FOTOKOL, Cameroon : Stray bullets regularly whizz through the courtyard of the Fotokol highschool in northern Cameroon, a terrifying reminder of the Boko Haram gunmen carrying out deadly raids just across the border with Nigeria.
Their insides cramped with fear, pupils’ eyes dart from their teacher towards the windows during class, unable to concentrate on their lessons. ‘We have a phobia, the danger is always there,’ said Boris Bouba, a 20-year-old student at the school.
‘When we are in class, we are always keeping watch on the windows. We can never fully concentrate because we are afraid.’
As the school year wraps up, pupils gathering in the tree-lined courtyard appear impatient to get their reports and leave as soon as possible. ‘We are always on the alert,’ school headmaster Jean Felix Nyioto told AFP, seated behind his desk in a cramped office.
‘At any moment gunfire crackles on the other side, but also from time to time here’ in Fotokol. The other side refers to Gamboru, a Nigerian village descended upon by swarms of Boko Haram fighters in May. The extremists opened fire on residents in an attack which local sources say left at least 300 people dead. The Fotokol highschool is just 300 metres (nearly 1,000 feet) away from Gamboru, separated by only a small river.
However there is no fence or security for the nearly 600 uniformed youngsters who file into its classrooms every day. His expression taut, Nyioto describes how bullets from Gamboru regularly zing through the highschool, and mortar shells fall nearby.
However the headmaster is currently more anxious about flyers that recently appeared on the streets of Fotokol, threatening direct attacks on the school and its teachers. ‘Boko Haram has threatened to burn down the school, customs and government buildings. We are so scared of being targeted,’ said another student, Ali Abba. Boko Haram, which has been waging a violent insurgency in Nigeria’s north since 2009, loosely translates as ‘Western education is forbidden’.