The Nigerian military says bad phone lines prevented soldiers from responding to a school attack that killed nearly 60 people early Tuesday.
In an interview with VOA's Hausa Service Wednesday, military spokesman Eli Lazarus said there were soldiers stationed near the Federal Government College Buni Yadi. But he said phones were not working and that nobody could call for help.
Unidentified assailants attacked the school during the night, setting fire to buildings and killing students as they tried to flee. There has been no claim of responsibility, but local officials are blaming the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram for the attack.
During a speech late Wednesday, President Goodluck Jonathan decried the killings, describing them as "young people callously murdered as they slept in their college dormitories in Yobe state." The president vowed his government will press to "permanently eradicate the scourge of terrorism," which he said is driven "by corrupted values and ignorance."
Authorities placed the initial death toll at 29 but reporters who went to the local mortuary say 59 people were killed. The school is co-educational, but all of those killed were boys.
The governor of Yobe state, Ibrahim Gaidam, toured the ruins of the school Tuesday and denounced the military's failure to protect the teenagers. He is quoted in local media as saying the soldiers assigned to protect the school had been withdrawn ahead of the attack.
Lazarus told VOA that a military checkpoint about eight kilometers away was recently taken down because of a Joint Task Force operation.
He also said it would not surprise him if the phone lines were deliberately cut ahead of the attack.
Fighters from Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is a sin," have carried out similar attacks on schools, government facilities and other targets.
The group is blamed for thousands of deaths since launching an uprising against the government in 2009.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the killings at the school, adding that "no objective can justify such violence."
Yobe is one of three states where President Jonathan declared an emergency last May and launched operations to destroy Boko Haram camps. Despite the efforts, large-scale attacks have continued.