The tenacity of the Boko Haram sect against the might of the Nigerian military has driven President Goodluck Jonathan’s federal government into a panic. It is doing things that suggest the campaign against this murderous sect has been lost already, contrary to its tough talk about crushing the insurgency.
First, following the Feb 24 Boko Haram attack on Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe state, in which over 40 students were slaughtered and a string of other attacks in Adamawa and Borno states that same month, the military high command ordered the Air Force into action. Its fighter jets on March 3 bombed a village in Adamawa sacked by the sect and converted into an operational base. The raid, however, killed 20 civilians instead of insurgents.
Secondly, this week, the federal ministry of education ordered 5 federal colleges or unity schools in the three states most affected by the insurgency shut down, including the one at Buni Yadi in Yobe state. The four others are Federal Government Girls College, Monguno; College of Science and Technology, Lassa, both in Borno state; Federal Govt Girls College, Potiskum in Yobe state; College of Science and Technology, Michika, in neighbouring Adamawa. A statement by the minister, Mr. Nyesom Wike’s media spokesman, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu, on March 6, directed that students of the affected colleges “who are not writing public examinations be relocated to FGGC, Bauchi, FGGC, Bajoga, FGC, Maiduguri, FSTC, Kafanchan and FSTC Dayi.” Those who registered for WASSCE, NECO SSCE and BECE in FGGC Potiskum should have their examination centres converted to FGGC, Bauchi, while those from FGGC, Monguno and FGC, Buni Yadi should also be relocated.
Not unexpectedly, parents are opposed to the government’s latest on-the-spur-of-the-moment reaction to Boko Haram’s increasing attacks on soft targets. One, it disrupts the academic work of students, particularly those final year students about to take their qualifying exams; and secondly, the cost of relocation is going to be borne by parents, with the government contributing nothing. It is as though the latter is doing the students and their parents a big favour.
More than that, the government’s action raises an issue that goes to the heart of the insurgency. It will embolden the sect to be more daring and deadlier. While the morale of government troops is said to be sagging, closing down schools that teach western curriculum, which is one of the goals of the insurgency, will give the sect a psychological edge in this war of wits and brawn.
What the federal government has done is a direct opposite of what the Borno state government did last year. When the sect’s attacks on schools became more frequent and deadly, there was a strong case made for them to be closed. But the government resisted, saying the last thing it would do was to give the sect the impression that its insurgency was succeeding. It kept schools open and instead gave the security forces financial and logistical assistance to protect them. And the policy worked.
We see the federal ministry of education’s closure of unity schools as rushed and panicky. And we fear, Boko Haram stands to gain a great deal more from this ill-advised decision.