Residents of Yobe State in northern Nigeria are rebuilding their lives after what they say have been years of violence, and months cut off from the rest of the country by the military. But while military officials say Yobe state is stable, schools remain closed after gunmen slaughtered nearly 30 children at a secondary school.
Malam Abubakar was a teacher at Mamudo Secondary school when gunmen threw explosives and opened fire on students in the middle of the night early this month. The school, like all the rest in Yobe state, was closed immediately, but Abubakar still comes to work because every now and then frightened children return to the boarding school to gather their things.
In a nearby mud home, partially collapsed due to rain, 14-year-old Isa Saleh Dasheri said he ran from the school when he heard the gunshots, jumping over dead bodies into the bush. But if the now-burned school is repaired and re-opened, he said, unlike some students, he will go back to school.
But his mother said that he, like all the other children, will be scared.
Phone lines were cut off
Other locals blame the school attack, in part, on the fact that phone lines were cut for two months by the military, after a state of emergency was declared in three northeastern states in mid-May.
President Goodluck Jonathan said at the time the Islamist militant group Boko Haram had overrun parts of the north, and he sent thousands of troops to the battle.
Farmer Adamu Nguru said if they had mobile phones, locals could have warned security forces the militants were about to attack the school.
But the spokesman for Yobe state security forces, Lieutenant Eli Lazarus, said phone service has been restored and life is starting to get back to normal. He said the restoration of the phones may help security forces conquer Boko Haram for good, because they rely heavily on local informants.
“Somewhere along the line with the outage of the telecommunication service people who were intent to give us information were unable to do so and that has impacted our operation in so many ways,” said Lazarus.
Defeating Boko Haram
Critics say if the Nigerian military can successfully beat Boko Haram, a fractured group of shadowy militants that has been blamed for thousands of deaths since 2009, the victory will not last. In the past, Boko Haram has melted away only to resurface later, stronger and better armed.
Lazarus said actually putting an end to attacks could take a long time.
“Insurgency is something that takes time to fizzle out, to overcome completely. You keep on seeing one or two hits around. Probably because these people are disguised as civilians and they carry themselves as innocent citizens only for them to wreck havoc somewhere. You still have pockets of them,” said Lazarus.
Farmer Ahmed Dori said it will take even longer for the region to recover economically, after two months of living “at a standstill.”
Farmers say that in the past year they have not been allowed to grow some of their regular staple crops because high plants can provide cover for insurgents.
Parents say although they are afraid to send their children back to school next month, after Ramadan ends, they are even more afraid of what will happen to their children if the schools do not open again.
Ardo Hazzad contributed to this report form Yobe State.