Nigeria: Horror after school dorm set on fire

A pupil is treated for injuries in Potiskum hospital after escaping from the burning dormitory. Picture: AP/Adamu Adamu
A pupil is treated for injuries in Potiskum hospital after escaping from the burning dormitory. Picture: AP/Adamu Adamu
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As the government launched an appeal for refugees from Nigeria’s insurgency stricken north-east to return to their homes, Islamist gunmen from the radical Boko Haram group attacked a school this weekend, dousing a dormitory in fuel and setting it ablaze as students slept. At least 30 people were killed.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege”, has been behind a series of recent attacks on schools.

“We were sleeping when we heard gunshots. When I woke up, someone was pointing a gun at me,” Musa Hassan, 15, said yesterday of the assault on Government Secondary School in Mamudo village in Yobe state on Saturday.

He put his arm up in defence, and a shot blew off all four fingers on his right hand, the one he uses to write. His life was spared when the militants moved on after shooting him.

Hassan recalled how the gunmen came armed with jerry cans of fuel that they used to torch the school’s administrative block and one of the dormitories. “They burned the children alive,” he said.

He and teachers at the morgue said dozens of children from the 1,200-student school escaped into the bush, but have not been seen since.

On Saturday, at the morgue of Potiskum General Hospital, a few miles from the scene of the attack, parents screamed in anguish as they attempted to identify the victims, many charred beyond recognition. Some parents don’t know if their children survived or died.

Farmer Malam Abdullahi found the bodies of two of his sons, a 10-year-old shot in the back as he apparently tried to run away, and a 12-year-old shot in the chest.

“The gunmen are attacking schools and there is no protection for students despite all the soldiers,” he said as he wept over the two corpses. He said he is withdrawing his three remaining sons from another school.

Islamic militants from Boko Haram and breakaway groups have killed more than 1,600 civilians in suicide bombings and other attacks since 2010,.

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on 14 May and deployed thousands of troops to halt the insurgency.

Saturday’s attack killed 29 students and English teacher Mohammed Musa. Police officers who arrived after the gunmen left and transported the bodies to the hospital confirmed at least 30 people were killed.

Boko Haram, whose stronghold is about 145 miles away in Maiduguri city, capital of neighbouring Borno state, has been behind scores of attacks on schools in the past year.

Last Thursday, gunmen went to the home of a primary school headmaster and gunned down his entire family. Witnesses said they attacked at 7am as the owner of the private Godiya Nursery and Primary School was preparing to leave his home in the town of Biu, about 110 miles from Maiduguri.

People from Yobe state last week appealed for the military to restore mobile phone service in the area under a state of emergency, saying it could have helped avert a 16 June attack on a school that the military said killed seven students, two teachers, two soldiers and two extremists in Damaturu, capital of Yobe state.