The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an urgent appeal to four UN Special Rapporteurs and the Special Envoy on Global Education over the imposition of compulsory insurance scheme for students of the Federal Government Colleges.
The organisation is asking them to use their “good offices and positions to urgently request the Nigerian government to immediately and unconditionally withdraw exploitative insurance scheme imposed on the students on the excuse of protection against attack and violence by Boko Haram”.
Those petitioned are: Mr Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Mr Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Mr Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and Mr Gordon Brown, Office of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education.
In the urgent appeal dated 24 February, 2015 and signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation said that it “considers this insurance scheme to constitute an abusive practice and renouncement of the obligation by the government to provide education as a public good. The insurance scheme also flies into face of prohibited grounds of discrimination and amounts to exploitation of the students and parents involved, and a shocking attack on the right of access to education”.
“Rather than expanding public educational opportunities for all Nigerian children especially children from poor families, the government is restricting them, and commercialising education. In its response to the Boko Haram, the government has not prioritised the right of children to quality education. Many Nigerian children are driven to Cameroon as refugees and made to recite Cameroon national anthem as a precondition for attending school,” the organisation also said.
“Imposing a mandatory insurance scheme on students and their parents will also not contribute to better security for the children. Inequalities in opportunities for education will be exacerbated if this insurance scheme is allowed to continue. The government is simply failing in its international human rights obligation to ensure the right to education in a safe and protected environment,” it further stated.
According to the organisation, “under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Nigeria is a state party, the government has legal obligation to outlaw discrimination in education based on “social origin”, “economic condition”, or “property”.
The organisation also said that, “Nigerian children have the right to safety in school establishments that are conducive to a positive learning environment. The right to education as a matter of access and quality means that all children have a right to access school and be provided with quality education regardless of the circumstances they live under”.
The organisation expressed “serious concern about the government’s policy asking 125,000 pupils in the 104 Federal Government Colleges to pay a mandatory insurance premium of 5,000 Naira per annum to cover supposed risks against violence and attack by the Boko Haram insurgency. The measure is expected to generate N625 million for NICON Insurance Plc, which the government chose to underwrite the ‘risk'”.
“SERAP is in possession of a circular to this effect which was sent to the schools. According to the circular, “In view of the current security challenges in the country which has impacted seriously on the safety of our students and teachers in Federal Unity Colleges, the Ministry of Education has decided to engage the services of NICON Insurance Company to insure our students. To this end, an Insurance Premium of 5,000 Naira is to be paid once in a year. Students are hereby expected to pay the above amount through the college upon resumption for third term.”
The organisation therefore asked the rapporteurs and special envoy to urgently ask the government to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally withdraw the mandatory insurance scheme for students in Federal Unity Colleges throughout the country, and to return any premium that may have been paid
2. Make every effort to ensure that school children are fully protected throughout all of Nigeria, and to ensure that the Boko Haram and any other extremist groups do not restrict the ability of Nigerian children to realise their human rights and pursue their dreams
3. Ensure that resources for providing quality education to Nigerian children are not diverted and directed towards military expenditure
4. Publicly support and commit to the right of all children to attend school in all parts of Nigeria without fear of violence or attack and without being forced to take a mandatory insurance scheme
5. Preserve education as a public good, and ensure that “for-profit” education through illegal insurance scheme or other similar initiative is outlawed.
The organisation also said that, “education not only helps build responsible citizenship but has an important role in peacebuilding and reconstruction, but most importantly education as an empowering and awareness raising tool can contribute to address root causes of conflicts and prevent their occurrence. The right to education is also essential for future generations to prosper”.
“We also urge the Special Rapporteurs and Mr Brown to request to visit the country to assess the efforts by the government to implement the right to education,” the organisation added.