A suicide bomb attack has killed at least 48 students and injured 79 others on Monday as they gathered for morning assembly at their school in northeast Nigeria, with suspicion immediately falling on Boko Haram.
“There was an explosion detonated by a suicide bomber,” national police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said, referring to the attack in Potiskum, the commercial hub of the restive Yobe state.
“We have 47 dead and 79 injured,” national police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said, adding that the Islamist extremists, who are allied to Al-Qaeda, were believed to be responsible.
Some 2,000 students at the Government Technical Science College were waiting for their principal to address them when an explosion blasted through the hall at about 7.50am local time.
The bomber appeared to have hidden the explosive in a type of rucksack popular with students, raising concern that more schools could be targeted, in a terror campaign that has intensified since the military were roped in last year.
The group, which says it is opposed to the influence of the West on Nigerian culture, has targeted students before, and came to international notoriety when it abducted 276 schoolgirls from the north-eastern Nigerian town of Chibok in April. Most remain in captivity, with the group’s leader claiming they had been married off.
While the brutal kidnapping and of the girls and their unclear fate has made for much criticism of the government, Boko Haram’s modus operandi would suggest boys actually come off worse, with captured women mainly used as sexual objects to intimidate civilians into non-resistance.
As such they are more likely to be kept alive, while male victims are killed.
The latest attack comes weeks after gunmen opened fire on students in a lecture hall in Nigeria’s second city of Kano, killing at least 13. Witnesses said female students were asked to lie down. Three more separate attacks in the city, which is a centre of Islamic scholarship, claimed at least 15 lives since June.
In another attack in Yobe, dozens of Nigerian secondary school pupils were killed in their sleep in February. Explosives were thrown at the co-educational Federal Government College in the town of Buni Yadi, with male students targeted. Fifty-nine boys were killed, many hacked to death, and dozens of school buildings razed.
In September 2013, Boko Haram gunmen stormed dormitories in the state and fired on sleeping students at an agriculture training college. Some 44 students and teachers were killed.
Only male students were targeted, while survivors said nearly all killed were Muslim.
The group, whose name loosely translates to “Western education is sinful”, has been fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, while arguing that the government has fought efforts to entrench traditional Koranic schools.
The Islamic school system, known as Almajari, is however not regulated by the government, and sees boys as young as six taught the Koran for up to 10 years.
Yobe is among three states in the north-east which have been under emergency rule since May 2013, the others being Borno and Adamawa.
In July 2013, some 29 students and a teacher were killed in another attack at a government boarding school in Mamudo, Yobe, with at least 42 people felled.
Survivors said the attackers gathered the victims at a central location and opened fire on them, including hurling explosives, while some of the victims were burned alive.
The month before, suspected militants opened fire on a school in Maiduguri, Borno’s capital, killing nine students, while just days earlier another attack on an educational institution in Yobe’s Damaturu area had claimed seven lives.
Dozens of schools have been torched in the duration of the near-five year brutal insurgency by the group. In October, authorities in Yobe, the hardest-hit state, said Boko Haram fighters had burnt 209 schools and caused millions of dollars in damages, a tally that will only have gone up.
The intensified attacks on schools have seen many closed, disrupting education in the area that is less socio-economically developed than the rest of Nigeria, and forcing thousands of students to despondently stay home.
Nigeria’s counter terrorism strategy has also been robustly questioned, as has been other initiatives. In May, the internationally-backed Safe Schools initiative was launched, with tens of millions of dollars in seed money from Nigerian leaders.
The plan targets more than 500 schools in the northern states, with the cash earmarked for improving security infrastructure, but Nigerians have also highlighted the poor quality of education in the country and the lack of opportunities for school leavers. ( See: Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants help boost one of the things they hate most: Western-style education)
But many analysts argue that a broader strategy for the country is needed, including addressing the north’s chronic underdevelopment, and seeking political solutions in the face of major challenges to military intervention.
Nigeria goes into an election in February, and the inability of the government to handle the insurgency has developed into a hot potato for Jonathan’s government.
—AdditIonal reporting by AFP