The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said that the federal government has adopted a three-pronged approach to ensure the safety and security of lives and property particularly in the North-east states where Boko Haram attacks have been prevalent.
Making this known in London when she briefed the British parliament on the Safe Schools Initiative, the minister said: “We are taking a three-pronged approach to dealing with the various dimensions of crisis, and this includes security, political and economic solutions.
“On the security front, our military men and women are confronting an unprecedented challenge that they were not really trained to confront and so we thank them for their courage and bravery. The President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, has increased the number of troops that are in the North-east from 15,000 to 20,000.
“Regional cooperation on security has gotten better following a decision by neighbouring countries: Chad, Cameroun, Benin, and Niger, to each contribute a battalion of soldiers, to fight Boko Haram alongside Nigeria.
“President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has accepted offers from the international community for more surveillance, aircraft cover, and equipment that enhances our ability to locate, fight and root out insurgents.”
These efforts, she assured the UK parliament, were beginning to make a difference, intimating them that Nigeria’s security forces busted a Boko Haram intelligence unit only two days ago.
“More of these counter-insurgency actions will be forthcoming. We are prepared to do whatever is necessary today, tomorrow and in the future to secure the country,” she added.
“On the political front, we are working with state governments, traditional and religious leaders within the most affected regions of the country, to encourage dialogue with the sect.
“The president set up a Dialogue Committee that is working behind the scenes and also a fact finding committee on the Chibok girls in particular.
“And finally on the economic front, given some linkages between the insurgency and high youth unemployment, we are trying various schemes to assist the youth in the region where possible.
“Using monies from our Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P), we are implementing a Community Services Scheme that engages the youth in public works (we have so far recruited 11,500 youth into this programme – 4000 in Borno, 3500 in Adamawa and 4000 in Yobe State).
“We also have YouWin, which is supporting hundreds of young entrepreneurs with grants so they can start up a business or expand existing ones to create jobs for their fellow youth.
“Over the longer term, the government will vigorously pursue economic empowerment in the region through a Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) which is currently being developed,” the minister said.
She, however, told the British legislators that the president had instructed her to work with the international community, led by former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, and the Nigerian business community, led by the Chairman of the Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, and President of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Chairman/Editor-in-Chief of THISDAY Newspapers, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, in an initiative to make our schools safer.
“Every child is special, every child precious, every child unique. While we will never give up on the effort to locate the Chibok girls, we must also assure parents, pupils and teachers that schools are safe. Children and teachers must be again free to go to school unharmed and unafraid.
“So the Safe Schools Initiative is designed as a nationwide intervention programmes that will prioritise schools in states under emergency rule like Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe.
“To this effect, the Nigerian private sector has set aside US$10 million for this initiative and the Nigerian government has immediately matched that with another US$10 million.
“We are aiming for a fund of US$100 million and we have received indications of support from the World Bank, the African Development Bank, DFID, and the Norwegian and German Governments towards the initiative,” she stated.
Okonjo-Iweala stressed that schools must never be instruments of war, nor battlefields for terror campaigns, noting: “While we do not aim to turn our schools into fortresses, the Safe Schools Initiative will rely on needs assessments to deploy measures that will either upgrade existing security systems in schools or put in place new systems where they currently do not exist.
“These measures could range from the basic, such as perimeter fences, toilet facilities for girls, use of fire retardant materials in reconstructing schools, housing for teachers, community policing and school guards, to more sophisticated measures like alarm systems, communication equipment, and solar power panels to ensure schools are well lit,
"Whatever needs to be done to make all our schools safer and more secure we will consider. We will work with state governors, community leaders, teachers and parents to achieve the objectives of this initiative.”
She thanked the former British prime minister for his support in setting up the Safe Schools Initiative, and for his leadership of the international community on education for children, and indeed his efforts to get all of Nigeria’s 10.6 million “out of school” children, into schools.
She informed the parliament that the Safe Schools Initiative is just one of a three-part effort the federal government recently launched to deal with the crisis in the short term.
The other two, she said, are the Emergency Relief Initiative that will step up support by our National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to over 3 million displaced persons and communities through the provision of emergency accommodation, food, basic healthcare and other relief items as needed; and the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Initiative, that will help rebuild public infrastructure that have been destroyed by the insurgents.