John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Unanswered Questions About Slaughter of Nigerian University Students

by John Campbell
October 3, 2012


There are more questions than answers about the atrocious murder of university students at Mubi in Adamawa state, northeastern Nigeria, on October 1, independence day. Even the number of victims is unclear, with estimates ranging from twenty-five to forty. Some apparently were shot, others butchered with knives, and mangled corpses were displayed along walls. Some victims were Christians, some Muslims. The Nigerian press reports that the murderers were dressed in military uniforms and called their victims by name. No organization has claimed responsibility for the slaughter. Boko Haram, the radical Islamic movement that is waging war on the Nigerian state, has been active in Adamawa–it destroyed communications towers there recently. But there has been no comment from any of its purported spokesmen.

Some of the Nigerian press speculates that, nevertheless, Boko Haram must have been behind the attack. The Nigerian military launched a crackdown on Boko Haram in Mubi last week, arresting 156 suspected members. Could the murders be retaliation? Other press, including the New York Times, suggest the context for the killings may have been a bitterly contested student election at one of the universities that pitted southern, Igbo candidates against northern candidates. (The former presumably were Christians while the latter may have been mostly Muslim.) There is a history of pogroms against Igbos in the northern half of the country—one was a precipitating factor to the outbreak of the civil war in 1967. Mubi was under a curfew at the time of the murders; under those circumstances, the military dress would have facilitated the murders’ movement. The uniforms also raise the question of whether some of the security forces may have been complicit in the murders.

As the graph above shows, violence in Adamawa has been ongoing. However, there has been virtually no reporting of it in the Western press until now. The state’s population is evenly divided among Christians and Muslims. Historically, Adamawa has not been a center of ethnic and religious conflict. Adamawa is not a Sharia state. It is not clear to me why the levels of violence have spiked periodically since Christmas 2011.

Three institutions are based in Mubi, which is near the Cameroonian border: the Federal Polytechnic, the School of Health Technology, and Adamawa State University. The murders took place at a privately-constructed student hostel occupied by students from all three. It is likely that the residence included students from all over Nigeria.

In the aftermath of the killings, the Federal Polytechnic has been closed and examinations postponed. There have been wholesale student departures from Mubi.

According to the Nigerian press, a government spokesman urged residents not to panic, and said that President Goodluck Jonathan “was doing enough to checkmate terrorism.” Nevertheless, the Mubi atrocity will feed a popular perception that the government can no longer ensure security in large parts of the country.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Chavuka

    Does Mubi have a history of extreme Students Union violence? No.

    So the Boko Haram thesis is the most plausible.

    Boko Haram is also yet to claim responsibility for the Church bombings at Bauchi.

  • Posted by katakori

    What happened in Mubi is a symptom of the wider prevailing practice of systematic killing of both christians and muslims across northern Nigeria. These atrocious acts include the attempt on the life of the Shehu of Borno, recent killing of a retired Controller- General of the Nigeria Prison Service, Jarman Katagum and attempted killing of Aminu Saleh retired Secretary to the Govt of the Federation all in Azare township.

    What you western scholars and analysts fail to factor in your analysis is that northern Nigeria has the numerical superiority to determine who can rule Nigeria in perpetuity. Now that power has “shifted” to the south, it is essential to southerners that the prevailing insecurity in the north is perpetuated to guarantee divisions among the northern electorate that will render their numerical superiority impotent, thereby enabling the continuation of political control at centre by southerners.

    Another critical omission in your analysis is the consequential justification of a so-called war against northern “terrorists” championed by a southern christian president. This scenario enhances legitimacy and support for a southern christian president from the western world, already traumatized and paranoid by its self-declared global frenzy amd hysteria over a war against terror.

    In the domestic context, the same scenario of fighting terror has availed a very welcome conduit and opportunity to southern criminal elites to plunder the national treasury of the whopping 2 trillion naira ostensibly budgeted for security that has continued to deteriorate and dimish at an exponential rate, comparable only to the inverse ratio of increase in security funds allocated and looted predominantly by the same criminal southern elements.

  • Posted by Chavuka

    Let me also add that Northern Nigeria isn’t know for campus cult violence, so this is most likely Boko Haram hitting back on “informants”.

    If anyone has a better theory, please let me know.

  • Posted by Chavuka


    “Northern Nigeria has the numerical superiority to determine who can rule Nigeria in perpetuity.”

    This is the kind of trash talk that promotes divisions among us.

    First, how does one define “Northern Nigeria”? Is the Middle Belt part of Northern Nigeria?

    Secondly. this is the kind of language that ensures the break up of Nigeria most non-Northern Nigerians don’t want to live in a Nigeria dominated by the North.

    Finally, “Northern numerical superiority” is a myth, no matter how who splice or dice it.

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