Nigerian soldiers moved house to house yesterday in an urgent bid to hunt down attackers responsible for the massacre of dozens of people who were shot or had their throats slit in a student housing area.
The raid in the early hours of Tuesday near a polytechnic university shook the town of Mubi, in Nigeria’s northeast.
Authorities believe students may have been behind the attacks in Mubi, but that town and the surrounding region also have suffered from a spate of killings by the Boko Haram radical Islamist sect.
The latest attack occurred between 1pm on Monday and 3am on Tuesday when assailants invaded student accommodations outside the campus of the Federal Polytechnic Mubi College, one of its students, Danjuma Aiso, said.
Police have given an official death toll of 25, saying at least 22 of the victims were students. A school official yesterday said that the death toll was at least 40, but he could not immediately say how many were students.
“Based on accounts from locals, at least 40 people were killed in the attack,” the official from the polytechnic school said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “Twenty-five were the ones taken to the morgue. At least 15 of the victims whose families are in Mubi were taken away by relatives.”
“The crisis in Mubi is suspected to have been fueled by campus politics after an election at the [college],” Yushau Shuaib, the spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency, said in a statement.
However, Aiso said students had recently found a written warning pasted on the gate of the female hostel inside the campus and which is widely believed to have been written by members of the Boko Haram sect. The message ordered authorities to evacuate the school, he said.
The suggestion that the killings were linked to the student election raised questions over how and why the dispute would have turned so violent. There were suggestions of ethnic tensions between the mainly Muslim Hausas and predominately Christian Igbos involved in the vote, and a spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency said some of the victims were candidates.
Across colleges and universities in Nigeria, some fraternities have turned to gang violence to wield power on campuses.
“Boko Haram [attackers] open fire sporadically,” Adawa state police spokesman Muhammad Ibrahim said. “In this case, the attackers called their victims by name and left other people in the room alone. This is not the modus operandi of Boko Haram.”
“It is the work of insiders,” Muhammad said.
He said security forces had blanketed Mubi, a commercial hub and university town near the border with Cameroon.
“There’s a heavy deployment of soldiers, police and [secret police] personnel in Mubi following the killings,” he said.
Residents said it seemed the victims were both Muslim and Christian, but police had not commented as is often the case in Nigeria, where ethnic and religious divisions regularly lead to unrest.
The college attack follows the killing on Saturday of three students outside a university campus, about 170km away, in the city of Maiduguri, Boko Haram’s spiritual home.
Boko Haram’s name means “Western education is sacrilege” in Hausa and the group has been blamed for killing more than 690 people this year alone, according to one media count.