Why UNIMAID is under Boko Haram siege

Posted by Fidelis Mac-Leva, Hamza Idris (Abuja) Uthman Abubakar & Ibrahim Sawab | 2 July 2017 | 3,934 times

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In the wake of the Boko Haram crisis in 2009, the University of Maiduguri was never a target despite several attacks. At a time, other institutions of learning in the state were closed.

The vice chancellor of the university, Prof. Ibrahim Njodi, had explained that sheer determination not to interrupt the school’s curriculum was among the key reasons he refused to shut down the university while Boko Haram insurgents were on rampage in Borno State, the capital city and its environs.

Njodi, who spoke in Abuja at the launch of a book titled, Elementary Marketing for Senior Secondary Schools, co-authored by Chima Azu and Razaq Abdullahi, said he resisted the pressure by both parents and stakeholders to shut down the school for fear of attacks because he believed that such a move would have been defeatist in nature.

The optimistic vice chancellor said he put his trust in God that none of the students of UNIMAID would be a victim of attack by Boko Haram, and simply intensified vigilance with the use of the school’s local security watch and the assistance of the Joint Military Task Force posted to the state.

Indeed, at the height of the Boko Haram crisis, UNIMAID was the most peaceful environment in the whole of Borno State, to the extent that one could stay in the campus for many months, unperturbed by the enduring sound of bomb blasts, gunshots and other inconveniences.

This is in spite of the fact that within that period, various organisations, including the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and governments in the North-East, estimated that over 1,500 schools had been destroyed in the region, including 524 in Borno State. The University of Maiduguri, therefore, became the only institution that remained standing.

However, the vice chancellor and the entire community of the institution are now having sleepless nights as the Boko Haram terrorists have shifted their bombardment to the university community, thereby leaving no oxygen in the environment for anyone to breathe.

One attack too many

Between January 16 and June 25 – a period spanning six months – the university community was hit with six suicide bomb blasts. The first, which occurred on January 16 and considered as the most deadly, was at the Junior Staff Quarters Mosque, where Professor Aliyu Mani, the director of the university’s veterinary teaching hospital, and four others died.

The second was on April 3, while the third, fourth and fifth were on 13, 25 and 27 of last month respectively. One security personnel working in the university under one of the security agencies, to which the institution’s authorities outsourced the security, lost his life. In all the three other blasts, only the suicide bombers killed themselves.

The latest attack at the university was the one that occurred on Sunday, June 25, which led to the death of no fewer than 16 in a coordinated suicide bombings that also affected Zannari, a community near the campus.

Little wonder even residents of settlements behind the university have cried out that they are being threatened by the unrelenting insurgents to vacate their homes. These places include Dunomari, Ngubdori, Garin Maliki, Jiddari, Tamsugamdu, Garin Kwayam, Zaragaji, Jelta Kawu.

Similarly, villagers that live along the same plain with the settlements mentioned above but much closer to the Maimalari Barracks, equally said they were having challenges and threats from the Boko Haram. They include Ganyeri, Subdu Buraye, Tugushe Gana, Ngaranam, Dubai, Chabbal Abbari, Chabbal Ngubdori, Tungushe Kura, among others.

Established in 1975, the institution is situated in the outskirt of the town, along Maiduguri-Konduga-Bama road, which also leads to the main entrance of the infamous Sambisa forest at Kawuri, where the Boko Haram insurgents had their sanctuary for nearly five years.

There are varied opinions from the university community, security authorities, the Borno State Government, residents, activists and security experts as to why the university is now a soft target for Boko Haram assailants.

While some experts are of the belief that the university is too porous and therefore, susceptible to attacks, others attribute it to the resurgence of attacks in communities around the state capital, as well as the infiltration of Boko Haram agents into settlements around the university after their dislodgement from the Sambisa forest.

Yet some have blamed the trend on the reduction of troops from Borno State and the alteration of the security architecture.

“Obviously, the safety of UNIMAID cannot be treated in isolation from the safety of Maiduguri town itself.

“It would be erroneous to think that the University of Maiduguri will be completely safe when Maiduguri, and indeed, many parts of Borno State, is bleeding,” said security expert, Abdul Mohammed, a retired colonel of the Nigerian Army.

Other reasons given by experts include lack of equipment for troops to take the war to the Boko Haram assailants, fatigue in those that have been on ground amidst poor motivation and above all, laxity on the side of those handling the fight under the euphoria that the terrorists have been subdued.

To some security analysts, therefore, the claim that Boko Haram miscreants are now having a field day around the university cannot be dismissed, considering the fact that with a total population of over 60,000 students, including those pursuing distance learning programmes and over 4,000 academic and non-academic staff, is sitting on a vast and sprawling land totaling over 40sq kilometres.

More disturbing is the fact that the eastern plank of the university is equally vulnerable as it is only dotted by small hamlets, and behind the settlements is nothing but endless unoccupied land that leads to other towns afar, on the way to Nigeria’s border with Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Porous environment

For now, less than 40 per cent of the large swathe of the entire university is being utilised, making it easier for trespassers to penetrate.

