Monday 31 July 2017

For Record : SSCAG Holds Press Conference on 60 Days of EPE 6 in Captivity

Being the text of a press conference organized by SSCAG on Monday 24 July 2017 being the 60th day since six (6) male secondary school students have been kidnaped from their hostel at the Lagos State Model College Igbonla-Epe, Lagos.

Gentlemen and Ladies of the press,
It is with great sadness that we of the Safe Schools and Communities Advocacy Group (SSCAG) are addressing you today being the 60th day since six (6) male secondary school students of the Lagos State Model College, Igbonla-Epe have been abducted from their hostels by daredevil kidnappers who took advantage of our porous waterways and lax security to put in danger the lives and freedom of six promising young boys whose only desire is to acquire quality education for the purpose of contributing their best to society. They are: Yusuf Faruk, Ramon Isiaka, Pelumi Philips, Peter Jonas, Adebanjo George and Judah Agbausi.
It is 60 days of great pain, anguish and sorrow on the part of the parents and relatives of these children. It is 60 days of apprehension and concern on the part of all well-meaning Lagosians and Nigerians. Sadly to note, it is also 60 days of empty promises, lazy assurances and a display of gross incompetence on the part of the Police, other security agencies and particularly the Lagos State government.
The police and other security agencies have repeatedly assured us that they are on top of the situation. We must say that we are neither reassured nor confident that the police and other security agencies are doing enough. Neither are we assured that the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode has the case of these six (6) kidnapped children in the uppermost level of his daily priorities going by the business-as-usual manner the Lagos State government has carried on with the business of governance since these children were kidnapped on May 25 2017.
We are therefore forced to conclude that those at the helms of affairs are perhaps grossly insensitive to the gravity of the situation and how this impinges on their credibility to continue to govern the state as elected public officials. Otherwise they would not continue to carry on with the business of governance like nothing is amiss even though six (6) young citizens, the future of society, are languishing in kidnappers’ den in inhospitable conditions and subject to all forms of abuse in the hands of their depraved captors.
According to Chapter 11 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended), the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. Any government that is unable to fulfill this responsibility is not only in breach of the constitution and the social contract it has with the people, such a government can also by virtue of this breach be considered unfit to continue to govern. This is because the cornerstone of the gamut of responsibilities, obligations and duties of government as enshrined in the constitution is the protection, preservation and improvement of the quality of life of the citizenry – something which is impossible without safety and security.
Needless to stress, the success of any government in discharging its responsibilities to the citizenry rests on this core pedestal of safety and security. More so, according to the provisions of the Child Rights Protection Act, any government is duty bound to ensure the safety of school children and the provision of conditions necessary to ensure children learn in an environment free of hostility and fear. Therefore a government that fails in guaranteeing the safety of lives of its citizenry, especially children, has failed its core responsibilities regardless of its acclaimed success in other areas of governance and development. As far as we are concerned, the abduction of the 6 Epe School boys is a litmus test for Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s government and how it goes about it would be a standard to measure the success or failure of his government in due time.
We must equally note that this kidnap is by all intent and purposes an attack on education as a whole. It shows that criminals now view children as soft targets that could be used to negotiate for monetary compensations and our schools as vulnerable places where their targets could be easily acquired. Therefore unless these abducted six (6) Igbonla school children are rescued safe and alive and further cases of abduction of school children nipped in the bud, this has the potential of reversing gains made in enrolment and retention.
Unfortunately, we are sad to note that the Lagos State government does not appear, going by its conduct and actions since May 25, 2017 when the six students were kidnapped, to appreciate the gravity of this occurrence and to place premium on the concentration of all resources of government towards the rescue of the kidnapped students safe and alive. We ask the following questions:
(1)   How many times in a week does the cabinet sit to take report and discuss the progress being made in the efforts by the police and other security agencies to rescue the children?
(2)   Has the provisions for marine security improved since May 25, 2017 when the kidnappers took advantage of the lapses and porousness of the water ways to unleash mayhem on the Lagos state model college Igbonla Epe? Has the shameful situation whereby not more than four (4) speed boats are available to patrol our water ways now been remedied in the wake of the kidnap and how many patrol boats have now been made available to prevent future occurrence?
(3)   How many times have the Lagos state lawmakers met to discuss the Epe school kidnap and what measures has the Lagos State Assembly considered, in terms of improving the laws, to assist and strengthen the work of the police and security agencies in their efforts to rescue the boys?
(4)   When does the Lagos state government plan to open up a credible and meaningful channel of communication between itself, security agencies and the public for purpose of constant and regular update to the parents of the kidnapped children and the citizenry at large about the efforts being made to rescue the children without compromising the rescue operation? We note with sadness that the parents and relatives of the kidnapped children have had to protest to the Lagos State governor’s office at Alausa before they got any audience from elected officials. We also note that efforts by groups like the Safe Schools and Communities Advocacy Group (SSCAG) to engage the government over this issue including a petition submitted by the group to the Governor on Monday 17 July 2017, have gone largely unanswered.
