Part I: “We Will Not Stop Coming”
Boko Haram has staged hundreds of shooting rampages and suicide bombings at schools across northeastern Nigeria. The stories in this three-part series are those of the survivors. Words, images, design, and video by Rahima Gambo.
The school day in Maiduguri, Nigeria, begins at 7:30 a.m. At the entrance gate of Shehu Sanda Kyarimi Government School, a teenage boy stands with a metal detector in his hand, running it over fellow students’ bags and clothing to check for explosives. In their white-and-red uniforms, the students form two snaking lines, one for boys and the other for girls. With 2,800 pupils and a single gate, a bottleneck inevitably forms. Yet no skips or shortcuts are allowed.
According to UNICEF, one in five suicide bombers for Boko Haram, the notorious terrorist group ravaging northeastern Nigeria, is a child. Explosives are strapped to tender young flesh and sent to wreak fatal havoc in crowded places, including schools. In 2015, Boko Haram carried out more than 150 suicide attacks. Shehu Sanda Kyarimi is taking no risks.
As students trickle through the gate, a teacher shouts orders about morning duties in rapid Hausa, the local language. A few boys pick up stick brooms and start sweeping the school’s property in the lackadaisical way teenagers do when forced to perform a task they don’t like. The dust and heat of the morning form a yellow haze that blankets everything in sight: the U-shaped, single-story classroom blocks, the spacious courtyard that they hug, and the students loitering around the edges.
Four years ago, on an unassuming morning just like this one, disaster struck. On March 18, 2013, six Boko Haram gunmen stormed into the school’s courtyard firing bullets in every direction. A teacher and student were killed; three other pupils were injured. Shehu Sanda Kyarimi was one of three schools in Maiduguri attacked that day.
“We were running against the wall,” Zara Bashir, 18, says of being trapped in the courtyard with her terrified peers. She speaks quietly, her kohl-lined eyes looking downward and rarely meeting mine.
“After that,” she adds, “we stayed at home.”