Repeated attacks on churches on and off university campuses in northern Nigeria, by the Islamic fundamentalist sect Boko Haram, have sparked fear among students and lecturers – especially those who are Christians.
The attacks followed warnings issued several months ago by the sect that it would carry out a jihad, or holy war, against universities and their so-called infidels.
Scholars including Professor Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate, have warned that the attacks on churches could lead to religious war if the terror activities of Boko Haram are not stopped.
In recent months, Christian students from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, in northern Nigeria, went to worship off-campus at the ECWA and CKC churches. During the service, explosive devices were detonated by fundamentalists. Students were among the injured.
Simultaneously, in nearby Kaduna city, similar bombs exploded at two orthodox churches with some worshippers, including from Kaduna State University, wounded.
But the highest casualties of terror attacks affecting the university community in northern Nigeria were at Ado Bayero University in the ancient city of Kano at the end of April.
On a Sunday morning, terrorists entered the campus and opened fire on and threw explosives at worshippers in one of the teaching amphitheatres, killing 20 people including two science professors and students, and injuring others.
All the attacks were reportedly carried out by Boko Haram, which means ‘Western education is heathen’ in the local Hausa language. The sect, also known as Jama'at Ahl al-Sunnah lil-Da'wah w'al-Jihaad, claimed responsibility via its website for the attacks.
It warned that it would intensify attacks against ‘infidels’ until an Islamic theocracy, especially Islamic jurisprudence – sharia law – was institutionalised across all of northern Nigeria including Abuja, the country’s federal capital.
There is palpable fear among Christian students and academics at some universities in the north about the Islamic extremists inflicting similar violence on them.
Scholars planning to go south
According to reliable sources, teachers and students from southern Nigeria and the central region known as Middle Belt, who are working or studying in northern universities, are planning to relocate to universities in their states of origin at the end of this academic session.
“The unfortunate killings of our teachers and students at their places of worship on and at the outskirts of campuses in Kano, Kaduna and Zaria by Islamic fundamentalists are making us search for alternatives to continue our studies,” said student Alexandria Ogbu.
The university authorities in northern Nigeria are worried about the imminent exodus of teachers to the south. In many departments and faculties, teachers of the Christian faith are either in the majority or they form a substantial percentage.
“We are heading for an unprecedented crisis in the area of teaching staff if many of our colleagues move out and go elsewhere because of the growing climate of religious intolerance in the north,” remarked a vice-chancellor who did not want to be named.
The vice-chancellor’s fears are not far-fetched.
Sumbo Adekan, an industrial relations expert in Lagos, takes a critical view of creeping insecurity in tertiary institutions in northern Nigeria.
She said that during the early 1970s, when northern Nigeria’s elite was in control of political power at the central level and had oil money at its disposal, lecturers from English-speaking countries in South East Asia were recruited.
But this ‘golden era’ was gone for good, Adekan said, and the fall-back strategy was to recruit lecturers from the south and central regions of Nigeria. “These teachers may move southwards in search of internal green pastures where vacancies exist in public and newly opened private universities.”
Already, students are finding it difficult to get placements for compulsory industrial training in companies in northern Nigeria. “Most of the factories and plants have closed down in the north as a result of actions by Islamic fundamentalists,” said Adekan.
The violence has angered academics
The violent incidents have angered academics.
Wole Soyinka accused some Muslims in the northern elite of aiding and abetting Islamic fundamentalist ‘foot soldiers’ who are making Nigeria ungovernable, saying this section of the elite wants to rule all of Nigeria at all cost.
“This horde has remained available to political opportunists and criminal leaders desperate to stave off the day of reckoning,” Soyinka wrote.
It has been claimed that most of these leaders are highly placed, highly disgruntled and thus highly motivated. Having lost out in the power stakes, they have resorted to manipulating young people to carry out attacks.
Their aim is to create anarchy that will either break up the nation or bring back the military, which ruled Nigeria in a succession of coups from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s.
“Again and again they have declared their blunt manifesto – not merely to Islamise the nation but to bring it under a specific kind of fundamentalist strain,” Soyinka has said.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities, the umbrella body for lecturers, warned that if the government did not seek out and deal decisively with religious fundamentalism, the corporate entity of Nigeria could be compromised.
The vast majority of teachers are solidly behind statements credited to both Wole Soyinka and the union.
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