By Rose MOSES
On July 26 or thereabouts, Nigeria woke up to a startling event that evoked mixed feelings across the federation. There were tears of joy and sadness.
The setting was Nasir el-Rufai’s Kaduna State, now the hotbed of banditry that seemingly enjoys some gubernatorial “look the other way”.
That day, 28 more abducted students of Bethel Baptist Secondary School in the Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, regained freedom. The students were found, according to reports, inside the Tsoho Gaya Forest in Chikun in the early hours of Sunday, July 25. The following day, the nation watched on July 26 the emaciated, tired, and sickly students, apparently worn out by a tedious trek through the woods where they had been held.
The students must have trekked several kilometres, mostly barefooted, and finally collapsed into the waiting arms of their forlorn parents. The fate of the remaining abductees–yet to escape or be released–remains uncertain as nothing was heard of them. The scenario, as much as could be termed some good news, on the other hand, was a sad commentary on the precarious situation that has become the lot of Nigeria.
The Chikun development is coming on the heels of another trek, which seemingly goes to magnify the deep mess that is Nigeria in the era of Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s second coming. That is the trek majestically or rather piously undertaken by PMB after the Sallah prayers at the mosque in his hometown of Daura, Katsina State. The president’s handlers would rather we see that act as a walk of fame.
In what was estimated at a measly distance when compared to what the Bethel students had gone through, Buhari walked, of course, well masked with his tall frame dwarfing his aides and security detail.
One couldn’t narrate the show any better than the renowned columnist, Sam Omatseye, who commented, “On the side streets were lickspittle natives of Daura who hailed him, and Buhari waved back appreciatively. For him, he was the people’s hero.”
But the trek by the students, which could rightly be described as the Great Trek, happened at Buhari’s neck of the woods.
We are talking of that long trek by hundreds of students which was way different from that photo op trek by Buhari. The schoolboys trekked not like we saw the president do.
Omatseye said that no one should think that those who cherished the president on that Sallah day had relatives on that long trek. Not fathers, not sisters, not aunties. Because the sores from that trek will still be echoing in their bloodstreams.
And so, if the point of the presidential trek was to show that his people love him, it is a bad spectacle for unity because not far away in that Katsina is a wasteland of terror and a helpless Governor Masari who knows that his people are at the mercy of roughnecks who prosper at the expense of the weak, he added.
“If Buhari’s was a walk of fame, the boys’ walk did not hail, for they were not hale and hearty.”
That is exactly the point. More so, it is not clear if the bandits released the few for ransom or they were rescued by security operatives or escaped by themselves. Three of the students were said to have been rescued by police some days before the release of the 28 at a location also in Chikun LGA. They were later taken to a police medical facility for checks.
It would be recalled that on July 8, altogether 121 students of Bethel Baptist were abducted from their dorms by bandits, the Nigerian euphemism for northern terrorists.
Reading the list of the missing from Bethel is quite heartbreaking, considering that the oldest of them is 19 while the youngest is just 10. Most are under 15.
These men from the pit of hell (abductors) would later demand a ransom of ₦60 million for the release of the students.
It is indeed sad that in Africa’s most populous country, armed kidnapping for ransom along highways, and from homes and businesses now make almost daily newspaper headlines.
Mass school abductions have soared this year, with almost 1,000 students kidnapped in Nigeria, according to UNICEF. Most are released after negotiations but many are still being held in forest hideouts.
The trauma relatives and victims of such wicked acts pass through can only be imagined. For sure, no mother or any parent would like anybody to take away their child from them for even one day.
You can therefore imagine the level of devastation on parents and relatives of the tightly-knit, religiously faithful Chikun community. And for parents whose children are yet to regain freedom, it is the worst. My hunch tells me that the kids still in the custody of the abductors are those whose parents are yet to raise the ransom.
Even as these parents continue to hold daily, [hours-long] prayers and vigils at the school premises with a call, also, for President Buhari to help free the children, the president, who besides occasional press statements by his aides that hardly give or inspire hope on the massive security issue in the country, jetted off to London at the same time, on an education summit as well as medical tourism.
