99 girls miss­ing – Borno of­fi­cial

Army backpedals, says no stu­dent res­cued Par­ents head to Boko Haram en­claves

Daily Trust - - FRONT PAGE - From Hamza Idris (Maiduguri), Ron­ald Mu­tum & Ibrahim Kabiru Sule (Abuja)

Mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties last night ad­mit­ted that none of the ab­ducted Borno school­girls had been res­cued, a day af­ter claim­ing that troops had freed all but 8 of the 129 stu­dents.

The re­cant came hours af­ter the prin­ci­pal of the Govern­ment Girls Sec­ondary School Chi­bok spoke and de­nied the claims by the De­fence Head­quar­ters in Abuja on Wed­nes­day evening.

Fol­low­ing the prin­ci­pal’s de­nial, the Borno State Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner said a to­tal of 30 stu­dents had so far been lo­cated, leav­ing 99 still miss­ing.

The school­girls were taken from their hos­tel by sus­pected Boko Haram gun­men on Mon­day night.

The school prin­ci­pal, Mrs As­abe Kwambura, told Daily Trust by tele­phone yes­ter­day morn­ing that other than the 14 stu­dents who es­caped on the night of the at­tack, no more girls had been found.

“There is noth­ing in the mil­i­tary state­ment that is true about our ab­ducted girls. Up till now we are still wait­ing and pray­ing for the safe re­turn of the stu­dents,” she said.

“All I know is that we have only 14 of them, and the se­cu­rity people es­pe­cially the vig­i­lante and the well-mean­ing vol­un­teers of Gwoza are still out search­ing for them. The mil­i­tary people too are in the bush search­ing.

“So we have not re­ceived any in­for­ma­tion that they have got­ten the stu­dents yet. So let it be clear that all the in­for­ma­tion passed on the me­dia by the mil­i­tary con­cern­ing 107 girls is not true.”

In a state­ment Wed­nes­day evening, spokesman for the De­fence Head­quar­ters Ma­jor Gen­eral Chris Oluko­lade said the prin­ci­pal had con­firmed that only 8 of the ab­ducted stu­dents re­mained to be found.

But Mrs Kwambura said yes­ter­day: “I, as the prin­ci­pal, did not tell any­body any fig­ure on re­leased stu­dents other than what our Gover­nor, His Ex­cel­lency Kashim Shet­tima, had in­formed the me­dia.

“A mil­i­tary of­fi­cial called me from Abuja and I told him that I don’t want to be seen to be con­tra­dict­ing my­self on that be­cause what the gover­nor had said was what we know about.”

The GGSS Chi­bok prin­ci­pal spoke to Daily Trust in the morn­ing. Later in the evening, Borno State Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Musa Inuwa Kubo is­sued a sep­a­rate state­ment say­ing 16 more miss­ing stu­dents were found and the to­tal of those yet to be seen stood at 99.

He said, “At the mo­ment we have taken cus­tody of 30 girls. There is an in­crease of 16 stu­dents whose par­ents re­turned them to school af­ter they ran home on the day of the at­tack.

“We had made an­nounce­ments and called on par­ents whose chil­dren and wards ran to home. The aim is for us to take proper ac­count of our 129 stu­dents who were at the hos­tel on the day of that un­for­tu­nate at­tack. You may re­call that 14 stu­dents had ear­lier es­caped from cap­tiv­ity as ex­plained by our Gover­nor Kashim Shet­tima on Wed­nes­day.

“By our records of 129 stu­dents be­ing at the hos­tel at the time of that un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dent, we are ex­pect­ing the re­turn of about 99 stu­dents who might be among those said to have been res­cued by the Mil­i­tary.”

DHQ back­tracks

Later last night, the Di­rec­tor of De­fence In­for­ma­tion Ma­jor-Gen­eral Chris Oluko­lade is­sued a state­ment ex­plain­ing the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the con­tro­versy over the claimed res­cue of ab­ducted girls.

He said, “The on­go­ing fran­tic ef­forts of se­cu­rity forces along with vig­i­lante groups in­clud­ing hunters work­ing to lo­cate and free the ab­ducted stu­dents have con­tin­ued to be keenly mon­i­tored at the Oper­a­tion Cen­tre of the De­fence and Army Head­quar­ters as reg­u­lar progress re­ports are be­ing re­ceived from troops on the ground.

“In this re­gard, a re­port was filed in from the field in­di­cat­ing that a ma­jor break­through had been recorded in the search. There was no rea­son to doubt this of­fi­cial chan­nel, hence the in­for­ma­tion was re­leased to the pub­lic im­me­di­ately.

