AFTER the initial shock, families of the Yobe College shootings victims began yesterday the difficult but inevitable task of burying the bodies.
The death toll in the Boko Haram attack rose to 41; one student died in the hospital. But the Provost of the College of Agriculture in Gujba – the scene of the horror – Mr. Molima Mato, said some students were still missing.
Forty students died when the gunmen invaded the school dormitory in the dead of the night, lined up students and opened fire on them.
Thirty-eight bodies have been taken away by families for burial, the provost said. No fewer than 1,000 students are believed to have fled the school.
The Provost could not give the figure of the missing, some of who, according to him, were abducted by the fleeing insurgents. The roll, he said had not been taken because the students who survived the attack vacated the school the morning after.
Said Mato: “I cannot tell exactly the number of students that are missing at the moment. It is, however, wrong to assume that anybody that is not seen at the moment is dead but I can confirm to you that some of our students are still missing. I heard people saying that the insurgents abducted some students. I am not sure about such report but it won’t be out of place because we still have not found some of our students. Like I said, others have not been seen but we believe they are alive.”
Two of the injured students – Isa Mohamed Fika, ND II and Mohammed Yau Saleh ND I – were transferred to the Federal Medical Centre, Nguru for multiple fracture and gunshot surgery.
Mato said: “It is unfortunate that this attack happened in my school. What we can only say now is just a word of condolence to the families that lost their children and loved ones. I send my heartfelt sympathies to all the families.
“It’s so sad that one of the students who were wounded died this morning. The number of the dead is now 41. These are the dead that we have seen and counted their bodies. We don’t know whether there are some that were killed in the bush. Don’t forget some even ran away from the school during the attack to a distance of up to three kilometers.”
He denied reports of any security lapse, saying: “I wrote so many letters to the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Buni Yadi and Gujba, asking for security for my students and they have always assured me. I have the records of all the letters I wrote to the JTF.”
The Provost also denied reports that he refused to close down the school after pressure from students, members of the staff and parents that the environment was no longer safe after two attacks on schools in Damaturu and Mamudo and a recent attack on Buni Yadi, a few kilometers away from the school.
He said: “At no time did students or parents or members of staff put pressure on me to close down the school. It is true that when the insurgents attacked Buni Yadi, most of the students were afraid and I asked them to go home for two days so that their parents would see them to believe that they are safe. That’s all. I can’t just close down the school in the middle of a semester, except it is extremely important and even at that, I have to consult with the state Ministry of Higher Education before taking such decision.”
The provost said most of the students killed were from Fika, Potiskum, Nangere and Damaturu local government areas.
The brother of one of the surviving students, Mr. Ibrahim Yau Saleh, who is accompanying his brother to Nguru, said his brother would never go back to the school.
Said Saleh: “I am praying now is for my brother to get well first, but I swear to God he will never go back to that school. I think life is more important than the education. What is the gain if you must die to acquire the education? Is it not better you are alive before you go to school?”
It was gloomy across the state, especially around the Fika, Potiskum axis where most of the students come from.
In Damaturu, funeral rites were held for students by residents at various estates in the metropolis.
Most of the parents of the deceased students, who have relations in Damaturu, were contacted to bury them in Damaturu instead of conveying their bodies to far-away villages.
Umar Adamu said seven of the slain students were buried on Gujba Road by their relation.
“We buried seven of the students yesterday in our area in 3bedroom Gujba Road and most of them are from Fika and Potiskum but their people called that they should be buried in Damaturu,” Umar said.
An Ali Marami Estate resident said that more than five of the dead students were residents of the estate.
Commissioner for Lower Education Alhaji Mohammed Lamin said: “It is unfortunate that this thing is happening again. We thought we got over these attacks on our schools. This is the most heartless act I have seen.
“Like we said earlier, we are collaborating with the security agencies to ensure that our schools are safe for the children to learn.”
Spokesman of the 3 DIV Special Operation Battalion Cpt Lazaru Eli said that their men were working very closely with communities for intelligence gathering.
Authorities are taking measures to improve security around schools, including stepping up patrols and putting armed soldiers outside them and guarding school buses.
Government sources told Reuters yesterday that the move aimed to restore confidence in the schools that have been scenes of bloody massacres by Boko Haram militants.
A Presidency source told Reuters President Goodluck Jonathan met senior security aides late on Sunday to discuss how to respond to the latest deadly shift in tactics by the insurgents.
“In the meeting they decided to provide special security cover for schools in the Northeast and some other places prone to possible attacks,” the source, who was present but who declined to be named, said.
“The president is not happy … He directed security chiefs to work out a new strategy so this doesn’t happen again.”
“For now the state government has directed all-round security surveillance on all schools across the state,” Lamin, the Commissioner for Lower Education, told Reuters by telephone. But he added: “The security agencies need to step up their operations to protect lives and property.”
An educational official in Borno State, the birthplace of the insurgency to the north of Yobe, said the state had ordered an initial 30 buses with 100 seats each on it to carry day pupils to schools. Each would travel with two armed soldiers at the front and two at the back, he said.
Pro-government vigilante groups would search everyone getting on the buses at each stop, he said.
Human rights group Amnesty International, in a statement yesterday, urged Nigeria to take urgent measures to protect schools and students in the Northeast from attacks.
Thousands have been killed since Boko Haram launched its uprising in 2009. As it has grown bolder and more deadly, it has also forged links with Islamists in the Sahara, including al Qaeda’s north African branch.
The French Foreign Ministry said the attack was “odious and cowardly” and it sent condolences to relatives of the victims.
“In these tragic circumstances, France recalls its commitment in the fight against terrorism and reaffirms its solidarity with the Nigerian government and people,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, in a statement made available in Abuja, said: “Canada strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack on a college in north-eastern Nigeria. The perpetrators of this abhorrent act targeted innocent students while they were sleeping.
“On behalf of all Canadians, I extend my deepest sympathies to those injured in the attack and to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. We sincerely hope that the perpetrators of this despicable act will be brought to justice.
“Canadians stand united with the Nigerian people in deploring terrorism. We will continue to assist the people and Government of Nigeria as they strive to improve security and uphold the rule of law.”
House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Tamvuwal, said the killing of dozens of students is ignoble, wicked and horrendous.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Imam Imam, the Speaker urged security agencies to redouble their efforts and change their tactics especially now that those engaged in the killings have increased their attacks on softer targets.
He said the only way to console the families of the victims and Nigerians is by fishing out perpetrators of the dastardly act and bring them justice.
“We in the House of Representatives feel the grief and pain of the families of the victims. In this their hour of need, we will stand with them hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder. We want to assure them that as brothers, we will continue to confront the threats of terror confronting our nation, and we know we will come out stronger, and victorious