Review of Legal Framework for the Protection of Education Institutions from Attack in Nigeria

Abstract:

This review is an attempt by a coalition of stakeholders, led by the Education in Emergencies Working Group Nigeria (EiEWGN), to develop an improved set of laws to provide legal protection against ‘attacks’ on the Nigerian educational establishment. This document relies on the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) definition of an attack on a school, which is as follows: ‘any intentional threat or use of force—carried out for political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic, religious, or criminal reasons—against students, educators, and education institutions’.

The most socially visible attacks on education in Nigeria are those that have occurred in the context of the recent conflicts in north-east Nigeria. For the insurgents behind this conflict, the destruction of education is a key objective and a desirable outcome of the hostilities. In addition to such direct and blatant attacks on the Nigerian educational establishment, in recent times the country has also suffered an increase in acts, criminal and otherwise, that undermine and/or disrupt learning. In different parts of Nigeria, students, pupils, and school administrators have been killed, kidnapped or otherwise severely harmed; schools premises have been taken over and occupied by miscreants; and in response to the insurgency in the north-east, the government has had little choice but to permit the military use of educational facilities as temporary barracks.

The first part of this review was an overview of existing global and local laws and protocols that could inform improvements in available policies and legislation. The next step was convening a stakeholder workshop in which the participants engaged in discussion and debate among themselves, in order to propose laws and policies that could be put in place to reduce attacks on educational establishments in Nigeria. A field study was then undertaken to garner the opinions of students and community members, as well as education policymakers and administrators on: a) how they have been affected by attacks on schools, b) how they have responded to such attacks, and c) what laws they think should be put in place to mitigate such attacks. The last stage of the project involved the proposal of laws and policies that could mitigate the incidence of attacks on schools.

In addition to the main recommendations given below, further recommendations, proposals, and suggestions for legal reform are made throughout this report.

Legal:

A national bill that will echo the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) should be proposed. This bill should recognise the difference between coercive and non-coercive forces, and should introduce a classification accordingly. For example, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and non-combatant military roles such as military teachers are non-coercive forces that should be allowed within school premises (but barred from openly carrying arms and wearing uniform), while coercive forces (like the police, who have the power to carry arms, arrest and prosecute), should be kept at a distance from physical structures used for educational purposes.

Nigerian society must begin to see the ethical similarity between schools, hospitals, and religious institutions. There is no valid reason why hospitals and places of worship should be considered as exempt from being subject to military occupation, while schools are not. The penalties for crimes committed within educational institutions should be more severe (with penalties doubled or tripled) than when the same offence is committed in a non-educational environment. Therefore, there should be a change in national policy for an improvement in national attitudes to educational establishments so that they are seen as “no go zones”. For instance, there is already a legal penalty for someone who illegally occupies a building. As a national policy, the same offense should carry a stiffer penalty precisely because it was committed in a school compound. The same thing applies to kidnapping – if someone is kidnapped, there is a penalty, but if a student or a teacher is kidnapped, then the usual penalty should be doubled or at least increased.

This will create a national environment in which educational establishments are understood to be sacrosanct.

International protocols:

The international protocols and agreements that the Nigerian government has signed and ratified must be domesticated. The situation in Nigeria is that policies that attract political interest are domesticated faster than others because the domestication of international treaties is a political issue. Since the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs (FMFA) and the Federal Ministry of Justice (FMJ) are the custodians of international treaties, they should be contacted by EiEWGN and requested to assist with the domestication of international treaties and protocols. The FMFA must carry other actors affected by international treaties along by making them part of the process. It is the responsibility of the Attorney General of the Federation to submit international treaties for domestication to the Federal Executive Council, which will then forward them to the Senate. Therefore, to avoid unnecessary bureaucratic delays, the FMJ should also be involved.

National Human Rights Commission:

Access to basic education is a human right. Without a conducive mental, emotional, and physical environment, delivery of the right to education is undermined. One of the major victories of EiEWGN is that it has been able to persuade the security forces to adhere to some of the minimum SSD guidelines. For instance, military teachers are no longer in possession of arms while teaching. To hasten the achievement of more such progress, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) must work closely with EiEWGN on this project.

Implementation of the SSD in Nigeria:

Although it is desirable, at this point there is no need to set up an independent federal agency to implement the SSD recommendations. A more effective path will be to create an agency as a division under the Education Support Services Department, whose sphere of operation will cover all academic institutions, and which will include child protection. Later, a new department in the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) could be created. For now, what is required is a department at the FME and desk units at the state level.

Government policy

There should be an increased effort to push federal and state government policies towards serious policy commitment to the reconstruction of damaged educational buildings and replacement of educational assets.

Security

There should be continuous training and capacity building for security and military actors on rules of engagement and a code of conduct as they concern protecting educational establishments. To this end, there should be a thorough review of the security and military actors’ code of conduct to ensure it complies with the SSD Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

Advocacy

There is a need to raise awareness among federal/ state authorities, community leaders, and community members, of the risks associated with the military use of educational infrastructure, including linked violations, such as child recruitment and sexual exploitation and abuse, with the aim of reducing the practice of formally offering the use of such buildings to the military.

Going forward – future work

Due to limited resources, this review was carried out within a 30-day period. In addition to the resulting time limitation, it was also not possible in this time to gain access to all the places where attacks on education have occurred. An adequate study of such a national issue should start out with a national stakeholders’ forum that will elicit input from major stakeholders in education policy, security, teaching, refugee management, and internally displaced persons (IDPs). This forum should also include relevant government agencies, local and international development partners, and the presidency. The result of this forum should form the basis of a nation-wide sociological study of the different ways that educational institutions have been undermined and learning disrupted in Nigeria in recent times. Such a study should cover all 36 states of the federation and be robust enough to address the many different dimensions of the problem. The result of such a study would be a formidable tool for advocating for the committed implementation of the SSD.