Dapchi 5, lying six feet below

After the release of the abducted students of Government Science Technical Secondary School, Dapchi, five girls allegedly lost their lives during the kidnap. However, their identities and the way and manner they died remain in the realms of conjectures until last week when their names and how they lost their lives were made public as IBRAHEEM MUSA reports.

Last April, journalist cum activist Ahmad Salkida, an ‘expert’ on Boko Haram insurgency, made a startling revelation about the remaining Chibok girls. Salkida, in a series of Tweets, had claimed that only 15 out of the 113 captives are still alive, but the military has since denied the story. In April, 2014, 276 female students were abducted from Government Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno state. However, 163 have since been released, but 113 of them are still in captivity. And from Salkida’s claim, 98 of them have died, but he didn’t name names. Significantly, four years later, a similar incident occurred in neighbouring Yobe state.

On February 19, 2018, Boko Haram insurgents descended on Government Girls’ Science and Technical Secondary School Dapchi, a town in Bursari local government. Afterwards, they abducted 110 students, but barely one month later, 104 of them were released in an operation that as coordinated by the Directorate of State Security (DSS). Sadly, five of them had died during the kidnap but their names were never made public. Last week, the names of the deceased, the possible cause of their deaths and the underhand deals that preceded the survivors release were published.

Naming the late students

On Sunday last week, an Ibadan-based national newspaper reported that the deceased had died of heart attack and trauma-induced stress. In addition, it mentioned the names of Fatsuma Abubakar Jumbo, a 16-year-old; Falmata Mohammed, aged 14, and 16-year-old Falmata Alhaji Inuwa as some of the dead students. Similarly, the report listed Maimuna Adamu and Aisha Abubakar, aged 14 and 15, respectively, as two of the late Dapchi students. Specifically, the report quoted an online platform, Newsplus Views, as its source of information. However, the online new portal was more detailed in its expose.

The deceased, according to the report, were buried in unmarked graves and so far, no effort has been made to retrieve their corpses.
“Their parents, traumatised, were abandoned and no effort was made by the government to safeguard their emotional and psychological well being,” the report further said. In addition, NewsplusViews published pictures of Aisha Abubakar and Falmata Inuwa.

However, in spite of this, the Dapchi abduction and the subsequent allegations that followed, including payment of ransom and the release 0f Boko Haram commanders, have been swept under the carpet, the report further said. Significantly, from the outset, the Dapchi abduction saga has been full of denials, misinformation and half truths.

Missing or abducted?

Initially, there is confusion about whether the students have gone missing or were abducted by the insurgents. Reports, eye witnesses and parents all said that the students were abducted but security agents either kept mum or lived in denials. Specifically, a newspaper reported that Hajja Halima Karam, one of the abducted students, had escaped to safety, but official sources kept regurgitating their denial. The students, according to them, had disappeared into the bush to escape from the insurgents. In fact, Yobe state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Sumonu Abdullmaliki, was the foremost advocate of “no abduction took place.” In addition, the top cop claimed that no life was lost during the attack. Subsequently, these denials turned out to be false as the federal government owned up to the sordid events.

Conflicting figures

Significantly, another source of confusion was the number of missing students, as bandied by both the police and Yobe state government. Specifically, the police had claimed that only 30 out of the total 906 students at the school could not be located, while Yobe government said 50 girls were missing. Categorically, the state Police chief claimed that he had gone to the school on assessment. However, events proved both the police and state government wrong.

Claims and counter-claims

Similarly, the Dapchi girls’ saga was marked by claims and denials. In a press release, Yobe state government had claimed, a day after the kidnap, that some of the girls had been rescued by the Army. According to a statement, the freed students were in army custody. However, a day after statement, the Defence Headquarters said that it has no such information. In particular, spokesman Brigadier-General John Agim said that the military cannot confirm whether or not some of the students had been rescued. Two days later, the state government recanted its earlier statement, offered apologies and gave clarifications. According to them, the earlier information was not credible.

Senate blasts FG

At time, the Senate criticised the federal and state governments, as well as security agencies, for the slip-shod manner it handled the abduction. In fact, the lawmakers said that the concerned authorities had learnt no lesson from the Chibok abduction of 2014. In a motion sponsored by Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim (APC, Yobe East), through Orders 42 and 52 of the Standing Rules, the lawmaker had decried the uncertainty of the whole situation. According to him, “nobody can categorically say or conclude now that the still missing 46 students of the school were abducted by the attackers or still trapped where they ran to, but the problem of such attacks need to be critically looked into, to save the lives of school children generally and sustain their interest in education.

Contributing to the motion, Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North), the Senate Leader, wondered what had happened to the ‘Save the school project’ that was put in place in the Boko Haram prone areas of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states after the Chibok girls experience. He said “while the Yobe state government has spent over N16 billion on protection of schools, the federal government, based on statistics on ground, is not doing the needful.”

