MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's Borno state government is closing all high schools indefinitely amid fears of massive attacks by Islamic extremists, officials and teachers said Tuesday, confirming a move that may be considered a victory for the Islamic extremist Boko Haram terrorist network, whose nickname means "Western education is forbidden."
They said some 85 schools will be closed, affecting nearly 120,000 students in an area that has the country's worst literacy rates. They "are to remain closed until the security situation in the state improves," Borno state Gov. Kashim Shettima said Monday on the BBC Hausa language service.
The closures come amid growing anger at the military's failure to suppress an Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria, despite a massive deployment of troops and a 10-month-old state of emergency. Islamic militants have burned down scores of schools in attacks that have killed hundreds of students. Other schools fearful of attacks have closed in Yobe and Adamawa states.
"We have run out of excuses for our failure to live up to our responsiblity to protect our innocent defenseless children from gratuitous violence," the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, told legislators at a special session last week to mourn the latest victims — 59 students killed at a boarding school in neighboring Yobe state on Feb. 25. Extremists locked some of the students into a dormitory and set it aflame.
Not only the military but also the government, including the legislature, must "act swiftly and decisively in the protection of the citizenry," said Tambuwal. The school closures could have far-reaching consequences, including ending the education of some students in a region where few ever have the opportunity to get to high school, said the chairman of Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu.
"The average secondary school enrollment is slightly under 5 percent (in northeast Nigeria), so I think it's easy to understand that you cannot overestimate what the consequences of this could be, given the parlous state of education in the region and the fact that, clearly, whoever is orchestrating this is focused on targeting schools, educational institutions," he said.
The government should consider setting up well-protected camps where children can continue their education, he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. Such an "extreme measure" could be justified because "the entire area is a war theater," Odinkalu said.
The United Nations estimates that the Islamic uprising has forced some 300,000 people to leave their homes since 2010 in northeast Nigeria, most displaced within the country and some across borders in Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Nigeria's military recently claimed successes in aerial bombardments and ground assaults on extremist hideouts in forests and mountain caves along the borders with Cameroon and Chad. But they were unable to stop extremists who on Friday shot their way into the main military base in the northeast, Maiduguri's Giwa Barracks, where they freed dozens of detained fighters before soldiers repelled the attack. The battle went on for five hours, terrifying citizens who fled their homes. The Defense Ministry said scores of extremists were killed.
On Monday, students started leaving the University of Maiduguri, saying they feared another attack. At least one student was reported killed by a stray bullet in Friday's attack on the barracks, which is divided from the campus by a riverbed that extremists use to infiltrate the city.
One school principal said Tuesday that "we have all agreed to close by this Friday and see what happens next." The principal spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired for speaking to reporters without authorization.
The state government hopes to keep open a handful of schools in Maiduguri, where it would be possible for students from other areas to write regional and national examinations scheduled in June, said Malam Ayuba, the principal of another school.
Muhammed Karage, principal of the Federal Government College high school in Maiduguri, said about 150 students already have been relocated to his school from Federal Government College at Buni Yadi, the school burned down in the Feb. 25 attack. He said that students and staff from other federal colleges were being relocated to the states of Katsina and Kaduna.
The head of a private secondary school said private schools were considering holding exams this week, at mid-term, and then closing down.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.