“Sur­pris­ingly how­ever, the school prin­ci­pal, one of the sources quoted in the re­port has de­nied all that was at­trib­uted to her for what­ever rea­sons. This is an un­for­tu­nate de­vel­op­ment in­deed, yet the De­fence Head­quar­ters would not want to join is­sues with any­one.

“It has to be reaf­firmed how­ever, that the re­port for­warded to the pub­lic on this is­sue was in good faith and not in­tended to de­ceive the pub­lic as is be­ing in­ter­preted fol­low­ing the de­nials by the School prin­ci­pal and Govern­ment of Borno State.

“Like all other cit­i­zens, the mil­i­tary is deeply con­cerned to en­sure that the stu­dents are safe and freed alive. There is in­deed no rea­son to play pol­i­tics with the pre­cious lives of the stu­dents. The num­ber of those still miss­ing is not the is­sue now as the life of ev­ery Nige­rian is very pre­cious.

“In the light of the de­nial by the prin­ci­pal of the school, the De­fence Head­quar­ters wishes to de­fer to the school prin­ci­pal and Gover­nor’s state­ment on the num­ber of stu­dents still miss­ing and re­tract that as­pect of ear­lier state­ment while the search continues.”

Par­ents head to B/Haram en­claves

Mean­while, par­ents of the teenage girls have joined the search ef­forts into the dreaded Sam­bisa For­est to try to find their daugh­ters.

One of the par­ents told the BBC Hausa ra­dio that each of them con­trib­uted N13,500, which they gave to the lo­cal vig­i­lantes.

“Male par­ents have gone into the Sam­bisa for­est, be­cause we are tired of what we are hear­ing from govern­ment. And then this morn­ing we heard govern­ment is say­ing they res­cued our daugh­ters. That is why we said we would do the search our­selves,” the man said.

“The pain is too much for us. As I am speak­ing to you now, I will join them in the bush as soon as I fin­ish this in­ter­view.”

Se­cu­rity sources told Daily Trust yes­ter­day that the ab­ducted stu­dents were yet to be found be­cause troops on res­cue mis­sion around the Sam­bisa For­est could not get deep into the bushes be­cause of the dif­fi­cult ter­rain.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cers han­dling the res­cue mis­sion are also “map­ping out strat­egy to avoid be­ing am­bushed,” a source said.

Our cor­re­spon­dent gath­ered that hun­dreds of troops have been de­ployed from var­i­ous fronts around Kon­duga, Bama and Dam­boa in cen­tral part of Borno State, as well as Gwoza and Chi­bok in the south­ern part in or­der to achieve “co­or­di­nated on­slaught with min­i­mum risk.”

Other sources said the in­sur­gents may be us­ing the girls as “hu­man shield or war brides,” stress­ing that it will re­quire a lot of strat­egy to free the stu­dents with­out al­low­ing them to be harmed by the in­sur­gents or killed dur­ing con­fronta­tion.

Calls for de­ci­sive ac­tion

Al­haji Ahmed Ashemi, the pioneer chair­man of Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP) in Borno State, said the Federal Govern­ment must or­gan­ise spe­cial mil­i­tary task force that would also in­clude col­lab­o­ra­tion with neigh­bor­ing coun­tries and lo­cal hunters to res­cue the girls.

“The Boko Haram in­sur­gents do not lis­ten to plea and the fact is that they have reached the ex­treme. We must sal­vage the dig­nity of these girls be­fore it is too late. Let Nigeria set aside its pride as the gi­ant of Africa and seek as­sis­tance be­cause from all in­di­ca­tions, our se­cu­rity agencies need se­ri­ous help,” he said.

Ha­jiya Fal­mata Us­man, a mother of five, said those mis­lead­ing Nige­ri­ans must be made to ac­count for their ac­tions.

“The Pres­i­dent should also re­lo­cate to Borno im­me­di­ately and see to the re­lease of these girls. The in­sur­gents are in Sam­bisa and not Cameroon. Don’t we have satel­lite im­ages? Don’t we have fighter jets? Don’t we have enough troops to cor­don the whole of south­ern Borno and save these young girls?” She asked.

Janet Abu, a stu­dent in Maiduguri, said they de­serve an apol­ogy from Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties.

“I doubt much if I would pass my fi­na­lyear ex­ams be­cause my mind is with my ab­ducted sis­ters...this is some­thing that can also hap­pen to me. If it is true that the girls have been freed, we want the mil­i­tary to show them on tele­vi­sion; we want to hear their voices,” she said.

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