General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd)
President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
Federal Republic of Nigeria
As you continue in the final year of your two terms at the helm of affairs in our beloved country, it is with a deep sense of patriotism that we obey the compelling need to, once again, write you an open letter. This need has been made even more imperative as our country continues to totter on several fronts, and our hapless compatriots are left with little or no choices as they are abandoned to bearing undue burdens in their collective determination to eke out decent lives. In no other areas of existence has the Nigerian life been more brutally assailed than at the hands of the plagues of insecurity and overwhelming poverty; a twin phenomenon which has assumed desperate dimensions under your watch.
Mr President, the tragedies occasioned by the aforementioned phenomena, especially as the world continues to battle the Covid 19 pandemic, take centre stage today as we join the rest of the world in marking the 4th anniversary of the International Day of Education. Nigeria’s unenviable position as the world’s capital of out-of-school children, with an estimated 10.2 million children as of July 2021, runs a huge risk of being further entrenched as the spate of insecurity and attendant poverty worsens across many states. As millions of school children continue to live under the spectre of losing their freedom or lives at school, this sad statistic may not be exhibiting a downward trend anytime soon.
Between December 2020 and September 2021, over 1000 students of primary and secondary schools and universities in northern Nigeria were abducted by terrorists in different attacks. On 11 December 2020, 344 students at Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, were roused from their dormitory beds and kidnapped. On December 20, the Islamiya School, Mahuta in Kaduna State was hit, and 80 pupils were abducted. GSS College, Kagara, Niger State was next as, on 17 February 2021, 27 of its students were kidnapped. Nine days later, 279 students at Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State were forcefully taken by terrorists. On 11 March 2021, 39 students at Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State were kidnapped. In the same Kaduna, 23 students and staff of Greenfield University (five of whom were eventually murdered by their captors) were abducted on the 20th of April. Four days later, normalcy was disrupted at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State, as unknown gunmen stormed the campus and kidnapped three students. On 1 September 2021, armed attackers descended upon the Government Day Secondary School in the village of Kaya in Zamfara State and abducted 73 students.
Mr President, even though a good number of the abducted students have been reunited with their families, it has been a most harrowing experience for their poor parents who, in most cases, sold personal possessions and borrowed themselves into penury as they scrounged for the ransom. Many of the students have been scarred for life, and the only perceivable “crime” committed by the parents, some of whom have buried their abducted and murdered wards, is seeking a better lease of life for them. These tragic events have also dealt a near-fatal blow to Nigeria’s prostrate education system with some state governments temporarily shutting schools across board as they grapple with reversing the gains of a bloody insurgency blighting the country.
Your Excellency, the theme for this year’s International Day of Education – Changing Course: Transforming Education – recommends itself as a turning point that requires the Nigerian government and other relevant stakeholders to approach the ills stultifying the education sector with renewed resolve. Nigeria can no longer afford to remain the global repository of the largest population of out-of-school citizens, who, for no fault of theirs, are at the receiving end of an obviously ineffectual war against terrorism. It is totally unacceptable that at a time when the country is losing scarce skilled labour in droves to foreign climes, efforts to bridge the yawning deficits have been horrid at best. As the nation’s security apparatus continues to punch feebly at increasingly emboldened violent armed groups, large swathes of territories have been lost, farmers have been sacked from their farms, and in the northeast, at least 496 classrooms have been destroyed, and 1,392 other classrooms damaged.
Mr President, we sincerely urge you to ponder on the legacy that you are poised to bequeath to the next administration. We request that you place education as a priority in both policy and practice. We encourage the private sector and governmental/non governmental organisations to invest resources in the development of educational tools and facilities. We expect the latter groups to foster stronger partnerships with youth and other groups to emphasise the importance of education within local communities. Only a firm determination, led by the presidency, to make education free, available, and, most importantly, accessible to all vulnerable and marginalised groups, will suffice.
Mr President, there is still time to make a difference.