The text message sent to Sherif Daggash’s cellphone read: “We know you. We know your hours. You are teaching the students government subjects. We want you never to come to school again.”
The message ended with the full Arabic name of the Boko Haram.
Daggash, a 28-year-old teacher at the Sanda Kyarimi Government Day Secondary School, informed his co-workers. But most dismissed the warning. They had read similar text messages, but the militia had never followed through on its threats. “We never believed they would attack,” Daggash said. “They had never killed teachers before.”
A few days later, several gunmen entered the school. They wore no masks as they walked across the schoolyard, waving their Kalashnikov rifles. They shot a teacher in front of his office, witnesses said, and then began firing randomly at students fleeing for cover.
“When I heard the gunshots, I jumped out of the window and ran,” recalled Ali Muhammed Abdullahi, 18. “Up until now, I haven’t found my school bag.”
After the assailants fled, students carried wounded classmates to the principal’s office. Four were seriously injured and later died, students and teachers said.
“I helped carry Malam Kachala,” said Ahmed Usman, 21, a student, referring to the teacher. “He was shot in the head. His brain had burst open.”
At the Mafoni Day Secondary School, bullets are still visible in the walls, near where two teachers and an administrator were killed.
Six days later, the militants burned down three schools in a nearby town, human rights activists say.
“They want the students to go to Islamic schools,” Daggash said. “They don’t want us to teach them any forms of Western knowledge.”
In other instances, the militia has kidnapped teachers of Arabic — a subject that Boko Haram approves of — because they wore Western clothes, said Usman, the activist. Many teachers and university professors have fled the state for Abuja, the capital, or farther south to Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.
In some parts of Borno state, the militants simply tear up textbooks to shut down the schools. “They are so strong in these areas,” Usman said. “They don’t need to attack the schools.”
A region under fire
Today, Maiduguri and much of the north is under emergency law, which was imposed by the government last month. Cellphone and Internet services have been cut to prevent communication among militants. Long lines of vehicles wait at military checkpoints that have been erected across town.
In some areas, shops have closed or been reduced to rubble after attacks by Boko Haram or Nigeria’s security forces, whom human rights group accuse of committing abuses in their efforts to quell the insurgency.
Many schools close by noon. Children are taking their state and national exams at schools in safe areas, protected by troops. The only schools that appear to operate without concern are Islamic ones, where students study subjects approved by Boko Haram.
The trauma is visible long after the attacks. At Ali al-Yaskari, Zara Abubakr trembles at any mention of Boko Haram. She saw the gunmen through her classroom window as they killed the teacher. “I never heard of them,” she said, her voice quivering. And then she quickly ran away.
At Sanda Kyarimi, only a few hundred of the about 5,000 students have returned to school. Classes are being taught by inexperienced trainee teachers because most of the regular instructors have not returned. Students said many of their classmates now attend Islamic schools or have left the state. Others said they had no choice about returning.
“We just come to school because our parents order us to,” said Mustapha Bulama, a student. “In reality, we fear that the Boko Haram will attack again.”