“I understand we can only make schools safer within the context of a secured nation…”
President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday decried the high percentage of school dropouts in Nigeria, saying the figure, which is as high as 70 per cent in some parts of the country, was “too high”
Speaking while inaugurating the steering committee for the Safe Schools Initiative, the President noted that such a high percentage of dropouts was unacceptable even as children in Borno State were no longer willing to attend school because of the fear of terrorism.
“From statistics, the dropout of students at the basic level of education is quite high. The basic level is the primary and secondary. The dropout at that level is too high,” Mr. Jonathan said.
“Some states are fairly okay with one or two per cent. But some states are as high as 70 per cent. If the dropout rate of students at the basic level is as high as 70 per cent, that means that only 30 per cent goes to school. That is terrible.
“In Borno State today for example, children, especially girls are not going to school because of the risk they face from terrorism and violence. This is not acceptable” he said.
The Safe Schools Initiative steering committee is co-chaired by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the UN Special Envoy on Education and former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Other members include Governors of Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa; Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote; and Thisday Newspapers publisher, Nduka Obaigbena.
Other members are representatives of the Women Affairs Ministry, Minister of State for Education, NSA, NEMA, NCWS, and civil society.
Noting that the country is passing through a difficult period because of the excesses of the Boko Haram sect, the president said there was need to cushion the collateral damage from the sect’s activities.
“We always insist that the defence or security does not end terror but we need to stop collateral damage on innocent people,” he said. “For us to win the war, we need to look at it holistically: economic issues, educational issues, religious issues, socio-cultural issues etc.”
“At the federal level, we have the Presidential Initiative in the North East (PINE). They are looking at the totality of what the Federal Government can do in collaboration with stakeholders,” he added.
Mr. Jonathan said he had received a copy of the report of the North East Economic Summit, and based on this, government was looking at areas where it can assist.
“There are two subsets. The one we are inaugurating today, the Safe Schools Initiative, is actually under the Presidential Initiative in the North East but this is pioneered by Gordon Brown.
“We initiated this initiative with government to see how they can tap global fund and private sector and other philanthropists to contribute to that.
“We are also coming up with a package. Because we know that we need to intervene to cushion the effect of Boko Haram. So many people have been killed, we have widows and orphans. Properties have been destroyed, schools burnt,” he said.
He said that government was also coming up with the Victims Support Fund, where it will mobilise resources from within and outside the country to help cushion the effect, like after the 2012 flood.
“We are trying to get somebody that will head that fund. We are looking at the 16th of this month to formally launch the fund. Government will put something and individuals will do too,” Mr. Jonathan said.
The president said the kidnap of school children, like the Chibok schoolgirls situation, must not be allowed to re-occur. He said the Safe School Initiative has been designed to enhance the safety of the children and the teachers as well as restore the confidence of parents in keeping their children in school.
“Education and skill acquisition are key to the advancement of our country and ensuring the employment potential of our youths,” he said.
“I understand we can only make schools safer within the context of a secured nation but I want to assure you that my government will do everything possible to ensure safety of lives and property nationwide. We have challenges, we are confronting it and we will surely overcome.
“In tackling insurgency, I can assure you that we are deploying a three-point strategy that focuses on security to enhancement of our intelligence and military capability, seeking political solution by working with local governments and communities as well as economic solution through various economic empowerment and job creation programme all directed at combating insecurity,” he added.