(5)   What has the Lagos state government done or plans to do to assist the parents and relatives of these kidnapped children at this period of pain and anguish when their psychological health is facing its biggest test as a result of the kidnap of their children. Has the Governor physically visited the parents in order to empathize with them and reassure them? Are there any medical and psychological team working with the parents and relatives?
(6)   Given the circumstances surrounding the May 25 kidnap, the second time such was occurring in the same school within a space of 7 months, which indicates dereliction of duties by both the management of the College as well as security agencies, are there plans whether now or in the future to conduct an investigation into the remote and immediate factors responsible for the kidnap as well as measures to keep our school environment safe?
The above and many more are the questions that the Lagos state government must answer to begin to show that it attaches urgency and priority to the kidnap of these six (6) children.
Also the police and other security agencies have not succeeded in sustaining public confidence in their capacity to rescue the kidnapped children safe and alive. This is further complicated and worsened by the completely insensitive and even ridiculous manner those who speak for the police in this issue have conducted themselves so far. For instance while answering questions from journalists recently, the Commissioner of police, Fatai Owoseni had declared the kidnapped children fine! Uptill now the Commissioner is unable to tell the public how he got this information. Did he visit them? Did the kidnappers talk to him? Or did he talk to the children? How did he ascertain the level of their comfort and health?
By our own findings, we do know that the kidnapped children are not being lodged in a five star hotel, neither are they taken to an amusement park to enjoy themselves and play about. We know for certain going by limited information released by the police so far that the kidnapped children are being held by strange, dangerous, armed men in inhospitable conditions in the creeks and swamps where they are susceptible to all kinds of diseases and ailments, separated from friends and families, placed on poor diet and without access to proper medical facilities, living every of their wakeful days in fear of the unknown and having their lives at the mercy of depraved criminals who are capable of anything. We know that apart from their safety, the children are also being subjected to incredible and harrowing psychological torture by virtue of their continuous captivity for 60 days and still counting the impact of which would be so great that in the event of their rescue that it would require enormous amount of medical and psychological attention spanning years to remedy. We also know for certain that the children have also been exposed for 60 days now and still counting to all kinds of dangerous vices like Indian hemp smoking, drug usage, open use and display of guns and dangerous weapons and all those things children are supposed to be protected from and which may have an effect on their lives in future.
So how can children placed in this kind of condition for 60 days be fine? If the objective of the Commissioner of Police was to assure the parents about the safety of their children in captivity, we think this has failed. Next time, the Commissioner of Police would require better choice of words that better conveys the importance the police attaches to the early and safe rescue of the children and not something that belittles the severity of the situation. In any case, the only thing that can assure all of us is result: that is the rescue of the children safe and alive and reuniting them with their loved ones.
This kidnap and the apparent helplessness of the police however show that a lot is wrong with policing in Nigeria. Apart from lack of equipment to work with, the poor pay that police receive and their terrible working conditions are major disincentive to their ability to keep society safe. This is why a majority of police officers are corrupt and collude with criminals. The result is that the security of our schools and communities are compromised. Increase in pay, improvement in working conditions, special rewards for gallantry and adequate compensation for injury and provision for the families in cases of death as well as unionization are therefore some of the immediate measures urgently needed to revamp the police force and ensure that rank and file police are able to perform their duties with all the patriotism and gallantry required.
Before now, abduction of school children was a phenomenon only thought possible in the North Eastern part of the country due to the activities of Boko Haram. The kidnap of 6 students in Igbonla-Epe in Lagos State as well as that of students of Nigerian Turkish School Isheri Ogun State earlier in the year, both in the South West of the country is a rude awakening to the reality that no part of this country is safe. In fact, it has clearly demonstrated that far away from the centres of Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, our schools and our children are not safe and are vulnerable to the most bizarre criminal attacks. For the kidnappers just like Boko Haram, school children have become preys through which they could hold society to ransom to achieve their interest whether monetary or religious. We dare to ask: How did our society get to this level of degeneration and mindless depravity?
We hold the belief that there exist a direct link between the decay in the education system and the vulnerability of our schools. The decay of our school system has become so bad that even teachers in these schools do not send their wards there. So wide is the teacher: pupil ratio in our public schools today such that there are not enough hands to monitor pupils within the school premises not to talk of outside of it.
Primarily, this because the Lagos state government is not recruiting enough teachers to keep pace with the numbers of those retiring annually. Meanwhile, without adequate number of teachers and support staff, it will not be easy to ensure adequate monitoring of students and general vigilance necessary to keep our schools safe. In fact in the current situation where our schools are vulnerable, security agencies as part of the mandate of the safe school initiative/agenda are supposed to train teachers and support staff on security and vigilance but without enough teachers to fulfill the core duty of teaching, how can this be possible or effective? The issue of the decay needs to be strongly addressed as these are breeding grounds for unscrupulous elements (criminals) in our society. This boils down again to the age-long demand for improved funding of public education, increased recruitment of teachers and support staff, improved remunerations and welfare and democratic running of schools.
