The responsibility to protect

In a similar attack in July this year, scores of students were killed in a boarding school in the town of Mamudo, in Yobe State. In May gunmen attacked two secondary school and primary school Maiduguri, killing three teachers and injuring a number of pupils. In Mubi, Adamawa State over 30 students were killed last year. These troubling developments have been blamed on the Islamist group Boko Haram, which has been waging a vicious and deadly insurgency since 2009. The group, in postings on a website associated with it, claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.
Schools have not been the only soft targets of the attackers. Hunted by the military operating under emergency regulations imposed in three states in the region, they have descended on defenceless villagers. A week or two before the Gujba incident, the insurgents had laid siege to the town of Benisheik, Borno State, killing over 150 men, women and children.
All these have been happening in states where President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in May. Under the Joint Task Force (JTF), the military operation, no doubt, has weakened the insurgency and depleted its leadership. But small bands of them that have escaped to the forests and remote communities, still pose serious threats to lives and property.  A group of young people launched what is now known as Civilian JTF to help in effort to defeat those behind the attacks.
The apparently effortless manner that the attackers reach their targets and wreak havoc suggests that the security operatives have not managed checkpoints and barricades efficiently.  How come, for instance, that a convoy of vehicles could travel several kilometres in the dead of the night, unhindered in a period of emergency, and be undetected by the military?
Since last year, when a pattern began to emerge that schools were being targeted, there should have been tighter security around schools in the region. In Gujba, as in other cases, a beefed up security system could have triggered some alarm to the authorities. It is possible that cutting off communication in the areas under emergency regulations may well be doing more harm than the good the government intended. If there were signal for people to use their phones, they would have been able to send distress calls whenever they noticed strange movements.
The authorities should balance the consequences of continuing this policy with the benefits of restoring services in the areas, even if partially and occasionally. Governments of the affected states took the right decision to keep schools open, despite the attacks by Boko Haram, which frowns on western education, calling it forbidden. The irony is that if they lived by their own creed, the sect members wouldn’t be carrying firearms, using phones, driving vehicles and appearing on YouTube, products of the western education they abhor.
They may as well stick to their ideology but should not engage in murdering those who need and demand to be educated. If the claim that their grouse is with the Nigerian state is genuine, then they would not be committing such heinous crimes by visiting their anger on the civil populace, especially women and children, bringing sorrow and pain to many homes. The Boko Haram has repeatedly shown its disdain to offers of dialogue with various panels appointed by the government. It does so by carrying out more atrocities in response to such offers.  It is an untenable situation for the country, particularly the affected states, to be in. There can be no question that the insurgency must be defeated, and quickly too, and those behind it neutralised one way or another, for complete normalcy to be restored. How this is achieved would require a mix of intelligence, cooperation of local communities and stepped-up military action consistent with dealing with armed groups that fight in guerrilla fashion.
The bottom line in all this is that students in every hamlet, village, town and city, must be assured that they will not be the next victims, and that their school premises are safe for them to study in. That responsibility rests with the government.


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