The University of Maiduguri, the largest university in the northeastern Borno state that has defiantly stayed open even at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency, has been bombed.
Two bomb blasts occurred in the early hours of today (Jan. 16) at the school mosque and close to one of the university entrances, according to local media. Sani Datti, head of media and public relations at Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), says that a total of four people, including the two bombers, were killed with another 17 injured. More are feared dead.
The attack comes barely a month after Nigeria’s president Buhari declared the “final crushing of Boko Haram.” The group often does not claim responsibility for bombings, but NEMA says the attacks were suicide bombings—a typical Boko Haram strategy.
The attack on the university would be a significant strike for Boko Haram. Since the insurgency began seven years ago in Borno state, the University of Maiduguri remained open, providing over 25,000 students with education as well as refuge. Students described it as the safest place in the state during the peak of the insurgency. Given the group’s long-standing rejection of Western-styled education, it’s likely the university has been a long-term target.
Over the last year, Boko Haram has been pushed out of the swathes of territory it once controlled in the northeast, allowing for some normalcy to return. Students are going back to school, and the property market in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, is now one of the fastest growing in the country. Given Boko Haram’s modus operandi of radicalizing uneducated and unemployed youths, institutions like the University of Maiduguri play a crucial role in Nigeria’s continued fight against the group.
The blasts are also a setback for Nigeria’s army, led by Tukur Yusuf Buratai, chief of army staff, and an alumni of the University of Maiduguri. After the Nigerian army took over Boko Haram’s final stronghold in the sect’s Sambisa forest base last month, president Buhari claimed the terrorists “no longer have a place to hide.” But the attack suggests that the group still retains the ability to plan and execute attacks.