Senate rejects closure of campus over terror attacks

The University of Maiduguri in north east Nigeria is to remain open despite ongoing terror attacks by Islamic terror group Boko Haram, after Nigeria’s Senate resolved to push for tighter campus security and to keep the university open as a symbol of triumph over the extremist group and its ideas.

According to a local senator approximately 70 academics, students and other staff have already fled the campus, owing to the security threat which has seen the campus attacked six times since January this year and 19 students and staff killed.

The attacks have also worried the neighbouring prestigious American University in Yola, Adamawa State, according to local Radio Adamawa reporter Samuel Amadou.

The most recent threat to the University of Maiduguri occurred on the night of 6 July. Police on surveillance duty gunned down two male suicide bombers who were attempting to sneak into the varsity’s campus to carry out an attack. The campus has been the site of a number of attacks this year, mostly by under-age suicide bombers, including under-age girls who are used to infiltrate the female hostels. The name 'Boko Haram' is usually translated as 'Western education is forbidden'.

Rising insecurity

In the emergency meeting of Nigeria’s legislative upper chamber, Baba Garbai, a senator from the Maiduguri District, sponsored a motion titled “The need to avoid imminent disruption of academic activities and closure of the University of Maiduguri due to the rising insecurity occasioned by the spate of bomb attacks” in which he noted that insurgents had adopted suicide bombings as a tactic to bring the university to its knees.

“Unless something urgent is done, the once peaceful and globally competitive centre for multi-cultural research and learning may be converted into another theatre of war,” he said.

He told the Senate that over 70 academics, several students and staff have left the university for other institutions both within and outside the country.

“Between January 16 and June 25 of this year, a period spanning six months, the university community was hit with six bomb blasts which resulted in the deaths of 19 students and staff of the university. The current porous state of security in the institution, coupled with the vast expanse of land it sits on and the external conditions of security across the state, have exacerbated the situation and made these attacks more effective,” said Garbai.

Secure border

Abubakar Kyari, another senator from the Maiduguri metropolis, reminded the forum of the university’s achievements and proposed the construction of a secure border around the institution.

“This particular institution has never shut its doors during the insurgency … There is need to construct a secure fence for the university,” he emphasised.

“As long as the periphery of the campus remains porous and unfenced, the Boko Haram insurgency will continue to cause mayhem,” agreed Senator Ahmed Lawan.

Jibrin Barau, the Senate’s chairman for tertiary institutions suggested that local communities and hunters surrounding the campus be asked to assist in preventing attacks.

Senate president Dr Bukola Saraki described the motion as “important and disturbing”.

“This university is a symbol of Nigeria’s victory over Boko Haram and must not be defeated. The university is a symbol of courage of our people, students and management throughout the whole Boko Haram insurgency. As government and people, we must ensure that normalcy is restored so that the students who are the softest targets can continue their studies,” he said.

After a lengthy debate the Senate unanimously adopted the following resolutions and urged the executive arm of the government to implement them without delay:
  • • The 27 square kilometre perimeter of the university campus must be fenced and equipped with closed circuit television cameras. Patrol vans and dogs should constantly patrol the perimeter fences.
  • • Plain-clothes security agents should be deployed on the campus to identify potential suicide bombers.
  • • A special mobile anti-terrorist squad trained in the United States should be deployed inside the campus to confront insurgents.
  • • The airforce base in Maiduguri should be placed on alert, especially during the early hours of the morning, when most of the recent attacks have taken place.

At the end of June, the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima announced the disbursement of US$160,000 to assist in the digging of a perimeter trench several metres deep around the campus and to support the payment of special guards to work with the military.

“The trenches are being designed to make it impossible for insurgents to drive into the university. The trenches also create difficulties for the insurgents to cross on foot while the military will take advantage of being at the top to neutralise the insurgents.

"Even though the university is a federal institution, it is also part of the responsibility of Borno State to intervene in securing lives and preventing the desire of the insurgents to force the school to close down,” said the governor.

Teaching and administrative staff, including students of the university, are happy with the proactive measures being taken by government agencies to secure lives and property on the campus, according to Henry Mbaya, senior registrar at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.

Two works on Islamic jihad – Marc Sageman’s Leaderless Jihad and Elizabeth Kendall and Evan Stein’s 21st Century Jihad – suggest that today’s terror attacks are no longer orchestrated by centralised organisations, but by autonomous cells of individuals, which means that countering such attacks is an extremely difficult task.