after the number counted by the parents, the Minister of Information then announced a confirmation of the incident and number of missing girls.

Four years after the massacre of fifty-nine male students at Buni Yadi and as we approach the forth year in captivity for the 112 Chibok schoolgirls, it is shocking that we have not learnt lessons of how to make our schools safe. It was agonising to hear one of the Dapchi girls interviewed on radio say she will never return to school. I cannot blame her if, as is the case, school remains the place where you can be kidnapped and sold into slavery and sexual violence. How come Boko Haram terrorists in amy camouflage uniforms and trucks were allowed to roam around and carry out an operation that lasted for hours and no help came. According to the girls, the words Allahu Akbar was written on the trucks and the men had no boots, so many of the students were able to work out they were not real soldiers. How come no security personnel could identify the assailants as they drove through many communities to get to the school? How come the army moved out of the theatre of action just a few days before the attack?

Following the Buni Yadi and Chibok attacks in 2014, the then President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in collaboration with the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and a coalition of Nigerian Business leaders initiated the Safe Schools Initiative (SSI) Project during the World Economic Forum on Africa, which in Abuja on the 7th of May, 2014. A Steering Committee was inaugurated on the 9th of July 2014, with a mandate to provide overall guidance in the implementation of the project. The committee was co-chaired by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy the Honourable Minister of Finance and the UN Special Envoy for Education Mr. Gordon Brown. At the inaugural meeting of the steering committee a technical committee was set up, on the 17th July 2014, to develop a framework for the speedy actualization of the initiative. A clear mandate was developed that all necessary measures must be taken to make our schools safe spaces for learning for our children. The steering committee membership includes the governors of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States, the ministers of education and women affairs and so on. What have they been doing to keep our schools safe? How come we have not heard a single word from SSI on the Dapchi issue?

It would be recalled that the first decision taken by the SSI was to transfer students in the high-risk areas from each of the States of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno to Federal Unity Colleges (FUCs) to safer parts of the country. Why therefore were almost one thousand girls left in the Dapchi School, which was known to be vulnerable? What happened to the funds made available by the Federal Government of Nigeria, the German Government, the African Development Bank and the Multi - donors' trust fund of the United Nations? The shock of Buni Yadi and Chibok was so heavy that our Government and the International Community said never again should it be allowed to happen. Why was it allowed to recur again and again?

School abductions have today become a permanent feature of our national life and that's the scandal. Clear protocols should have been developed and followed. The case of Boko Haram against Nigeria is that we allow children to be educated. It's logical that they would continue to attack schools. Kidnappers, especially in the Lagos zone have also bought into abducting students for the purpose of extortion. The obvious necessary response is for us to provide adequate security for our schools. When abductions occur, swift hot pursuit responses are necessary. How come students are abducted today and as was the case in Buni Yadi and Chibok in 2014, there is no hot pursuit to rescue them by the military for days and weeks and the terrorists are allowed to travel hundreds of kilometres to their hiding places. It took over a week after the abduction for the Government to set up a committee to find out what happened. The expectations that lessons learnt from the report that investigated the Chibok abductions should have led to practical response mechanisms is obviously too much to expect.

For me, the most unacceptable trend is the total lack of regard for parents. It is simply wicked to feed them wrong information and raise their expectations on the recovery of their children only for them to find out subsequently that it is not true. In societies where the State knows its responsibility towards citizens that have suffered a tragedy, the immediate response includes establishing a communication line with relations to keep them informed of unfolding attempts to address the situation and providing psychological support for those who escaped the tragedy and their relations. They are then guided on coping strategies to address the trauma they are undergoing. In Nigeria, we just leave them to their own devises. Why for example did it a take a whole week to contact the parents to establish the list of missing students?

Finally, there is a huge question of State relations with affected communities. In Dapchi, angry community members stoned the entourage of the Governor for misleading them. We do not have the rapid response mechanism of security and intelligence officers moving within hours of an attack and collecting information from eyewitnesses that could lead to addressing the situation. Its as if they are afraid of doing their work for fear of danger to themselves. Each time abduction occurs, the tragedy is the missed opportunities of taking swift recovery measures that could have produced a solution. We simply cannot continue in this manner.

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