And besides the fencing of some few kilometers of the frontage of the university with blocks (beginning from the Mairi neighbourhood while approaching the campus from Maiduguri), the remaining frontage only had metal fence, while the back of the entire university was only covered with trenches that were dug at the height of the insurgency.

Though soldiers, some plain clothed policemen and Department of State Service (DSS) operatives had been deployed to the university to complement the in-house security personnel employed by the university, their combined strength could not match the intimidating circumference of the entire campus.

In 2014, when attacks were a recurrent decimal in Maiduguri and it was practically impossible to have security operatives everywhere, the Borno State Government, in collaboration with the military, carved nearly 100 kilometres circumference around the state capital and dug deep trenches.

The trenches started from Jimtilo, along the Maiduguri-Damaturu road, through the neighbourhoods of Bakassi, Molai in Damboa road, the 21 Armoured Brigade, across Dikwa road along Customs area, up to the Maimalari Barracks area, the Maximum Prisons along Baga road and behind the Garrison Command of the Nigerian Army, along Pompomari area.

The trenches had, for three years, deterred Boko Haram insurgents from getting into Maiduguri in large convoys because no vehicle could get into the town without passing through checkpoints mounted at the four major entry points.

However, overtime, sandstorm, occasioned by rain, refilled some of the trenches; hence providing opportunity for encroachment. It is the same trench that gave cover to the university from behind.

This explains why the university was never closed since the advent of the Boko Haram crisis in 2009, even at a time when all institutions of learning in the state were closed.

Rumpus on campus

Three days after the latest attack, trade unions in the university threatened to disrupt the academic calendar of the school should the Federal Government fail to act on the reoccurring attacks on the school.

The leader of the unions and chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Dr. Dani Mamman, stated this on Wednesday at a press conference in Maiduguri.

Dr. Mamman said ASUU, as well as the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), National Association of Academic Technologies (NATT) and the Student Union Government (SUG) of the university were compelled to bring to the notice of the public, the security situation and threatens to life in UNIMAID.

He disclosed that 70 professors and other members of staff who fled the university in the wake of attacks in Maiduguri had started returning, only to be confronted with the new spate of suicide bombings within the school premises.

The unions accused the Federal Government of being insensitive to the security threats by Boko Haram terrorists in the institution, adding that the purported inaction by government on the security situation was giving a boost to the Boko Haram ideology.

“Boko Haram proclaims western education as forbidden and the University of Maiduguri is at the forefront of championing western education in the country. So for Boko Haram, sustained attacks on the university would accentuate their wild ideology,” Mamman said.

He stressed that increasing attacks in Borno State had shown that the insurgents were regrouping, and called on the government to wake up to its responsibility.

Mamman urged the Federal Government to build a perimeter fence around the varsity and approve the N2.8 billion requested by the university authority to procure modern security equipment to stop Boko Haram from executing ‘greater attacks’ on the campus.

Earlier, Governor Kashim Shettima visited the university and assessed different scenes of the multiple suicide attacks, and thereafter approved the immediate release of N50million to dig trenches behind the university, which covers 27 kilometers, and to support the deployment of vigilantes.

A statement by his spokesman, Isa Umar Gusau, revealed that the governor had, two weeks earlier, mobilised bulldozers to start the digging as a way of responding to previous attacks.

“The trenches are being designed to make it impossible for insurgents to drive into the university, as well as create difficulty for them to cross on foot, while the military will take advantage of the situation to neutralise their activities,” he said.

The statement said the acting vice chancellor, Aliyu Shugaba, who conducted Shettima round the scenes, revealed that the university had requested for N2.8 billion from the Federal Government to enable it fence the school.

‘Trenches alone cannot guarantee security’

Salihu Bakari, a retired major, said while it is good to dig trenches around the university, erecting a “double-deck fence” is the best.

“Remember that the Boko Haram never attempted to drive into the university in hoards, they only send suicide bombers who can seamlessly find their way through the trench and sneak into the campus quietly.

“In order climes, apart from building the trench, you erect high walls and another fence with cables inside, but you can only do these if you minimise the area you want to protect.

“If you do these, it would be practically impossible for the suicide bombers to scale the fence because the bombs stripped to their bodies would detonate before they climb,” he said.

Another officer who participated in combating the Boko Haram before he was transferred to another location insisted that UNIMAID could not be protected without securing Maiduguri as a whole. He said though it was not made public, hundreds of officers and men of the Nigerian Army have been redeployed.

“Go round Maiduguri and see if soldiers are there. We only have them in some places around the outskirts, and this is not the way to go about it. The downsizing came about due to the false belief that the threat had been reduced, but unfortunately, the reverse is the case as can be seen from the current attacks, especially on the Damboa/Biu road axis.

