Following the decision of the federal government to reopen schools across the country on January 18, 2021, Nigerians have been expressing divergent views on the development. While most of the views center on whether it is good to reopen the schools or not at this time that Covid-19 cases soar, others are on the safety of students of University of Maiduguri, Borno state, especially those plying Damaturu-Maiduguri highway, a road known for Boko Haram attacks.
Recall that, the National Universities Commission (NUC) had directed the universities across the country to close on March 23, due to the outbreak of Covid-19. But before the NUC’s directive, ASUU had commenced its warning strike on March 9, 2020 over the non-payment of salaries of their members who refused to enroll in the federal government’s IPPIS, payroll software mandated for all public officials.
Though, the Union said it “conditionally” suspended the strike action it embarked on for over nine months over the backlog of unmet agreements between its members and the federal government, the Universities continued to remain closed due to Covid-19 pandemic, until the federal government ordered their reopening for activities on January 18, 2021.
The news for the reopening of the schools, including universities in the country can be described as one of the bests news reciveved by students and their parents, in view of the months the students stayed home. For students of University of Maiduguri, UNIMAID, the development comes to them with mixed feelings -curious to go back to school and the fear of Damaturu-Maiduguri road, the only way linking Maiduguri to other states of the federation.
Almost all the roads linking the Borno state capital with other states are not accessible, due to the activities of insurgents. The famous Maiduguri – Damboa road, which was previously used by people from to the state capital from Hawul, Biu, Gombe among others is still a NO – GO area as a result of the serious attacks on commuters plying the road by Boko Haram.
The road was reopened early last year by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai and the Deputy Governor of Borno state, Umar Kadafur, after it was shut down for a long term by government due to series of Boko Haram attacks and ambushed along the route.
It was on the road that some staff of the University of Maiduguri, who were part of an NNPC team on mission to find commercial quantities of crude oil in the Lake Chad Basin, were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2017.
Also at June last year, newspapers reported that suspected members of Boko Haram have laid ambushed and opened fire on hundreds of motorists with military escort conveying passengers on same road. It will, therefore, not be out of place if I say that, the road is not safe for students to ply.
The Madagali-Buniyadi road that Adamawa people used to follow is also not secured. The only road that UNIMAID students coming outside Maiduguri will follow is the horrible Damaturu-Maiduguri way. Many of us, who graduated from UNIMAID in 2019 were not able to go back to Maiduguri and collect our results because of the fear of Boko Haram attack, which became very rampant, especially in 2020.
In February last year, Boko Haram insurgents ambushed motorists and passengers at Auno village near Maiduguri, killing about 40 people. The dead included a student of Mass Communication Department, University of Maiduguri, Fatima, a baby and its mother. It is possibly known to many people that properties and lives were lost, many were abducted injured by insurgents during multiple attacks on the road last year.
Fast forwards, on January 2, 2021, it was reported how more than 50 motorists, passengers including a United Nations humanitarian worker (Abubakar Garba Idris) were abducted by suspected terrorists along the deadly Maiduguri-Jakana-Damaturu highway. According to the medium, this latest incident comes few weeks ago when 35 passengers, mostly women were abducted near the village of Benishiekh in Kaga of Borno state.
The question now is, who will stand for UNIMAID Staff and Students, who will be coming from different states amidst this growing security challenges on the Damaturu-Maiduguri road?
Only God knows the number of parents and guardians that will stop their children from going back to the university in view of the terrible incidents occurring regularly on the road. Many students will prefer to stay home than to risk their life because of the degree, that they are not sure of earning a decent job with it. Withdrawing students from the University at this time is indeed a great set back to the education sector in the country, particularly the North, which is believed to have highest number of out of school children and dropouts.
The University of Maiduguri is the largest institution of higher learning in North-eastern Nigeria. It has students from all states in the zone and other parts of the country. Therefore, the action that will be taken on this road, determines the fate of tertiary education in the entire Northeast region.
In order to guarantee the safety of both staff and students of the University, who will be coming back from many states for the continuation of academic activities, Federal government may wish to partner airlines to airlift them. All the staff and students might be asked to gather at Gombe International Airport for their airliftment to Maiduguri. They will be accomoadated in various government places and Hajj Camp and be airlifted in batches, if the government wants. If the federal government cannot do that, the Northeast Governor’s Forum should adopt that strategy or come up with another solution to ensure the safety of their citizens, because most of the students are from the region.
The affected states may also liase with troops to be escorting the students from their various states. Adequate securities should be beefed up along the way, especially from Benishiekh to Maiduguri to be patrolling the road and sometimes, escorting the students.
One of the responsibilities of every government is the protection of lives and properties of its citizens, we therefore expect the government to take all the necessary measures to ensure the safety of all students and staff of University of Maiduguri as academic activities resume on January 18, 2021.
Let me at this juncture, appeal to the management of the University to do all it could to ensure that none of its staff and students is hurt on the road.
Students should please be security conscious, especially by not sleeping at any checkpoint, especially in Mainok, Auno, Jakana and Benisheikh. Parents, guardians, students and other members of the public should also be prayerful for a hitch free journey.
As a concern Maidite, it is my hope and prayers that authorities concern will act accordingly to avoid putting the lives of innocents students in danger.
Tasi’u Dan Hassan,