Boko Haram Islamists killed 43 pupils on Tuesday when they attacked the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State.
The insurgents reportedly arrived at the college at about 2am in 11 Hilux vans when the pupils were already asleep.
They were said to have set locked hostels on fire, before shooting and slitting the throats of those who tried to climb out of the windows. Some were burnt alive.
A teacher, Adamu Garba, said he and some of his colleagues who ran away through the bush estimated that over 40 pupils died in the assault which bore the hallmarks of a similar one in September at an agriculture training college in the state.
Forty sleeping students lost their lives in the September attack on a series of hostels in the agriculture training college.
Before the Tuesday morning massacre, President Goodluck Jonathan, at a seminar on the ‘Imperativeness of the Observance of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Norms in Internal Security Operations’ in Abuja on Monday, appealed to Boko Haram terrorists to lay down their arms and embrace dialogue.
Jonathan had during the presidential media chat also on Monday, flayed the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, for saying that Boko Haram members were better equipped and motivated than the Nigerian troops deployed to flush them out from the North-East.
He defended the military’s record, saying it had recorded some successes against Boko Haram.
The President added that Nigeria was working with the Cameroonian authorities to prevent the militants from mounting attacks in Nigeria and then fleeing over the border.
Another teacher at the Federal Government College said the attackers first set ablaze the college administrative block and then moved to the hostels where they hurled explosives and fired guns into the rooms.
At one hostel, he said, ‘Pupils were trying to climb out of the windows but were caught and slaughtered like sheep by the terrorists. Some had their throats slit while others who ran were gunned down.”
A senior teacher in the school, Ibrahim Abdul, said that 11 pupils who were injured in the attack that lasted till 4am were taken to an undisclosed hospital for treatment.
He lamented that 40 houses, hostels, classrooms and staff quarters were burnt in the school.
The Yobe State Police Commissioner, Sanusi Rufai, who left Damaturu for Bunu Yadi, put the death toll at 29.
“Some of the students were burnt to ashes by the insurgents. From the information I got, no female pupil was killed. Only male pupils were killed ,” he told the Agence France Presse.
But a senior medical source at the Sani Abacha Specialist Hospital in Damaturu, said that bodies of 43 pupils had been counted.
“So far, 43 bodies have been brought (from the college) and are lying at the morgue,” said the source, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to discuss death toll.
The Spokesman for 3 Division, Special Operation Battalion, Lazarus Eli, said that operatives had been deployed in the area in pursuit of the attackers.
“Details are still sketchy due to lack of telephone access, and it is still not clear how many students were affected in the attack. But our men are down there in pursuit of the killers,” he added.
A Damaturu resident, Babagoni Musa, said that four ambulances carrying dead bodies drove past his shop, which falls on the road from Buni Yadi.
“They had tree branches on them which is a sign used here to signify a corpse is in a vehicle,” he said.
People whose relatives were studying at the college had surrounded the morgue and were desperately seeking information about those killed.
The governor of the state,Ibrahim Gaidam, who was apparently dumbfounded, made a promise of N100m to the victims and the repair of the damaged structures.
Geidam called on the military to change the tactics deployed to fight the insurgents in order to achieve success.
However, Jonathan on Tuesday, condemned the killings as callous and senseless.
He said in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, that he received the news with immense sadness and anguish.
The President extended condolences on behalf of himself and the Federal Government to the parents and relatives of the murdered pupils.
He promised that his administration would not relent in its anti-terrorism fight.
The statement reads, “The President wholly condemns the heinous, brutal and mindless killing of the guiltless students by deranged terrorists and fanatics who have clearly lost all human morality and descended to bestiality.
“He assures the nation that his administration will not relent in its ongoing efforts to end the scourge of terrorism in parts of the country which has sadly claimed more innocent lives today.
“The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies will continue to prosecute the war against terror with full vigour, diligence and determination until the dark cloud of mass murder and destruction of lives and property is permanently removed from our horizon.”
A former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, said he wept when he learnt of the killings of the pupils.
Abubakar, in a statement by his media office in Abuja, said that all the Federal Government had been doing about the security situation in the North-East amounted to chasing of shadows.
He frowned on the impression given by Jonathan on Monday that the government had been successful in pushing armed attacks to the fringes of the country.
The former Vice-President said, “My heartfelt condolences go to the families of the slain pupils. It is unfortunate that innocent schoolchildren will become victims of armed attacks.
“This will not be the first time in recent times that schoolchildren are being attacked, and it is particularly disheartening that the Federal Government has yet to devise a strategy of keeping our schools safe from terror attacks.
“If our counter-insurgency strategies are not strong enough to keep our children safe inside their schools, then one must wonder if they are not mere chasing shadows.
“It is important that the Federal Government ups its counter-insurgency strategy and desist from taking credits in pushing armed attacks to the fringes, as the President would like to put it. No Nigerian’s life is less in value to another.”