Public schools in Nigeria are facing new security challenges such as the mass abduction of students by bandits in parts of the country.
In Lagos State, PREMIUM TIMES observed internal and external threats to schools during an investigative tour. But the state government said it is planning to set up a special apparatus to provide protection.
For some public schools in the state, it is the absence of perimeter fencing, security gates and trained security personnel, but for others it is the flooding of classrooms and leaky roofs.
At St. Patrick’s Primary School, Iragbo/Iragon, Badagry, pupils and teachers said their school has not been fenced in the over nine decades it has existed.
On a cold Monday morning in July, pupils walked in twos and threes into the school premises. Chit-chatting and playing, the children strolled into the only primary school in the community.
Located in the centre of Iragbo, a 16-classroom building is the only structure in the school, with the pupils, about 700, tightly packed in the classrooms.
There were no security fencing or gate and there was no guard or security officer present as this reporter headed straight to the school block.
The school sits on about three acres of land surrounded by an open field of farmlands. It is the only public primary school in Javie, Iragon, and Iragbo, the three communities in Badagry which share the facility.
Since its establishment on March 12, 1925, the school has experienced little development – save for the construction of the 16-classroom block by the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration two years ago.
“Snakes can come in. Fulanis bring cows into the school to eat up the crops in the school farm but the teachers cannot do anything to them because they don’t want them to cause any harm,” Thomas Yemanise, the Baale of Iragbo, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Yemanise said the communities had written several letters to the government to fence the 96-year-old school but received no response.
Ancient School without security
St Patrick Primary School was established in 1925 by Roman Catholic missionaries who ran it until 1955 when the Lagos State government took it over.
Speaking with this reporter in his palace, Mr Yemanise said he attended the primary school in the late 1970s.
“The insecurity in Nigeria today is not something to joke with. Even people are not assured of security in their houses not to talk of a school that has no fence, no gate.
“We wrote several letters to the government to fence the school but nothing to show. The government should help us and save our children’s lives,” he said.
The community leader said the school has guards but they only sit under the mango trees, leaving strangers to enter and head straight to the classrooms.
“Badagry is where development started from, where (Western) education started from – all the schools are supposed to be okay,” he added.
Encroachment, security threats
The teachers said the school is exposed to trespassers due to the absence of a security fence.
“Okadas (commercial motorcycles) pass through the school when the children are playing around during their break time. Different people enter and no one can stop them,” one of the teachers, Felicia Iyanda, said.
“We have been writing for the fencing of the school. You know, normally what the government used to do, they want the community to join hands with it to do the fence.
“We have been writing letters and they have been coming to survey the land but they have not done it,” Mrs Iyanda said.
Ruth Fiyakola, a parent, said children are well taught at the school, but she is not comfortable with the security situation.
“I like the school a lot. We are asking the government to help us fence it because the children walk out of the school anyhow and things are happening a lot,” she said in Yoruba.
In May 2020, a windstorm destroyed the school’s building and many other buildings in the community.
Although the school was renovated two months after the incident, the government still did nothing about the security fence.
Nigeria and insecurity in schools
Many schools have been attacked by armed groups who abduct students and teachers en masse for ransom, especially in the northern parts of Nigeria.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how bandits abducted 136 pupils of Saliu Tanko Islamic school in Tegina in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State on May 30.
About two weeks later, 102 students of the Government College (FGC), Yauri in Kebbi State were kidnapped.
Some students and teachers were killed by armed groups, while others, especially males, were converted to child soldiers. Young girls were raped and turned into sex slaves by the outlaws.
Lagos State witnessed such an incident in 2017 in the Epe area of the state and security experts, educationists, and non-governmental organisations have been calling for improved security in schools in the state.
Lagos government’s efforts
In March 2020, Governor Sanwo-Olu introduced the Security Improvement Programme (SIP) in public schools.
The governor also inaugurated the Special Committee for Rehabilitation of Public Schools (SCRPRS), headed by Hakeem Smith, as the driver of the projects.
