President Muhammadu Buhari will, on Tuesday, declare open, the fourth International Conference on Safe Schools Declaration before He goes for the Lessser Hajj in Saudi Arabia.
The conference which is being co-hosted by Nigeria, Spain, Norway and Argentina is aimed at reviewing progress being made by member states in the quest to make schools safer globally. Over 112 countries, including Nigeria, are signatories to the Safe Schools Declaration protocol.
Nigeria is hosting the first in the series on African soil. The previous conferences (1st, 2nd & 3rd conferences) were held in 2015, 2017 and 2019 in Oslo Norway, Buenos Aires Argentina and Palma de Mallorca, Spain respectively.
The Conference on Safe schools Declaration is a biennial event with the overarching aim of taking stock and reviewing progress in implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD), and the guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict, as well as encouraging commitment and action in protecting education from attack.
Director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr. Ben. Bem Goong, on Sunday, said the conference which would be declared opened by the President will take place at the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) Secretariat in Abuja while in-person and virtual participation is expected from around the world.
The global community is concerned about the recent attacks on schools by bandits and the kidnapping of students for ransom in Nigeria and other conflict zones around the globe.
While several schools are shut in some states in the northern part of the country, the development has led to millions of children who are forced out of schools to exacerbate the already high number of out-of-school children in Nigeria.
Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Arc. Sonny Echono, who briefed newsmen ahead of the event in Abuja, noted that the conference “seeks to galvanize action to protect education from attack.”
He noted that the conference with the theme: ‘Ensuring Safe Education for All: From Commitment to Practice’, is coming against the background of continuous attacks on schools and students across the world.
“With the incessant attacks on education which is further compounded with the COVID 19 situation, you will agree with me that there is a high need to better protect education for improved educational outcomes,” Echono said.
Echono said: “The 4th International Conference on Safe School Declaration (ICSSD) will build on previous conferences by galvanizing support for the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) and monitoring UN member states’ progress in carrying out the Declaration’s commitments to better protect learners and learning institutions.”
“The Conference will also serve to maintain and amplify the momentum of the SSD and its commitment to make safe education for all a reality.
“Nigeria is co-hosting the Conference, with the African Union Commission AUC, the governments of Argentina, Norway, and Spain, as well as the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, GCPEA,” he said.
He further explained that: “The Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) is an inter-governmental political commitment by states to better protect schools and universities, their students and staff, during armed conflict; implement concrete measures to deter security forces from use of schools: make governments commit to strengthened monitoring and reporting of attacks on education: investigate and prosecute perpetrators of attacks on education and provide assistance to victims.
“The Declaration was drafted through a consultative process led by Norway and Argentina and was opened for endorsement at an international conference held in Oslo, Norway, in May 2015.
“The Declaration has served as an effective tool for protecting students and educators from attacks perpetrated by armed forces and armed groups, since 2015. Since then, a significant majority of UN member states numbering 112 (more than half of all UN Member States), representing all regions of the globe including Nigeria, have endorsed the Declaration.
“By implication, the 112 member states have committed to protecting children and teachers in conflict situations, and to avoid the use of schools and universities as military resources or targets, thus contributing to preserving the civilian nature of these facilities Specifically, these Member States have expressed political commitment to ensure the safety of civilians, preservation of the civilian character of educational facilities, and the general protection of education from attack.
“Furthermore, by endorsing the Declaration, states have agreed to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, a non-binding practical tool to deter the military use of schools and universities, Member states also agree to support the efforts of the UN Security Council, the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict and relevant UN agencies,” he said.
The Permanent Secretary said: ”The aim of the conference is to strengthen implementation of the declaration by sharing good practice in implementing key commitments in the Declaration, to inspire other states to adapt the practice within their own context; forging global cooperation and strengthening coordination, in the protection of education and deterring military use of schools and universities by bringing together Education, Defence, and Foreign Affairs Ministries, as well as multilateral and civil society organizations, to discuss prevention and response measures and identifying actions which governments can take to better achieve accountability for attacks on education and justice for the victims by building and strengthening international and national legal mechanisms.”