Adam Lanza. That was the name that shattered my belief in the fact that schools abroad are havens. Before this time, I had always thought that few places could provide security for children like the school. Granted, the nasty issue of bullying has been a growing concern over the years but I didn’t think that a sweet 6 year old would wave mummy goodbye in the morning and be the unwanted guest of a body bag by midday.
Lanza happened two years ago. I remember watching the report of how this 20year old silenced 26 lives with his bullets. As my eyes turned glassy, I silently prayed that this would never ever happen here in Nigeria, and for a while, it didn’t.
But the prayers bounced and we woke up on the 25th of February 2014 to a gruesome incident now aptly tagged the ‘Yobe Massacre’ where militants stormed a boarding secondary school in the wee hours of the day and slaughtered about 50 students who were still sleeping. I don’t understand how anyone thinks it is ok to slaughter children in order to make a statement but what I really do not understand is our own system, exactly HOW an attack like this, in a place that is under a state of emergency, can go on for hours without any form of intervention. How? When Adam Lanza attacked the school in Sandy Hook, the first rescuer showed up 2 minutes, 41 seconds after the first phone call but that is unfair comparison so I won’t beat it. I won’t even beat anything; I will simply raise a few issues here.
One, I find it disturbing that according to Google, there are in fact two ‘Yobe Massacres’- one that happened in July 2013 and the 2014 edition. This fact alone raises two fears: Nigerians are very rugged and resilient; we have an extraordinary ability to adjust to the most ridiculous and abnormal things. So, I fear that we may begin to adjust to this hideous idea of turning schools to graveyards the same way we have adjusted to headlines like ‘69 Killed in Kano Bombing’. I already imagine that by now, some people are still trying to remember what happened at Yobe; to them, it is dead news that happened a long time ago, why bring it up again? Secondly, I fear that just like I have heard some people say, we think “this thing is a problem of the North; they are just killing themselves.’ In the name of all that is good, if that thought ever crossed your mind, dissolve it right now. It is your problem, my problem, our problem. It is the problem of our children, the ones we keep promising the leadership of the future. In a way, it is our communal tomorrow that is at stake here!
This piece seems like that of a critic who specialises in pointing out errors without proffering solutions. Please forgive me, I have thought about it back and forth and can’t seem to come up with flawless protection strategies expect that school owners and school administrators everywhere must register in their minds that going forward, ensuring children’s security at school is an important issue, as important as the quality of education the students receive. After all, what’s the point of giving them world class education only to toss them in shallow graves? Instead of waiting for external help, each school will have to help itself.
Children need a secure and positive environment to learn and they are not going to be settled if they have cause to think they are in danger. Schools even in ‘unaffected’ zones of the country must take preventive measures, at least to the best of their abilities. There are many security consultants out there who can help. There are even some simple but effective ideas that can be gotten for free online. Since Adam Lanza, schools have been proactive in setting up both preventive and curative measures, for example thorough entry/exit check gadgets, identifying and reporting suspicious persons/objects, what to do when an active shooter is on rampage in the premises or when a fire breaks out. In some places, schools are required by law to have emergency management plans including lockdown drills for dealing with violent intrusion, although such an event is statistically rare. The majority use "passive" procedures in which students and teachers are told to lock their classroom doors, turn off the lights, and evacuate when possible. One training programme used in schools called "A.L.i.C.E."—which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate- gained a lot of interest. We should look into some of these options and adapt to our own uniqueness.
The only caution is to not overdo it. Safety measures should not strip children of their innocence and raise put them on panic mode. Yes, there are bad guys out there a la Adam Lanza, but there are also good guys. Children can be thoroughly drilled about protecting themselves, but we must not teach them so much about guns that we forget to teach them about roses.