However, another senator from the state, Mohammed Hassan (PDP, Yobe South), disagreed with the Senate leader, saying the state government, through the Education Ministry, has not been forthcoming with required information. In his contribution, Senator Joshua Lidani (PDP, Gombe South), said such attacks shouldn’t have taken relevant authorities unawares, more so with the very sad Chibok girls experience in 2014.

“The unfortunate thing is that rather than the government, through the various security agencies, rising up to the challenge over the years, schools in the area are still very vulnerable to attacks with attendant abduction of pupils especially girls,” he had said .

According to Lidani, government should “devise means of proactively repelling such attacks glaringly being used by the insurgents for negotiation purposes, as seen with the Chibok girls, the abducted lecturers from University of Maiduguri, Police officers wives, etc.”

In his remarks, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, said the repeated incidences make stronger case for different levels of policing in the country. “The clear message from all these embarrassing incidences is that our security architecture is failing on the face of the security challenges at hand, hence the need for another level of policing in form of state police,” he said.

FG dispatches ministers to Dapchi

A few days later, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the military and other security agencies to take charge of Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi. According to Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information, Buhari also directed he and the Minister of Defence, retired General Mansur Dan-Ali and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, to proceed to Yobe state on a fact-finding assignment. Similarly, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam visited the school and gave assurances, pledging that the girls will be found. However, rather than assuage them, the governor’s assurance had provoked the people of Dapchi. According to reports, they set up barricades and burnt tyres in the streets as well as hurled missiles at the governor’s convoy, smashing some windscreens in the process. They accused the military and Yobe State government of telling lies about the rescue operation. Earlier, youths, women and parents of the abducted schoolgirls had embarked on peaceful demonstration before the arrival of the governor.

Lost, but found

On March 19, it was celebrations galore when the Dapchi students were released from captivity as parents, the school authorities and the federal as well as Yobe state governments heaved a sigh of relief. Specifically, the freed girls were first assembled at the Nigerian Air Force Base in Maiduguri before they were handed over to the federal government. In particular, the Theatre Commander of “Operation Lafiya Dole,” Maj.-Gen. Rogers Nicholas personally presented the released girls to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, including their parents and guardians. Similarly, the Minister of Interior, retired General Abdulrahman Dambazau; his Foreign Affairs counterpart, Minister of State Khadija Bukar-Abba and Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen.Tukur Buratai, were at the hand-over event.

Two days later, President Buhari received the freed students at Aso Rock, where he warned security agencies against a repeat of such abductions. According to him, they will be held responsible for any such incident. In addition, Buhari directed that security should be beefed up around schools in the violence-ridden North-east, especially to ensure the safety of both students and their teachers. The president also thanked international partners and all who collaborated with Nigeria during the negotiation process. Specifically, he claimed that the girls were released unconditionally as the students regained their freedom through negotiations with their abductors.

Speaking at the event, the Director General of DSS, Malam Lawal Daura, said six of the abducted girls still remained unaccounted for. However, he pledged that dialogue for their release was still ongoing. Narrating how the students were released, the DSS boss said that they acted on Buhari’s directive, by employing peaceful strategy. This strategy, according to him, entailed iintense dialogue which was arduous and challenging. In this regard, a number of hiccups were encountered during the process made the negotiation complex and complicated. Consequently, the negotiation was far reaching and comprehensive as it included: discussing the fate of arrested terrorists and other Boko Haram captives as well as the possibility of granting amnesty to repentant terrorists.

Did money change hands?

However, in spite of government’s claim, it was alleged that ransom was paid to secure the girls’ release. According to the BBC, 2 million of Euros was given to the insurgents and in addition, five senior Boko Hram commanders were released in exchange for the Dapchi students’ freedom. In the same vein, The Telegraph of United Kingdom, stated that the way and manner the insurgents dropped off the ‘’school girls unopposed by Nigerian defence forces raised concerns that a cash deal had been struck between the government and terrorists.” Similarly, Mr. Mba Ekpezu Ukweni, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had made the same claim.

Last Monday, an Auja-based newspaper also alleged that millions of Euros earmarked for the ransom payment to secure the release of other Boko Haram captives, including the rest Chibok girls, have been diverted to private bank accounts. According to the report, a bank in the Swiss-German principality of Liechtenstein was allegedly used to warehouse the funds. The deal involved a top Nigerian security chief with an array of accomplices, including a Swiss with dual nationality, a Nigerian/British citizen and an Israeli with German nationality.

Significantly, President Buhari had vowed to deal with anyone who politicises the nation’s security. However, in the cloak-and-dagger world of security operations, those who allegedly diverted milions for rescue missions may not be caught, let alone dealt wit

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