KANO, Nigeria—When there’s a break at Baba Alhamdu Secondary School, you know it. Students pour from narrow classroom doorways and flock to benches where they can talk beneath trees and out of the sun, kicking red dust from the schoolyard as they go.
Laughter and teasing are raucous as young men and women in blue-checked uniforms race to a wooden shanty selling warm sodas and fresh oranges. Students from a primary school on the same compound are at recess, competing for snacks and benches.
High-schoolers Amos Chetus and Victor Othniel, composition books tucked under their arms, pause when a visitor wants to take their photo, but they are in a hurry to make science class. “Did all your friends show up for classes today?” I ask. No, they say together, shaking their heads.
Beneath what looks like normal hubbub at Baba Alhamdu, these are no ordinary days. The school sits in the city center of Kano, where the terrorist group Boko Haram has struck repeatedly this year. City residents have been under a dusk-to-dawn curfew after the deadliest bombings Jan. 20 killed over 185.
The terrorist group has vowed to attack police, military, and Christian institutions. It has promised to kidnap Westerners—and has abducted a Brit, an Italian, and a German worker. Baba Alhamdu shares a walled compound with a medical clinic and one of the oldest churches in northern Nigeria, which began in 1933 under Sudan Interior Mission (SIM, now Serving In Mission). On the jihadi websites used by Boko Haram, the compound is named as a target.
Violence and the threats—including a Christmas Day bombing at a Catholic church that killed 44, and a January warning that all Christians should leave northern Nigeria—are taking a toll. There used to be 700 students at Baba Alhamdu, but attendance is down to just over 300. “Many are too afraid to come,” said vice principal Danjuma Alkali. “Some have left to go south or east, but most parents have a lot of business in Kano, so it’s a hardship to leave. Some parents died in the bombing—three at least, but it’s hard to get information with so many absent.”