Crucial to the mandate of SCRPS is the improvement in schools’ infrastructure and security, especially in the model colleges and the boarding schools.
“We are taking the issue of security seriously in our public schools. That is why watchtowers, floodlights, security fences, and panic alarm systems have been introduced as part of secondary school projects to keep the teachers and the pupils secured,” Mr Smith said.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited some of the public schools selected for the project, our reporter saw security personnel at the gates quizzing unfamiliar faces.
“You cannot just go into the school. Even if you want to see the principal, you must bring a letter or call the principal who will now say I can bring you to his office,” a security officer at Oriwu College, Ikorodu said.
Our reporter visited selected schools that are beneficiaries of the first phase of the SIP. She observed that security facilities were provide.
Some model colleges visited include Badagry Junior Grammar School, Badagry; Oriwu College, Ikorodu, and Lagos State Civil Service Model College, lgbogbo, Ikorodu.
Watchtowers, elevated security fencing, barbed wires, panic alarm systems, fire extinguishers, and floodlights have been provided in those schools.
Officers of the police and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps have also been deployed to protect students, staff, and their facilities in the schools.
On the state of St. Patrick’s Primary School in Badagry, Wahab Olawale, the Chairman of the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LASUBEB) said only a few schools remain without security fencing and other security apparatuses in the state.
“You will see a few of such and the state government is working assiduously to address issues like that. Investment in education is continuous and as such we must continue to renew all our infrastructure.
“The safe learning environment initiative of the government is very much hinged on what is going on around us, security is everybody’s business,” Mr Olawale said.
The LASUBEB boss further said pupils and teachers were being trained on “environmental and situational awareness” saying they are the first people responsible for their own security.
“There are pockets of violence here and there and Lagos is not an exemption. As a proactive and anticipatory government, there are several measures put in place in terms of security.
“The strategy is there to monitor all the schools based on division. The police have been able to divide Lagos into strategic arrangements where they monitor each school within each domain to ensure maximum efficiency,” Mr Olawale said.
The official added that teachers and students were being sensitised on different approaches to use when there is a security breach.
Internal security risks
Although the Lagos State Government has taken steps to fortify security in selected schools, students are still exposed to risks such as flooding.
Odogunyan Junior Secondary School in the Ikorodu area of the state has been shut down due to flooding.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the school, there were no students and the school was immersed in floodwater.#
An official of the school who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak, said the students were relocated to different schools pending the resolution of the flood problem.
“This place is not a school for now, only a few of us are here because of government properties that are here. Since morning, we cannot come in because of the rain,” he said, referring to a downpour on Friday morning.
Olanrewaju Olalekan, a resident of the area, said the newest building in the school was damaged by flood and was gradually sinking.
“Whenever there is rain, no school for that day because the students cannot enter the school. The students have been dispersed to different schools, but many of them are suffering from the issue of transportation,” he said.
“The flood here is really bad and is affecting the entire community. At times, when flood water enters the school during school time, it will be very hard for students to leave the school. My friends and I rescue the children most of the time,” another resident said.
Funmilola Olalekan, a parent, said he has lived in the area for over 20 years. He said the flood issue started only 10 years ago when a gas pipeline was constructed in the area and the drainages became clogged.
“If those two drainages are not cleared, the school cannot be conducive for learning. The flood entering the school is too much, sometimes during rainfall, the flood rises above knee level.
“Flood almost carried away two students at a time when the students fell into a ditch covered by water. I was the one that shouted for help before they rescued the children,” she said.
Aside from constant flooding of their hostels during the rainy season, boarding students of Badagry Junior Grammar School also complain of leaky roofs and poor flood prevention, among others.
PREMIUM TIMES obtained pictures of students battling floods and draining water from their hostels during the school period.
“It is always a serious issue, especially when the rain is heavy. During the last rain, the students rushed back to the hostels and were draining water to prevent damage to their properties,” a teacher who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak, said.
