Education

Panic grips Benue over incessant school kidnappings

The turn which insecurity has taken where innocent school children are kidnapped every now and then is alarming. First, it was the Chibok girls in Borno, then the Dapchi incident. It then moved to Kastina, followed closely by Niger state. A boarding school in Jangebe, Zamfara state too was affected. Case of school kidnap recorded in Kaduna joined the latest mass kidnapping from schools in recent weeks. Armed gangs often seize school children for ransom in a wave of kidnapping that has been condemned by President Muhammadu Buhari as “inhumane and totally unacceptable.”

With these cases, fear has gripped Benue indigenes over the safety of Benue children in schools. The Voice’s FAITH IGBUDU spoke with some stakeholders who barred their mind on the palpable fear as the Benue Commissioner for Education, Prof. Dennis Ityavyar, explains government position on the matter.

Executive Secretary, NKST Educational Services, Rev. Moses Akem said, “We are extremely worried. Some people are calling for the abolishment of a boarding system which I disagree with, as I feel Nigerians know what they are doing. If the Nigerian government wants to stop kidnapping, especially in schools, it is very easy for them to do that, but rather they keep giving excuses. There is no way you can go into a school and evacuate hundreds of students and take them away without the knowledge of the security and the school authorities. I think there is a fishy deal between school authorities and the kidnappers.

“In NKST schools, I have instructed the principals and security to be very careful of who is coming into the school. Do a thorough check. Fencing of our schools is another important thing as it helps in a little way. I appeal to the government to help us fence our schools for the security of our children.”

In his take, Executive Secretary, Catholic Educational Services, Director of Catholic Education Services, Makurdi Diocese and Principal of Mt. St. Michael’s Secondary School, Aliade, Very Rev. Fr Terungwa Tor, said: “Benue should be worried hearing cases of kidnapping in various institutions in the north. A government that cannot protect its citizens, especially in safe zones like schools should begin to think how it is carrying out its mandate to the people.

“While we continue to worry, I think we should appreciate the governor we have, Governor Samuel Ortom who as far back as 2017 signed the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017, that was very proactive about security. You know that without that law, the bandits would have made Benue one of their base, now they can’t come because the long arm of that law will catch up with them. They concentrate on the border and the govenment is equal to the task.

“So, our school children, parents and all stakeholders, should continue to stand against these bandits created by forces who don’t mean well for Nigeria. I believe they won’t come into Benue to distabilise the smooth running of educational institutions.”

Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychology, Benue State University, Makurdi, Ihaji O Ihaji, said: “Yes, we are worried and we should be worried over the security of these young ones. They are our future and we can not afford to take their security for granted.

“Also, kidnapping weighs negatively on the psychological and physical state of the child. It brings about fear for education, especially for those who have experienced it. It will generate phobia for entry into schools and it generate panic for those whose loved ones are kidnapped.

“This is a call on the government to bring to a total halt, the issue of insecurity in the country. The security agencies should also be alert to ensure effectiveness in the provision of security in the country by constant monitoring of schools and intelligence gathering, especially for boarding schools. The community is another sector that will come to play for the provision of security around schools. They can help with intelligence gathering of strange persons in their communities.”

Mr Terlumun Mchie, Benue State Aids Control Agency (BenSACA) Information Officer, maintained that the trend of school kidnappings is not different from Boko Haram.

“It is distracting Western education in the North. They want to erase it and the children will not be civil because in those days people used to live in isolation but with Western education, people started living together with one another. It is sad that the group is using students as a way of forcing parents to keep their children at home and when this happens they will become wild. They don’t even replace with a tangible substitute but just focus on money they get now but this is destroying the future

“Benue State should be worried because of its border with Nasarawa were several bandits gain access to the state to attack and go. The state should be scared and prepared against any attack and emergency. It is better to prepare for war before it comes. Our primary, secondary and tertiary schools, especially those around border communities like Guma, Logo, Zaki Biam should get prepared with precautionary measures to guide against such occurrences.”

Miss Avadoo Uwouku, a secondary school student, said the current insecurity situation the country is passing through is because of bad government.

“Anything I say, be it bad roads, poor electricity, insecurity etc all boils down to bad government. The case of Niger Delta Avengers was well handled during late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua’s reign, what stops the present government from doing same? If the government is good, the social vices wouldn’t have been this much. In the past, children of the rich attended public schools but now, most of them send their children abroad for studies and for that reason, care less about the current state of education in the country. A stitch in time saves nine, Benue state government should put in place, security measures in other to avoid the menace in the state.”

A Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Benue State University, Makurdi, Dr Comfort Ugbem-Onah, said, Benue should be afraid and should sit up because people are watching how the issue is being handled in those areas. According to her, the government has not really shown much commitment in the issues of kidnapping, rather, they are paying the bandits and enriching them more or less and it will get to a point where people now feel that the most lucrative business is kidnapping and they start kidnapping to make money.

“The fact that politicians recruit these youths during elections and give them arms and don’t retrieve the arms and after a while, they are not able to settle them with money as they have promised has given rise to militia groups within the hinterland. Benue should actually be afraid if something is not done, it will be like those places, I feel security should be beefed up in the state if they can be successful in kidnapping in other areas then it is a matter of time before people here begin to experience such. Security should be beefed in schools and in the town generally,” she stated.

An officer with Nigeria Correctional Services (NCOS), Engr Ochiga-Awyetu Ochiga said: “To some large extent, we should be afraid because, there is distribution of power and from the look of things now, the security personnel are not taking orders from the state government but from the federal government. If they are taking orders from the state, the shoot at sight directive would have been more effective, because if orders are taken from the state we will be able to fish out the perpetrators of this crime. I believe that if all Nigerians, including children of politicians are schooling in the country, honestly this thing would not have been happening. Their children are not schooling here and they have no value for the common man.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner for Education, Prof. Dennis Ityavyar disclosed that the state Security Council has set up a committee to address any future incidence of kidnapping of school children in Benue.

He explained that; “Benue state has already discussed the issue at the state security council and has set up a committee to that effect. We have met and taken some preliminary decisions to ensure safety in schools now and soon the detailed report will be released.

“So, we are doing something because we are worried. We are taking proactive measures to address the situation in Benue. We have already listed schools that are most vulnerable, especially boarding schools that are at the border. We have involved traditional rulers, the police, vigilante groups and other security agencies to ensure that things are done well,” he said.

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