“My recent visit did not give me much confidence that we have the right equipment or tactics and the personnel to end the crisis within the shortest possible time. In fact, I make bold to say that if the present approach is not changed, we might be in this mess for years.

“This is due to the additional equipment Boko Haram have acquired and the fact that the rains have made movements difficult for our military,” he said.

The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj-Gen John Enenche, said on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily in the wake of the attack on UNIMAID, that the terror group no longer had a central command.

He said: “They don’t have a central command. They are not as coordinated as people think. They have dissenting views, and before you say anything, they can disintegrate. There are several factions of them, and these are the people that have already acquired the little technology of making these explosives and these IEDs.”

Enenche said that compared to cases in the past, the insurgents now only focused on soft targets, causing a relatively low number of casualties.

“Looking at what just happened (at UNIMAID), 16 casualties, seven terrorists and nine innocent people, it is unfortunate that we had to lose those nine people. But when you look again at the comparative analysis of the whole thing, we are making progress,” he said.

Responding to the question of why the University of Maiduguri appears to be a regular target of the insurgents, General Enenche explained that the insurgents had always been against western education; hence the attacks.

Vigilantes offer helping hand

The Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN), Borno State command, has expressed readiness to partner with the institution to forestall future occurrences of the incident.

The assistant commander (administration) of the group, Mohammed Abbas Gava, told Daily Trust on Sunday in Maiduguri that his group was willing to intervene and bring the series of suicide bomb attacks on the university to an end.

“Security has degenerated around UNIMAID due to lack of guard mobilisation, and if our services would be required, we are ready to safeguard the institution. My command could mobilise up to 200 of our members for two shifts everyday – 100 at night and another 100 during the day,” Gava said.

Also speaking, the secretary-general of the Borno State Vigilante Association, Bunu M. Bukar, said in their contribution towards averting attacks on the university, the community vigilante group had deployed a sizable number of their members to keep vigil over the university and its surroundings, partly on the behest of the institution’s management and partly out of concern for their children.

“Apart from 50 of our members currently stationed within the campus of the University of Maiduguri, we stationed 40 more at the nearby Dalori village to keep vigil over the eastern side of the institution, and notify the 50 within the campus whenever they observe suspected suicide bombers sneaking towards the institution’s fence in an effort to forestall possible suicide bomb attacks,” he said. 

The university’s Director of Publicity, Professor Danjuma Gambo, in a telephone conversation, also told Daily Trust on Sunday that the institution’s management was taking preliminary measures to avert future occurrence pending the implementation of more effective measures to be introduced by the Federal and Borno State governments.

“Fortunately, the Federal and Borno State governments have understood our plight and are sympathising with us. The community vigilante group is also supporting the conventional security agents like the Army, the Police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to beef up security in and around the institution.

He also said: “The university is presently under a 24-hour security patrol, especially at its eastern flank, most frequently penetrated by the suicide bombers. These are preliminary measures as we await the comprehensive measures from the security agents and government,” Gambo said

The university management seems so perplexed with the grisly turn the bombers have now made at the institution. This perplexity now seems to inch towards drawing political inferences, implying that some invisible persons have resolved to plant insecurity in the only conventional and most populous university in the North-East. The authorities seem to believe that anything of this sort is plausible.

Why UNIMAID remains open despite attacks

The management holds up this argument as credible, considering what they describe as the institution being the intellectual and socio-economic nerve centre of the surrounding northeastern states. It is the only conventional university in the region - all others are specialised. This is premised on their argument, that should the university close for a day, the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people, especially in Borno State, would be in quandary.

This, they reveal, is why, in spite of the fact that over 80 per cent of the university community resides inside the campus, they took a policy that whatever the spate of bombings, they would not close the institution for even a day. And the students themselves seem to have resolved to protest should the management attempt closing the institution for a day ‘just because of bombings.’ They rest their argument on the belief that should they close the institution because of bomb blasts, they would either be closing it too many times that could gravely impact on its academic performance or close it to the unforeseeable future, considering the fact that the last of such blasts may not have been heard yet.

To demonstrate the university community’s resilience to bomb blasts, the last three blasts are said to have occurred when the Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) was going on at the university campus. The blasts never scared the JAMB candidates, who went in and sat for the examination unruffled as if nothing traumatising was occurring.

Comrade Abu-Hanifa Babati, the president of the Student Union Government (SUG) of the institution, said: “We have come here to study. We believe that nothing can stop us from studying. We have been in this environment for a long time. Bomb blasts have been taking place for a long time, so we resolved to go on with our academic and other normal activities and cooperate with the institution’s management to achieve its goal. Students believe that the University of Maiduguri is the best; this is why we developed resilience to bomb blasts.

“We have a platform through which we send messages to students on security enhancement measures. We have opened a facebook account and WhatsApp, through which we send messages to students. We have also been preaching to the students to be extra vigilant and report suspicious movements anywhere on campus to either the SUG or the university management,” he said.

Sourced from Daily trust on Sunday.

Source: News Express

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