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As attacks on defenceless civilians by the Boko Haram group continue in the North-East zone of Nigeria, the one launched against students of the College of Agriculture, Gujba, Yobe State, in the early hours of Sunday September 29, was one of the goriest. Innocent students were woken from their sleep, assembled in groups and then cut down in a hail of bullets. Instantly, more than 41 of them lay dead and more bodies were later picked from bushes. Before the gunmen escaped, they set fire to some school buildings.
The terrorists have, since last year, targeted schools in the North-East zone of the country, perhaps to justify its name: Boko Haram, which means “western education is forbidden”. A massacre similar to that of Gujba happened in Mubi, Adamawa State, last year: over 30 students were killed. More than 40 other students in the town of Mamudo, Yobe State, were later shot dead in another school massacre. In July this year, scores of students and some teachers fell to the guns of these daredevils in Damaturu, Yobe State.
Schools have not been the only soft targets of Boko Haram. Buffeted on all sides in the forests of the North-East by the military, they have descended on innocent villagers. We recall that shortly before the Gujba massacre; they had laid a siege to the town of Benisheik in Borno State, killing over 150 hapless men, women and children. In the not too distant past, the massacres were routine in Potiskum, Maiduguri and several other towns bordering Chad and Cameroun.
All these have been happening in states where President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in May. Does it mean the military authorities are failing in their duty of maintaining law and order in the areas? Not really. The insurgents have been chased to remote forests and mountains, many of them have been killed, and even the “civilian JTF” has emerged to help in hunting down the terrorists.
But the easy way the terrorists have been reaching schools and wreaking havoc suggests that security operatives have not managed checkpoints and barricades efficiently. Why should a convoy of vehicles travel several kilometres in the dead of the night, in a period of emergency, and yet no military man was able to stop them? Since they started attacking schools last year, there should have been tighter security around schools in the North-East. And, in the case of Gujba, it appears strange that there was no security personnel in the school to even raise the alarm when the gunmen invaded it. Most schools now have fences around them. It is possible that cutting off communication in the areas under emergency rule is doing more harm than good. If people had access to their phones, they would have been able to send distress calls when they noticed strange movements. The authorities would do well to consider restoring GSM services in the areas, even if occasionally.
The affected state governments are right in keeping all schools open, despite the barbaric attacks from Boko Haram. If the terrorists really forbade western education, they wouldn’t be carrying firearms, using phones, driving vehicles and appearing on YouTube, for all these are products of the western education they vilify. In any case, they can choose to avoid western education but they have no justification for killing those who want it. They said they were doing battle with the Nigerian state. Why have they been avoiding soldiers and preferring to attack unarmed civilians in remote villages and young students in their schools? Their objective, of course, is to cause pain in the hearts of families and friends.
It is clear that trying to pacify Boko Haram will not prevent them from terrorising law-abiding Nigerians. Therefore, the military authorities should push harder. In collaboration with civilians, they should step up their intelligence-gathering efforts. These invaders should be defeated quickly. Students across the nation must be assured that they are being protected from blood hounds.