The gunmen who killed at least 46 people in Nigeria’s northwestern town of Mubi on Monday (Oct. 1) first asked them if they were Christians before shooting or knifing them, according to students who escaped the carnage.
Two students from the off-campus housing site in the Mubi suburb of Wuro Fatuje, Adamawa state, where the massacre took place, told Morning Star News that the assailants were ethnic Hausa Muslims who shouted “Allahu Akbar [Allah is greater]” as they shot or stabbed hostel residents. One of the students said the assailants also torched a church building in nearby Tudun Wada the same night.
The students speculated that non-Christian victims among the dead were killed by mistake or suspected of collaborating with security agency raids in Mubi last month that resulted in the round-up of 156 members of Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and the death of one of its leaders.
The gunmen invaded the off-campus housing site serving three Mubi schools – Federal Polytechnic, School of Health Technology and Adamawa State University – at about 10 p.m., “forcing into students’ rooms and asking those they identified as Christians to recant their Christian faith,” said one of the students residing at the site. “Those who refused to do so were either shot or had their throats cut with knives.”
The Christian student of business and management at the Federal Polytechnic, like two other students who said Christians were targeted, has left the area and was willing to have his name published, but it is withheld as Boko Haram has extensive networks throughout the country. He said by phone that his escape was nothing short of miraculous.
“When they entered my hostel’s compound, they were knocking on our doors one after the other. They were asking students, ‘What is your name?’” he said. “Each time we heard them asking, and the next thing we would hear was gunshot. They moved from one room to another, knocking on the door and shouting in Hausa and English. They were asking us to open the door.”
When they reached his room, he said, he did not open the door.
“I remained in prayer, until they left my door to the other rooms,” he said. “I didn’t know what made them not to break into my room as they did to other students living in the hostel. When I came out later, I was still hearing gunshots and the wailing of students who were being killed in other compounds. It was a horrible scene. I counted five bodies in my compound.”
Another business/management student at the Polytechnic also residing at the housing site corroborated the account of the other student.
“The gunmen were asking students if they were Christians or Muslims, and then asked Christian victims to deny Christ,” the student said. “Christian students who refused to do so were killed by the gunmen instantly.”
He added that the attackers also set fire to a Pentecostal church in Tudun Wada.
“I learned that the Redeemed Christian Church in Tudun Wada was also burnt down when the attackers visited the area,” he said.
The students’ accounts may contradict or complement Polytechnic and Red Cross officials’ statements that the gunmen arrived at the off-campus housing site and fired indiscriminately at residents for about an hour.
At least 26 students from the Federal Polytechnic were killed in the attack, while another 20 victims were students at the Adamawa State University and the School of Health Technology, also in Mubi, according to a student tally based on school official statements.
An unknown number of wounded students, some of them in critical condition, were being treated at General Hospital in Mubi.
The three schools have closed, creating difficulties in obtaining more information, but among Christian students killed were Chimonbi Festus, Lucky Emmanuel, Ishaku Ibrahim, John Kingsley and Charles Chikodi, sources said. Baba Karewa, dean of student affairs at the Polytechnic, said the institution will remain closed down indefinitely.
Elias Pwanidi, president of the polytechnic’s Student Union Government, told Morning Star News by phone that 46 bodies had been recovered and transferred to the Mubi General Hospital Morgue. Pwanidi, who resided on campus, said he had heard that the assailants asked the students about their names and religion.
A week before the massacre, officials announced that Nigerian security agents had carried out a massive search among houses in Mubi, arresting 156 members of the Boko Haram group that has terrorized Christians in the area for months. A Boko Haram bomb manufacturing plant was discovered, and the military recovered a cache of arms and Improvised Explosive Devices. A Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Yola, known to area Muslims as Abu Jihad, was killed.
Adamawa police officials, however, stated that only 25 students were killed, and that student union politics was suspected as a motive for the attack.
“Our men have recovered 25 dead bodies from the students’ rooms, and we suspect that there may be some students involved in the attack as there was a student union election a week earlier,” said Ibrahim Mohammed, a spokesman for the Adamawa State Police Command in Yola. “It is possible this may be a reason for the attack, but we are still investigating the incident.”
The attack follows earlier murders of Christians in the town. In January, 13 Christians holding a town hall fellowship in Mubi were killed. Local police blamed the killings on Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin.”
Boko Haram has been blamed for the deaths of more than 1,400 people since 2010, according to the BBC. The Islamist sect has targeted churches, state offices, law enforcement sites and some moderate mosques in its effort to destabilize the government and impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million and live mainly in the south, while Muslims account for 45 percent and live mainly in the north. But those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.
Dr. Reuben Abati, special adviser on media and publicity to Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan said in a press statement that the Mubi killings were tragic, sad, barbaric and shocking.
“The president has directed security agencies to investigate the matter and get to the root, because this kind of incident, where people are called out and shot, is really shocking,” the statement reads.