International Day to Protect Education: Why States Must Implement Safe Schools Declaration

Daily Trust, September 15, 2022

“It is better to stay alive at home than to be in the hands of the terrorists while seeking education,” said Maryam Wavi, one of the survivors of the over 300 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014.

She said: “That was changed after meeting my family again and coming back to realise that, the best fight is for me not to give in to the ideology of the terrorists, Boko Haram. I need to change the narratives of the terrorists.”

According to a report by Education For All Foundation, Maryam recounts her night of the abduction, saying, “First of all, on 14 April 2014 Boko Haram came to Chibok local government in Borno State of Nigeria around midnight.

“We were in school with my schoolmates to write our final high school exams at the time. Most of us were asleep. Suddenly, we heard gunshots far away from us; we didn’t know that it would reach our location. Thereafter, we saw people walking around the school campus we didn’t know that they were Boko Haram terrorists. They claimed to be soldiers because some were in military uniforms.”

She said when they started speaking Kanuri, they realised they were fake soldiers, but at that point, it was too late because they had already surrounded their hostels, and gathered some of them.

“They packed us at gunpoint, asked us to sit on the ground, and forced some of us to take them to the stores for looting. After about 30 minutes, they moved us to a location outside our school, where they had more vehicles and trucks, which we later learned were stolen from the main town. They loaded us and drove down to their enclaves in Sambisa Forest,” she narrated.

She further said, after a heated argument, they decided to hold them captives. “They started moving until we finally reached the Sambisa Forest. We were kept in the forest under trees for almost five months.

“We were later moved to a town called Gwoza and stayed under the controlled territory of the terrorists for six months.”

Maryam was, however, rescued and is currently studying at the American University of Nigeria, a EFA report said.

However, after the Chibok girls’ kidnapping, several other abductions have happened in different parts of the country, including Katsina, Kaduna, Yobe, Yola amongst others.

According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), between 2015 and 2019, over 93 countries in the world have witnessed at least one form of attack on education.

Nigeria no doubt is one of the countries whose education has been under threat with the rising cases of insecurity across states.

Also, GCPEA flagship publication, Education Under Attack, reported that in Nigeria, within the period of 2020-2021, over 1,400 students were abducted, and at least 10 attacks on schools, as well as several cases of military use of schools.

The report said there are at least 21 reported incidents of attacks on students, teachers, and other education personnel; 1,850 students and educators were injured, abducted, or killed, and more than five were arrested or detained, in addition to 20 reported attacks on higher education in which over 100 students and academics were reportedly injured, abducted or killed.

In an effort to proffer solutions to attacks on education, the United Nations General Assembly declared the International Day to Protect Education from Attack (IDPEA) in 2020 to be marked every 9th of September.

The day is to raise awareness on a myriad of issues confronting the education system and to draw attention to the need to promote the right to education, protect education against insecurity, emergency and humanitarian situations, strengthen efforts and increase funding, to encourage safe and protective environments in areas of humanitarian emergencies and to take practicable measures to protect learners, teachers and schools.

In his message for the 2022 International Day to Protect Education from Attack, with focus on “Act Now To Protect Education From Attack”, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called for efforts to protect the right to education.

“Education is a fundamental human right and “an essential driver for achieving peace and sustainable development”. Unfortunately, this right continues to fall under attack, especially in conflict-affected areas, he said. 

“Classrooms must remain places of peace and learning,” Guterres noted.

He said in 2020 and 2021 GCPEA reported over 5,000 assaults and cases of military use of schools and universities, and more than 9,000 students and educators were killed, abducted, arbitrarily arrested, or injured, the majority of whom were women and girls.

The UN chief said: “These attacks deprive millions of vulnerable learners from accessing education and increase the risk of sexual violence and child recruitment by armed groups. They must stop immediately.”

Guterres welcomed steps taken by many countries to protect educational institutions and urged “all member states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.”

“International law and international humanitarian law obligations must be respected. We must pursue monitoring, investigate all attacks and hold perpetrators to account,” he said.

While Nigeria also joined the global community on Friday to mark the 2022 International Day to Protect Education from Attack, with the theme “Implementing the National Safe School Policy, to protect Education from Attack: Our Collective Responsibility,” the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, said the incessant attacks on the country’s education system meted out in forms of kidnapping, abduction of pupils/students, banditry, increased activities of insurgents and general insecurity in schools have exacerbated the many factors responsible for the growing number of out-of-school children (OoSC).

Adamu, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Andrew Adejo David, said out-of-school children are easy targets of abuse, exploitation and recruitment by armed bandits and groups.

“Education can be a lifesaver and school should be able to provide a safe space where children can be protected from threats and crises. Ideally, schools, universities and educational institutions should always be safe havens to foster peace and development,” he said

While noting that in recent times the country has witnessed an increased number of abductions which led to the abrupt closure of schools in some parts of the country, he said it is disheartening to note that the situation has instilled fear in every stakeholder.

“In case of abduction, even when the abductees are released, the trauma of the incident remains indelible in their minds, making schooling unattractive,” he said.

He, however, reaffirmed that government has the primary responsibility to provide protection and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels for all learners, especially those in vulnerable situations.

Meanwhile, to ensure safety in schools, Nigeria was amongst the first 37 countries that joined the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) when it was first opened for endorsement in 2015.

The declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment by states to better protect schools and universities, their students and staff, during armed conflict.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in December 2019, signed the instrument for ratification of the declaration, demonstrating the country’s commitment to its implementation and readiness to uphold the principles.

In his presentation, Education Policy and Technical Advisor, Riplington Education Initiative, Abiola Sanusi, said implementing the School Safety Policy as a Tool to Protect Education from Attack is a collective responsibility.

He said September 9th affords them the opportunity to raise awareness about the ‘National Policy on Safety, Security and Violence-Free Schools’ which was developed and approved at the 65th National Council on Education in August 2021 to safeguard education.

 “Nigeria faces a learning crisis which is compounded by violent attacks on education, which have led to the damage or destruction of educational facilities, and the abduction of learners and education personnel. In order to understand the context, we need to go back in time.”

While noting that for more than a decade, Nigeria has remained one of the top countries with the highest OOSC and youth, he said, what is fuelling the education crisis are terrorism in the North, incessant sit-at-home orders and attacks on non-compliant residents in the South East and insecurity across the country

He, however, commended Nigeria for its National Policy on Safety, Security and Violence-Free Schools. Starting with its endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration in 2015, saying, “As an endorsing country, it is important to stress that school safety is a collective responsibility that requires a commitment to cooperation, collaboration and communication.”

 “While the threat hazards pose to education is evident, dedicated and ongoing investments into safe school programmes remain a real challenge. For example, government has not allocated sufficient funds and that funds are hard to access and not released in time.

“Government’s commitment to safe schools is largely focused on the funding streams available at federal, state and local levels.”

He said the ongoing process of financing safe schools should be acknowledged but also requested that key ministries create a budget line for safe schools as part of their collective responsibility.

However, in a keynote address at the high-level event in Paris, Education Above All (EAA) chairperson and Sustainable Development Goals advocate, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, said “We must do all in our power to hold those who perpetrate attacks on education accountable.

“When criminals strike schools, they strike the very heart of a community and its culture and children’s futures are destroyed,” she said.

Author: Chidimma C. Okeke