We note with sadness that the only step taken by the Lagos state government in this regard is the directive sent to Local governments and heads of public schools to the effect that all public schools in Lagos state must be closed during this holiday and that no activities whatsoever should be allowed to take place inside these schools. To start with, this decision taken as usual without adequate consultation with stakeholders within the system has created special crisis one of which is that many coaching classes that take places during the long holiday within the premises of public schools are adversely affected by this decision.
For instance, in the Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government where the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has for 11 years now been organizing free holiday coaching using the premises of the primary school in the community, this coaching which has succeeded in assisting over 5, 000 indigent secondary school students in the community over the years will not be able to take place this year. The result is that the hundreds of young people that are annually engaged with this project will have nothing doing during this long vacation except to roam the street and likely engage in all kinds of anti-social vices to the detriment of the safety and security the government wants to guarantee.
As far as we are concerned, this kind of “medicine after death” decision taken without much thought and consideration is grossly inadequate and incapable of ensuring the safety of our schools in the medium and long-term. Today many of our public schools in Lagos state are in decrepit conditions and lacking adequate number of teachers and support staff such that more is needed than a simple directive to close all schools during holidays would not be enough to keep the schools and children safe. For us in the SSCAG, if the Lagos State government is serious about keeping our schools safe in the aftermath of the Igbonla kidnap, it must answer the following questions:
(1)               What security architecture is now erected around schools in Lagos state in the wake of the kidnap with a view to preventing further attacks and abductions?
(2)               How many security personnel are now attached to schools? What proportion of the police personnel in Lagos are relieved of providing guard duty to politicians and so-called VIPs so that there can be more operatives patrolling our communities especially those areas where schools are located? And what security and surveillance gadgets are now erected in and around public schools?
(3)               How many public schools lacking fences, walls, roofs, toilets and windows have now been repaired in the wake of the kidnap in order to prevent a re-occurrence?
(4)               How adequate are the number of teachers, non-teaching staff including support staff and gate men employed in each public schools and how adequate are their pay and welfare to ensure they are not lax in their duties and responsibilities?
(5)               In what ways does the government plan to improve the security consciousness of teachers and support staff in our schools to prevent a re-occurrence of this situation thereby keeping our schools safe?
We also hold the belief that the Epe school kidnap and the rising spate of criminality like the Badoo cult activities and similar reign of criminal terror across the state and country have deep social roots. These occurrences are the chicken coming home to roost for the decades of looting of the treasury and rampart corruption by the ruling elite which has left nothing for the youth to survive. Millions of young people are unemployed and trapped in multi-dimensional poverty. Many of these are graduates. An idle head is the devil’s workshop. The mega city policy of the Lagos state government is equally directly responsible for the rise in kidnapping and other criminalities. These policies include seizure of commercial motorcycles plying the roads and seizure of wares of poor trying to earn a living by selling in traffic. Many of these people depend of these means to survive daily. Instead of compensating them or training them in better skills, they are arrested, dragged before mobile courts and jailed.
Another policy responsible for the menace of criminality is demolition of poor people’s homes in slums and waterfronts communities like Otodo Gbame without compensation. The Lagos State Task Force has become the principal instruments for the implementation of these terrible anti-people policies. Therefore if the government truly wants to curb criminality, it must replace these anti-poor polices with pro-people ones. While we embrace all efforts to modernize Lagos as a city, we insist that they be done on the basis of a principle that sees the people regardless of their social and economic status as the principal beneficiaries of the state’s progress. Otherwise those dispossessed of shelter and means of livelihood may descend on society with revenge in mind. As far as we are concerned, a safe Lagos is a Lagos that is prosperous for everyone and not a tiny few.

Despite not showing any result, the Lagos state government and the police continue to call for patience and restraint. As far as we are concerned, 60 days are enough for the police and the Lagos State government to show results by rescuing the children safe and sound. We cannot wait any longer. Every additional day spent by these children is unacceptable and an indelible stain on our collective conscience as a people.
We therefore urge the Lagos state government, the police and security agencies to expedite actions towards the immediate rescue of Yusuf Faruk, Ramon Isiaka, Pelumi Philips, Peter Jonas, Adebanjo George and Judah Agbausi. Failing this, we will have no choice but to call out concerned Lagosians and Nigerians for a mass protest and occupation of Alausa.
On this note, we say bring back our boys! They should be in school, not in kidnappers den. Rescue Epe 6 safe and alive!
Thank you for listening,

Comrade Adeola Soetan
SSCAG Spokesperson

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