A presidency statement signed by the Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, indicated that the summit co-hosted by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Boris Johnson, and the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, was to bring together Heads of State and Government as well as stakeholders and youth leaders, providing them with a platform for partners to chart a way forward towards transforming education systems in partner countries through the exchange of best practices.
What an irony! In Nigeria, where Buhari rules. Here, when higher institutions are not under lock and key for long because of striking lecturers for unpaid salaries, primary and secondary schools in the north are under siege and forced to close because of rampant kidnapping of students and or teachers.
So, if deliberations at the summit were to focus on “The Power of Education – A Conversation between Global Champions”, “Transforming Education for Girls”, “Financing for Impact and Recovery”, and “What Now? Priorities for Transforming Education in the Coming Five Years”, among others, what would a federal government that pays little attention to its education sector bring to or take from the table?
It is no secret that budgetary allocation to the sector by the Buhari government has been consistently below the global benchmark.
The 2021 federal budget share for education happens to be Nigeria’s lowest in 10 years, despite the challenges faced by the sector and calls for the government to increase the funding.
President Buhari in 2020, gave the sector its lowest allocation in 10 years, when measured as a percentage of the total spending plan in 2021.
Out of N13.08 trillion budgeted for 2021, N742.5 billion was allotted to education, which amounted to just 5.6 per cent of the total, the lowest percentage since 2011.
No doubt, the Nigerian education sector has been poorly funded in the past years, falling below the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommendation of 15-20 per cent, a budgetary benchmark to adequately cater to rising education demands.
In the last decade, the highest the sector has received was 10.7 per cent in the 2015 budget which was proposed by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014. Since then, none of the appropriation bills passed has surpassed that.
Therefore, Buhari declaring at the UK education summit that no Nigerian parent jokes with education, as they know that if their children or wards missed the opportunity of being educated, they have missed a lot, is a metaphor. His public avowal doesn’t reflect the seeming neglect of the sector, and indeed most sectors of the economy, by his government.
Except he is not aware of the fact that poor funding of the sector has contributed to the deplorable state of federal institutions with many facilities due for renovation, and has even led to youth restiveness resulting to a large extent, the gross insecurity in the country.
And because talk is so cheap, Buhari proceeded to add, “You can’t succeed outside your educational qualification,” adding that anyone who missed education has lost everything.
It’s not as if the world is ignorant of the true state of Nigerian education facts, but the platitudes coming from a president that has not as much as showed empathy to traumatized and grieving families, whose children were abducted from their schools, some still held captive or even may have been killed, loses their true meaning.
Of course, Nigerians are acutely aware of the priority of education, and parents are making sacrifices to ensure that their children and wards get educated. But the big question begging for an answer is how the government is creating a conducive and safe environment for these parents to send their children to schools that boast of adequate learning facilities and also leave them there without fear of them being abducted in the process.
Nothing from budgetary allocations to education, so far, speaks to such. And if you add the fact that the government seems to have no response, whatsoever, to the emotional trauma, the plea of parents that now resume every day at the premises of Bethel Baptist Secondary School in Chikun, Kaduna, among others, anxiously waiting and hoping for the release of their children, you wonder what business the president of Nigeria has at such a Global Education Summit.
Trust Nigerians, they always have a ready answer to such and would recall that in the statement from the Presidency, it is spelt out that the president would also use the opportunity to undergo medical check-up.
That, they say is the Koko of the journey for the same president, who before his election, had as a major campaign statement, condemnation after condemnation for a sitting president going abroad for medicals at the expense of developing his/her health sector.
In education as in several other sectors, Buhari has proved himself a retrograde. Before he assumed office in 2015, all first-class graduates were placed on automatic overseas scholarships. He reneged on this progressive commitment and cancelled it outright.
Why is he in the habit of making the right noises abroad and doing the opposite at home?