Before the Chibok girls, there were the Buni Yadi boys. Four years ago, Boko Haram insurgents attacked and killed 58 male students of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe state, for receiving “western education”. The school was, before then, known for its excellence. It represented Nigeria in Geo-Challenges at Florida, USA, in 2002; was state runner-up in the 4th Annual National Essay Competition for secondary schools organised by the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE) in 2003; came first in the 3rd National Quiz Competition on Capital Market for secondary schools organised by Security Exchange Commission (SEC); was state winner of the 6th and 10th NSE Annual National Essay Competition for Secondary Schools in 2005 and 2011 respectively; and was first at the zonal chess competition held in Jalingo, Taraba state, in 2012.
Today, the college still stands grim amid rubbles and ashes, making it appear as though a cremation has just occurred. The aftermath has so erased its records of academic excellence that nothing seems to be known of its prior achievement.
Usman Ali-Grema is the administrative officer of the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe state. He would wish he wasn’t, particularly on the night of February 24, 2014, when Boko Haram insurgents massacred 58 students in their sleep.
After a day of hard study ahead of their senior secondary school examination, the students had retired to their hostels to catch some rest. Tuesday was going to be another busy day. For a school known for excellence, nothing less was expected of the students.
‘THEY KILLED MANY OF MY CLASSMATES’
“The attack began around 11pm Monday till 3am on Tuesday. The school was on holiday, but we asked the SS2 students to come for extra lesson in preparation for their forthcoming senior secondary school examination (SSCE). So they had just finished the class and went to bed afterwards,” Ali-Grema says.
“The insurgents stormed the school through the girls’ hostel. One of our matrons, Aisha Ahmad, saw them. She wanted to scream but they shut her up, held her hostage at gun point and requested for the keys to the door of the female hostel, but the matron gave them a fake key. Thereafter they made several attempts to open the door but they couldn’t.
“One of the insurgents became angry and shot at the padlock; accidentally the bullet bounced back and hit him. That shot alerted people and students in the school of the impending danger. All the girls were ordered out by them and taken to the mosque where they were instructed to forget about western education and go and get married.
“As the girls immediately left the school, the onslaught began on the male hostel. Niger house hostel was the first to be attacked. The insurgents picked 29 male students and killed them on the spot, lining up their dead bodies in front of the hostel.”
The school, located in Gujba local government, some 55 kilometres away from Damaturu, Yobe state capital, was one of the five government schools attacked by the insurgents in quick successions. Perhaps emboldened by the successes of their attacks on schools in the north-east, Boko Haram went on to abduct almost 300 girls at Government Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno state a couple of months later. Many of them still in captivity.
And continues the story…
‘TEACHERS RAN AWAY NAKED’
“They searched every room at the staff quarters looking for teachers,” he says. The teachers were alerted as soon as the attack began inside the hostels, and so had ample time to flee.
Several were said to have escaped with no clothes on them, trekking from Buni Yadi to Damaturu — a distance of 55.4 kilometres with a travel time of 49 minutes by car but 11 hours six minutes by foot.
“I saw David, one of our staff, battling to escape. I realised he could not walk because he was sick. So I carried him on my shoulder and took him to the nearest safe building and left him there. They caught me on my way back to the school; many insurgents surrounded me,” Muhammad recalls.
According to him, about 12 of them pointed rifles at him, debating whether to kill or spare him.
“I could hear them arguing among themselves; one was saying, ‘just kill him’ while another said ‘spare him’. One of the insurgents argued that working in the school where western education is taught is an act of infidelity. But the insurgents’ commander insisted that I should be spared,” he says.
His belongings were not spared, though. A bow and arrow, two pairs of clothes, one pair of shoe, a cutlass, torchlight, a pair of suit, a set of security uniform and N4,000 were burnt to ashes when the insurgents set the security post ablaze. The teachers too lost their belongings to the attack.
“That was how I miraculously survived the attack,” he says, with a small smile that exposed his discoloured teeth.
‘MILITARY COULD HAVE SAVED THOSE CHILDREN’
The Nigerian military received information of the planned attack on the school hours ahead but failed to act to save the children.
“Many of us have accused the military of failing to adequately protect the students in the face of the attack. What pained us as parents was that we heard that prior to the attack, check points close to the school were relocated,” he says.
“When the attack occurred, the principal was not in the school, his vice was also absent, as well as most of the senior staff members of the school. The military also quickly dismantled some checkpoints that very evening before the incident. So it seems like they were aware of the incident.”
Muhammad Machima, chairman of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), informs that several letters were written to challenge the action of the military, but no single answer was provided.
“Nobody ever visited the place to sympathise with even the family and the community.
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