Armed ViolenceFeatures

Students In Nigeria’s Sokoto University Live In Fear After Multiple Campus Attacks

From their dormitories, the university students say they’ve heard sorrowful cries of women and children emanating from nearby villages during several terror raids. However, the dean of student affairs, Umar Aliyu, says the university management is doing all it can to protect its students.

On Monday, Oct. 2, villagers in Shama, a small community behind the central market in Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, North West Nigeria, went into hiding. Students in the area were bewildered, having no idea of what had happened.

Around 10 p.m. on the same day, menacing men invaded the university’s central market. They first shot in the air to scare students away. Then, they looted several grocery shops and injured one person, witnesses said.

This wasn’t the first time the hostel’s atmosphere would be soaked with terror. 

On the evening of Sept. 30, at the university’s DV Hostel, students in deep sleep were awoken around 1 a.m. by strange footsteps of assailants trying to break into their dormitory through the backdoor. The following morning, several students queued at the door of the hostel’s matron, who allegedly described their accounts as an “exaggerated narrative”. Some students said they left the hostel for more protected places in the city of Sokoto.

“So, when gangs attacked the school mini-mart, we confirmed our fear that some people were trying to invade the school,” one student told HumAngle, asking not to be named to avoid being victimised. “Since then, I have not stayed beyond 6 p.m. on the campus.”

On Oct. 3, Professor Lawal Bilbis, the university Vice-Chancellor, gathered journalists in his office to debunk reports of terror attacks in and around the campus. He insisted that the October raid on the school’s central market was a case of robbery and not banditry as speculated.

“I was alerted by security officials in the school to an incident and when I arrived at the mini-mart where the incident happened at about 11 p.m. yesterday, it was observed that the case was that of a robbery and not a bandit attack,” he claimed. “They took two cartons of Maltina drinks and eight phones of students, which were being charged in some of the shops at the mart. I immediately alerted the security agents, including the police and NSCDC officials, and they all responded by sending their men to the scene.”

However, some students who witnessed the attack accused Bilbis of attempting to downplay the situation. “That was untrue,” said one student, who also asked not to be named for similar reasons. “I have been in and around this campus for more than four years and the attack I witnessed was not a regular armed robbery case. Terrorists are moving closer to us and the VC is telling a different story. This is unfair.”

Other students who spoke to HumAngle said the same thing, with one asking: “How can the school deploy soldiers to come to surveil the school environment after a robbery attack? Was it the first time we would have robbery attacks on our campus? The VC knew what he was doing.”

HumAngle has a video showing a battle tank surveilling the university’s central market after the incident, and several students confirmed the presence of soldiers in strategic places on the campus.

Notwithstanding the heavy military presence, fear persists as tales of terror attacks sip in from the satellite villages around the university.

On Nov. 18, students living in Gidan Sule village, a stone’s throw from the university, fled the place at midnight after hearing reverberating gunfire. The night raid began a few minutes past 11 p.m. and lasted for an hour, leaving one man, identified as Usman, dead.

“We were about to close for the day around 11 p.m. when we started hearing gunshots. They were shooting sporadically. And everyone started to run for their lives,” Muhammed Sadiq, a local in the Dundaye area, told HumAngle. “One of the bullets hit Usman. See, this is his blood,” he said, trailing the splashes of blood to a spot where he eventually gave up the ghost. “He bled profusely before he died.”

Long before now, terror has lurked around the university, but authorities seem to pay little or no attention to it. In December 2022, a similar raid took place in Gidan Yanma, another satellite village near the university stadium. Sheu Goje, a civil servant with two wives and eight children, lost his life to the attack. 

“I was asleep when someone woke me to tell me that Sheu had been attacked. When we got to his place, we met him with bullets in his stomach; it was a horrible sight. He was already dead,” recalled Ismaila Aliyu, Sheu’s elder brother.

The story does not end there: The terrorists abducted Sheu’s son and one of his wives and demanded over ₦2 million ($2,500) as ransom.

“We haggled very hard before they agreed to take ₦1.5 million to release the captives,” Ismaila said. “Things have been difficult since then. The son has dropped out of school as we speak.”

The pattern of attacks in Usmanu Danfodiyo University’s nearby communities is similar to the activities of terrorists operating in the northwestern region of Nigeria. The terrorists are borrowing a leaf from Boko Haram factions in Northeastern Nigeria by targeting students for abductions. 

On Sept. 23, terrorists invaded girl-dominated private hostels of the Federal University Gusau in Zamfara State and abducted 22 students. Although eight of the abducted students were rescued while two escaped, others are still in captivity. 

Barely 10 days after the Gusau attack, the terrorists abducted five students of Federal University Dutsin-ma in Katsina, a neighbouring state — with all the victims again being girls.

On Oct. 14, the armed group attempted to attack another private hostel used by university students in Gusau. But Nigerian soldiers surveilling the area repelled the attack in a gun duel.

Although Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, has not directly witnessed any major terror attack such as the above, terrorists infesting its surrounding communities are injecting fear into the campus of an institution that prides itself as the “most peaceful university in Nigeria”.

From their dormitories, the university students say they have heard sorrowful cries of women and children emanating from nearby villages during several terror raids. As the university swung into an examination mood, some students said the fear of terror attacks was distracting them and forcing them to avoid night studies.

“You’ll be struggling to read, yet you’ll be struggling with fear of insecurity,” one student observed.

However, the dean of student affairs, Umar Aliyu, says the university management is doing all it can to ensure that the lives and properties of the students are safe. “Have you not noticed the presence of soldiers and armour tanks in the school?” he asked. 

“Students have no reason to fear. There are police officers on standby if such an attack arises. We’re also building trenches around the university so that no one can barge in at will.” 

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Ibrahim Adeyemi

Deputy Investigations Editor at HumAngle. Ibrahim covers conflict and humanitarian crises with a special interest in terrorism financing. While his works have tackled the routine of criminality and injustice on many occasions, they have also earned him both local and international journalism accolades, including the One World Media Award, the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism, the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award, the Wole Soyinka Awards for Investigative Reporting, and recently the Kwame Karikari Fact-checking Award for African journalists.

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