By Ayo Kehinde
Parents cross checking the list of missing girls: AFP
The Federal Government has confirmed that 110 students of the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, are so far unaccounted for, after insurgents believed to be from a faction of Boko Haram invaded their school on Monday, February 19.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the figure after a meeting between a Federal Government delegation and representatives of key stakeholders, including the state government, the college, the parents, security agencies and Bursari local government, where Dapchi is situated, in Damaturu on Sunday.
He said, based on the briefings from the Principal of the College, Hajia Adama Abdulkarim, and the state Commissioner for Education, Hon. Mohammed Lamin, 906 students – out of whom 110 have not been accounted for – were in the school on the day of the attack.
Alhaji Mohammed also announced that the Federal Government has directed the police and civil defence authorities in Yobe State to immediately deploy their personnel to all the schools in the state in order to ensure the security and safety of the students and their staffers.
The Minister disclosed that the Federal Government has stepped up efforts to rescue the girls and return them safely to their parents, saying the security agencies are working on many leads regarding the whereabouts of the girls.
The Federal Government delegation, which comprised the Ministers of Information and Culture as well as that of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retired), held an enlarged meeting that was attended by Governor Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State; members of the state cabinet, the Principal and Vice Principal of the school, representatives of the parents of the missing girls and security agencies, among others.
Meanwhile, Governor Geidam and the Army have continued to trade blames on the sad incident. Geidam at the weekend accused the Army of withdrawing from the town before the attackers struck. Bu Col Onyeama disclosed that Dapchi town was handed over to the police following the return of peace and civil authority in the area.
“Contrary to the comments credited to Gov. Ibrahim Geidam, troops earlier deployed in Dapchi were redeployed to reinforce Kanama following attacks on troops’ location at the Nigerian – Nigerien border.
“This is on the premise that Dapchi has been relatively calm and peaceful, and the security of Dapchi was formally handed over to the Nigeria Police Division located in the town.
“Therefore, troops’ redeployment was done in tandem with the exigencies of operation as against the misconstrued notion.
“Several local councils and communities, hitherto, under siege by the insurgents, were liberated by troops who continue to trail and decimate remnants of the insurgents in the hinterlands, the security of such liberated communities and towns fall in the hands of the sister security agencies”.
The Yobe Government has been forced to apologise publicly for an inaccurate information it issued during the week, stating that 56 of the 111 school girls of Government Girls Technical College ,Dapchi, Yobe, kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram terrorists have been rescued. Gun wielding insurgents had raced into the school in Busari Local Government of the state on Monday and reportedly carted away the girls and food stuff before vanishing into thin air.
But emerging information shows the reports may be incorrect as the principal is said to have instructed the students to run into the surrounding bush on the approach of the terrorists. In the utter confusion that followed, the terrorists were able to herd the frightened girls into their trucks, pretending to be soldiers sent to help them. Villagers say the attackers, who missed their way to the school located along the main road leading to the town and had to force people to show them the school, had all the time in the world to get away with their plan as no security personnel- Soldiers, police or vigilante- were nowhere to be found.
That was why the state government had pounced on any information about the release of the girls which later turned out to be false.
Abdullahi Bego, Director-General, Press Affairs to Yobe Governor, who gave the apology on Thursday over the statement, said the source of the information was unreliable
“We issued the statement on the basis of information provided by one of the security agencies that is involved in the fight against Boko Haram and which we had no reason to doubt.’’
“We have now established that the information we relied on to make the statement was not credible. The Yobe State Government apologises for that.”
A mother crying for her missing daughter: Reuters
The government had been forced to quickly issue the statement as hopeful parents who had heard about the apology besieged the palace of the District Head in Dapchi on Thursday and wept unconsolably.
State governor Ibrahim Gaidam immediately directed the Ministry of Education to work with the security agencies, parents and the community to establish the actual number of the girls still unaccounted for.
Joined by Minster of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Gaidam who had initially kept mute on the whereabouts of the girls, when he met the wailing parents, had to solicit the assistance of the Minister to calm them.
He said “soldiers have been pursuing the insurgents, although they receive information that the Boko Haram insurgents had passed some areas, but the communities in the areas said they did not spot the girls along with the insurgents.”
He assured that government and security operatives would not rest on their oars until the missing girls were accounted for.
Mohammed had flown into Damaturu, the state capital on Thursday on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari. He was accompanied by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hajiya Khadijat Bukar-Ibrahim and the representative of the Minister of Defence
Second Federal delegation led by Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd) in dark cap and overalls Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, next, Governor Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State, security and state government personnel at the state House, Damaturu on Monday
The minister made the appeal while fielding questions from newsmen when he led Federal Government delegation to Dapchi on Thursday.
“We will need a few more days so we can give an exact figure of those missing. I was at Dapchi and I held meetings with the Governor of Yobe, the Commander of Operation Lafia Dole and the General Officer Commanding of the army formation in Damaturu.
“They confirmed that Boko Haram members came to town and the principal asked the students to leave the school but when the roll- call was conducted later, quite a number of pupils could not be accounted for.
The issue has divided the Senate with members either blaming the Federal Government over its pay-ransom-deal with Boko Haram to secure abducted Nigerians, particularly to secure the release of many missing Chibok Girls, (University of Maiduguri staff, police officers wives), whose school was befallen by almost a similar scenario on April 14, 2014, and others tasking the security personnel to do more. Collectively, they urged the government to “urgently rescue all the girls and not repeat the Chibok girls’ experience.”
According to Senator Joshua Lidani “It happened with the recent abduction of some University of Maiduguri members of staff. The government negotiated with them (insurgents) and they got money. Even on police officers’ wives, the Federal Government negotiated and gave them money.
“We need to be proactive in this case because the idea of sitting down and negotiating and paying ransom; we are empowering Boko Haram to continue to do more. This may not be the end of it because if they had abducted these girls, they would demand ransom and if the ransom is paid, they would continue to engage in this (abduction).”