Against the backdrop of rising security concerns in Abuja, many schools in the city have shut down over fears of abduction of students as has been witnessed in neighbouring Kaduna and Niger states.
A report by Leadership newspaper had heightened apprehensions in the Federal Capital Territory.
According to the report, hundreds of suspected bandits were seen four days ago alighting from a truck in Sabon Wuse area of Niger State, a town at the boundary with Bwari Area Council of Abuja.
The Kaduna State government has, however, explained that the people seen were unarmed Fulani herders mioving with their families from Niger to their permanent bases in Jos and Bauchi.
But following the initial report, some schools in Buhari shut down while others tightened security.
Asides housing the headquarters of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Bwari area council also has at least two higher institutions, Federal Government day/boarding colleges and other public primary and secondary schools.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the area on Thursday and Friday, some private schools where closed while the staff in the government owned schools said they were awaiting instuctions from above.
However, a tertiary institution in the area, Veritas University, denied a report that it recently sent its staff home due to a security threat. Agbo Vincent of the university’s security unit, told this newspaper that the lecturers and other staff were asked to leave so as to prepare for the resumption of physical academic activities.
“Students of the institution have been receiving online lectures due to COVID-19 for a while now. The staff were told to go and prepare for resumption of physical lectures, not due to security threats as people are saying,” he said.
“There is no memo or letter telling staff to go home because of fear of bandits attack,” Mr Vincent told PREMIUM TIMES at the entrance of the deserted institution located in the Zuma area of Bwari.
A student of the institution who requested not to be named, told this reporter that they just resumed for a new semester when the school announced a mid-semester break. She said the development was a departure from the school’s norm and may be connected to the fear of insecurity in Bwari and Abuja at large.
“I know we just resumed. So there has to be something going on for the mid-semester break to be declared at the beginning of a semester.
“Normally, we don’t go on mid-semester break apart from religious holidays,” the student told this newspaper Thursday night.
‘Waiting for orders from above’
PREMIUM TIMES arrived at one of the L.E.A primary schools in Bwari at 1:30 p.m. when pupils were exiting the compound.
In the absence of the school principal, a teacher, Ladi Sule, dramatised the extent to which the news of bandits influx into the area had spread.
According to her, the school and others in the area were waiting for ‘information’ from the education authorities on whether to shut down like some private schools or continue with their classes.
Ms Sule spoke about how teachers with children in private schools rushed out of classes to pick their children when they heard that some schools were not opened due to the story of the suspected kidnappers.
“We heard about it yesterday evening. As of this morning, we were waiting for any information from our (LEA) headquarters here in Bwari but nothing yet. Our teachers who have children in private schools said some of the schools did not open today.
“Some even went back to pick their children. But for government schools, those within Bwari that I called said they are still in schools. Even our mother schools in Bwari Centrals told me they were still in school.
“We really have no cause to tell our children (pupils) not to come to school, though we have also tightened our security here. Our gates have been locked since until it was time for them to go home,” Ms Sule said, amidst the bustling noise of pupils playfully exiting the school compound.
The principal of Bishi-Ri International Group of Schools in Bwari said he was not aware of such news. He said no parent had raised such concerns too, “which is why we see everyone going about their activities.”
He refused to speak further and advised the reporter to write a formal letter if he wanted to know his name or be provided with more information on the issue.
PREMIUM TIMES also visited the mountainous and less populated areas of the district to assess the situation of things.
Most of the school were closed when this reporter arrived there. However, the security personnel on duty said classes were held but there was anxiety about security.
Bandits influx more of ‘social media talks’
At Federal Girls Government College (FGGC), the vice-principal, Muhammed Ibrahim, said the report of bandits arriving in Bwari was “social media talks.”
Mr Ibrahim is the VP of security and special duties in FGGC Bwari, a day/boarding school attended by children from different parts of Nigeria.
There had been a couple of attacks on girls only schools in different parts of the country, beginning with the abduction of over 300 students of Government Girls Secondary School on April 14, 2014 at Chibok in Borno State.
Mr Ibrahim tagged the story about the influx of bandits as a ‘rumour’ he heard on a popular radio show three days ago.
“We are quite aware of the rumour that is going on. I think we first heard on the radio about three days ago,” he told this reporter.
Relying on the school’s standing relationship with the district DPO, its fenced compound, and the police outpost in the school premises, Mr Ibrahim said “FGGC is safe from bandit attack even though he admitted that some parents had expressed concerns”.
“What we have done here in our own case is to reach the DPO. We have kept close contact with him. Every night there has always been military surveillance of the school. In fact, this school is the commissioner of police’s priority because ‘Nigeria is here’, almost all daughters of people from far and wide in Nigeria study here.
“We are also lucky that the school is in town, not at the outskirts like some.
“Parents have also been calling on this issue and we have also assured them of the safety of their children. We are very security conscious here, there is no cause for alarm,” he assured this reporter, adding that the school principal was waiting for approval from the ministry to shift the students’ mid-term break closer.
Mr Ibrahim said such a step did not mean fear of insecurity in the area.
Parents, FCT speak on security threat
This newspaper, again on Friday morning, witnessed some schools in the area council going about their activities despite the choking atmosphere of possibly abductions.
Asides the branches of L.E.A in different corners of the area, PREMIUM TIMES noticed the students and staff of Government Day Secondary School, FGGC, Government Secondary School in Kuduru, Unique International Academy and Valid Crown International College going about their activities.
But some parents remain cautious.
Mr Segun (surname withheld) has two children in a private secondary school in Kuduru. He said, “my children are at home as I speak to you and may not go to school until we are sure that the area is safe enough,” he said.
Mr Segun said he noticed the presence of members of Civil Defence Corp and soldiers in different parts of the district on Thursday.
A parent, Sandra Benjamin, after dropping off his children at the one of the public secondary schools, expressed worries over the situation of the country’s insecurity at large.
‘Schools are safe’
But the Education Secretariat of the FCT Administration (FCTA) insisted that its schools are safe.
The Director, Administration and Finance of the secretariat, Leramoh Abdulrazaq, in a statement issued on Thursday, said the news of security breach in FCT is false as he reiterated the administration’s commitment to security.
“In the face of emerging security challenges, the Education Secretariat has continued to strengthen its security personnel and surveillance with strict adherence to security tips and ensuring conducive learning environment with full compliance with the COVID-19 protocols.”
The Abuja police spokesperson, Mariam Yusuf, did not answer calls from this reporter on Friday.
However, the FCT Police Command, in an earlier statement had dismissed the threat of an imminent Boko Haramt attack in the territory.