The insurgency in Nigeria’s North Eastern corner has once more brought into sharp relief the precarious balance between life and death in the region. Scores of people are killed on a daily basis and the frequency has also ensured a sense of ‘tragedy fatigue’ amongst the country’s populace.
The sustained escalation of attacks by the Nigerian army on insurgent hideouts has motivated the insurgents to retaliate, targeting areas regarded as soft targets like schools. This became more notable after the offensive at Kasiya forest, which left about 16 soldiers dead alongside 150 insurgents; one of the most deadly face offs between the Nigerian Army and the insurgents.
But the Gujba emirate in Yobe State had not previously seen the kind of the violence that tore up the College of Agriculture located in the sleepy town 2 weeks ago. The attack at Gujba saw the insurgents round up scores of students and shoot them dead. With phone networks switched off by the authorities it became impossible to call for help from Damaturu, some 30 kilometers away. Most of the dead were discovered the next morning beside the fence of the institution – the slaughter lasting for almost two hours.
One of the survivors, Idris, who was widely quoted, said they started gathering students into groups outside, and then they opened fire and killed one group before moving onto the next and killing them. According to the Provost of the College, those killed were between the ages of 18 and 22. This also shows that the demography of the victims of the insurgents is changing; they are now focusing on young people.
The most horrific and gut-wrenching of these attacks was the one that occurred in the town of Mamudo near Potiskum in Yobe State. On 6th July, insurgents attacked a secondary school in Mamudo and killed 41 students and their teacher. The average secondary school leaving age in Nigeria is around 18, which means the average age of those who were killed is around 15. This exemplifies the fact that the war now being waged is often against young defenseless people.
It is interesting to note that the targets have metamorphosed over time and the violence is settling into a pattern – from policemen (who were the initial targets) to churches, government officials and administrative buildings to soldiers, markets and mosques, before most recently focusing on commuters on the highway and educational facilities.
According to Lucy Freeman, Amnesty International’s deputy Africa director, “Hundreds have been killed in these horrific attacks, thousands of children have been forced out of schools across communities in northern Nigeria and many teachers have been forced to flee for their safety,”
“Attacks against schoolchildren, teachers and school buildings demonstrate an absolute disregard for the right to life and the right to education.”
In its report Education under attack in Nigeria, Amnesty International said this year alone at least 70 teachers and scores of pupils have been slaughtered and many others wounded. Some 50 schools have been burned or seriously damaged and more than 60 others have been forced to close.
The total number of those killed at Gujba came to 90 students, one of the most violent attacks on an educational institution since the insurgency began.
On 16 May, BH gunmen fired on a dormitory in Damaturu, killing seven students and two teachers. On 17 May BH opened fire on an examination hall at Ansaruddeen Private School in the Jajeri area of Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, killing 15 students. According to Yobe State officials BH has burnt down 205 schools in the state in the past year.
In Adamawa State too, one of the state’s initially under the veil of the State of Emergency, last year in the town of Mubi, the Federal Polytechnic at its Wuro Patuje off-campus residence was consumed by the violence. Though the incident happened on the 1st of October 2012, a year later it is still not clear whether the cause was student cultists, a student union election gone wrong or a soft target attack by Boko Haram insurgents.
The greatest fall out of this tragedy is its impact on the state of education in a region already grappling with low student enrolment. Already in Borno State, the epicenter of the insurgency, an estimated 15,000 thousand students have been forced out of school. The army, already overstretched, cannot guarantee the safety of those who seek an education nor guard all the schools in the states of Yobe and Borno.
In major Northern capitals, the ubiquitous Almajiri child – the itinerant Koranic scholar – is a familiar feature, with kids as young as 3, armed with bowls, begging for food and abandoning the Koranic study for which they have embarked. The Almajiri children aside, Nigeria as a country already has a globally high number out of school children, with the figure hovering around 10 million.
With the recurring attacks, the impact on education and its attendant infrastructure has set back the North Eastern corner several years. But most tragic are the lives the insurgents have cut short – young Nigerians whose only crime was to seek an education.
Alkasim Abdulkadir, is an international freelance journalist and editor at www.citizensplatform.net, firstname.lastname@example.org