Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning Activities

Interview with H.E. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations
Q. Your Excellency, in 2019, Nigeria ratified the Safe School Declaration and developed several initiatives to improve security in schools to limit disruptions to students' learning. Yet, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened to reverse the progress made to keep students, especially girls and women, safe from harm. What effort is Nigeria implementing to create safe learning environments for children in areas where schools have been closed because of unsafe and unhealthy conditions?
A. Permit me to start by thanking you for your commitment to education. As a teacher by profession, education is my primary constituency. I am encouraged to see that despite the setbacks occasioned by the pandemic, organisations like yours have sustained the momentum on the issue of education.
As for Nigeria, education is always a priority for everybody; from the family unit to the level of public policy. Education is the most assured guarantor to break the cycle of poverty as well as the promotion of national development. It is in this regard that amidst the challenges of insecurity in parts of the country, the government undertook the Safe School Initiative. The kidnap of over 200 girls from their school in Chibok town in 2014, stirred the urgency for the Safe School Initiative in Nigeria. 
In line with the three components of the initiative; these are the transfer of vulnerable learners in violence-affected communities to safe areas and boarding schools in states not affected by violence, the initiation of the safe school model in 10 schools in each of the three states most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency; and the provision of high-quality education to children affected by the conflict and living in camps for Internally Displaced Persons.
To follow through with the Safe School Initiative, the government has developed a national policy on safety, security and violence-free schools. The government is also collaborating with civil society through the Education in Emergency Working Group Nigeria. Here we have a Safe School Declaration Committee comprised of representatives from the government, UNDP and Civil Society. This sub-committee is tasked with the responsibility of raising awareness and monitoring the implementation of the Safe School Declaration in Nigeria.
So far, the Initiative has resulted in better fortification of schools, as well as better communication with communities. These have led to higher enrolment numbers in places where children had hitherto abandoned formal learning. Provisions are underway for night illumination of schools, communication devices, development of safety manual and skills, as well as the promotion of safe zones for education. Here I refer to the relocation of over 2,000 students to safer schools, training teachers to conduct safety drills for their students and deployment of civilian security personnel to protect schools.

Q. Ambassador Muhammed Bande, in October 2021, Nigeria will host the Fourth International Conference on the Safe School Declaration under the overarching theme "Ensuring Safe Education for All: From Commitment to Practice". Can you please elaborate on the priorities of this important conference? Can you please tell us how you expect the Conference to facilitate the implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration?

A. Thank you. Indeed, Nigeria will host the fourth International Conference on Safe Schools Declaration from 25-27 October this year. The priority here is on good practice in implementing commitments within the Safe Schools Declaration. We expect in Abuja, virtually or in person, the over 100 signatories to this Declaration to come to share their experiences in the implementation of the Declaration. We acknowledge that even though everyone's path is unique, there could be many overlapping experiences and shared solutions. The goal is to inspire others to adopt similar measures or avoid mistakes. It is what I will call a think-and-do Conference with emphasis on implementation and self-correction. 

As for how the conference will facilitate the implementation of the Safe School Declaration, I think this is inherent. For instance, I stated earlier that Nigeria is taking some measures in furtherance of the Declaration. We will like to share our experience in terms of achievements and challenges with our counterparts. We will for sure learn from them as we struggle to do better.

I want to underscore the disclosure by our Minster of Finance that there is a huge problem with funding the Initiative as the government will require over 32 billion Naira to effectively implement this programme. This is a far cry from what is available. If we add the reality of the estimated over 10 million out-of-school children in the country you can appreciate the fact that the shared experiences from this Conference may lead to possible solutions for some of these problems. I believe the successes we will derive from these shared experiences will galvanize more support for the Initiative. We cannot lose a whole generation of children by leaving them out of schools.

More than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Global Education Coalition launched by UNESCO is a platform for collaboration and exchange to protect the right to education during this unprecedented disruption and beyond. It brings together more than 175 members from the UN family, civil society, academia and the private sector to ensure that #LearningNeverStops.

Coalition members rally around three flagships, namely connectivity, teachers and gender, as well as support specific causes including the educational recovery following the deadly explosion in Beirut.
All Coalition members are encouraged to pledge for the protection of learners’ personal information, privacy and security.