He lamented the deplorable state of the school’s hostels and said they deserve the government’s attention.
Aloy Ejiogu, a retired professor of education from the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, said Nigeria needs to quickly improve security in schools. He said there are security policies but they are no longer implemented.
“There must be strict regulations and laws. Government officials and inspectors of education must rise to the occasion to ensure that schools do not operate unless they have got the requisite things,” Mr Ejiogu, a former commissioner for education in Imo State, said.
“When you talk about security, it is not only just the armed bandits. Even internal security. There are schools that in this rainy season, you cannot enter. On a rainy day, the school is closed because the entire place is water-logged, flooded. Some of them have leaky roofs, health-wise, the students are not safe,” Mr Ejiogu said.
To ensure safety and security in schools, Mr Ejiogu said there must be a proper feasibility study on locations of schools, safety, accessibility, and other security apparatuses.
“When you talk of security infrastructure, all schools must be fenced and there must be a provision of adequate lighting. Well-trained security men and women should also be in schools, most of the people we have there are old people. When you leave a 75-year-old man at the gate as a security man with a little stick, what is his job there?”
The professor said the government should formulate policies around security in schools and implement them and also expose students to self-defence skills.
Another expert, Segun Awonusi, said self-awareness is key to security and this must be taught in all schools.
“On security, it has always been a three-pronged approach. First is how fences or walls are deterrents and help to protect the sanctity of school lands and do not allow security breaches where outsiders attack students.
“Nigeria has gotten to a stage where security experts must be invited to sensitise students and teachers on tips to use in the event of sudden attacks, to escape without being hurt,” he said.
Mr Awonusi said security officers should be posted to schools, the way bursars, counsellors, and other professionals are deployed to schools.
On floods in schools, Mr Awonusi said the government must prevent them to make schools safe for learning.
He said despite that climate change makes flooding unpredictable, the government should explore all options to de-flood schools.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted the Office of Education Quality Assurance, Lagos State Ministry of Education, but there was no response from them as of the time of this report.
Government conscious of problems – Commissioner*
However, Folashade Adefisayo, the Lagos State Commissioner for Education, said her ministry was aware of PREMIUM TIMES’ findings and is working to resolve them.
“The first thing is that we are conscious of them and what we are doing is systematic, going round the state,” she said.
Mrs Adefisayo said the state is trying to spread its impact to 1,700 schools across the six districts of the state.
“The problem we are facing is that of funding and the sheer number of schools that we have to deal with, along with the fact that we are responsible for secondary schools. We have about 1,700 of them that we are managing,” she said.
On the state of Odogunyan Junior Grammar school, the commissioner said the issue is complex and the ministry is collaborating with other ministries for solutions.
“The problem with Odogunyan (Junior Grammar School) is massive because Odogunyan was built at a collection point of water. That means that down that street, everything coming from the street is heading to Odogunyan compound.
“Eventually, after a while, the mud and the water flow undermined the foundations of the building and we had to declare them unusable and got the children out of there.
“We will do Odogunyan Junior School. We are working on it and I am sure within a year, the school will be done. We have been there, we have agreed on what to do, but it is a very big one, because of the terrain. It is quite a complex issue and it is being handled by two or three ministries because we have to do the drainage, the road and all that, those are the issues contributing to the flood,” she said.
The commissioner said the state government had just commissioned about 1000 projects across the state out of about 1,700 public schools in the state.
On the absence of a fence at St. Patrick’s Primary School, Mrs Adefisayo said the state was doing its best to intervene in conditions of primary schools, even though they are under the purview of the local governments and SUBEB.
“What we are doing in Lagos State is that we keep on intervening, even though constitutionally, the state is responsible for secondary education. We cannot allow that to hold us back, so, we are intervening,” she said.
Mrs Adefisayo added that the ministry is also working with the police to ensure safety in schools and is planning to set up a special security apparatus within schools.
(This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Regulators Monitoring Programme).
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