— Parents head to forest for daughters
— Why we erred, by Defence HQ
Sadiq Abubakar, Maiduguri, and Jibrin Baba Ndace
The principal of Government Girls College, Chibok, yesterday said that a claim by the military that it rescued 121 out of the 129 female students of the school abducted by insurgents on Monday night in Borno state was “not true.”
Mrs. Asabe Kwambura said apart from the 14 students reported to have escaped from their Boko Haram kidnappers, she was not aware that any of the other girls was released.
The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Major General Chris Olukolade, had said that the girls were rescued on Wednesday in a search and rescue operation to free them.
“Troops pursuing the terrorists closed in on the den of those believed to have carried out the attack,” he had said, adding, “With this development, the principal of the school confirmed that only eight of the students are still missing.”
The school principal, however, told the BBC Hausa Service that she did not have any discussion with Gen. Olukolade and that neither she nor the girls’ parents had seen any of the students back in school or home.
She added that she was in constant touch with the Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima, the district head of Chibok and some of the parents of the abducted schoolgirls, pointing out that at a period like this, people needed to be honest and sincere as well as tell the truth.
The military’s spokesman had also said that the soldiers had released the freed students to the school principal.
Mrs Kwambura, however, said nothing like that happened as no student was released to her by the military or the parents, saying she had been in the school waiting for word.
She said she had not told anyone that the girls had been released.
One of the parents told the BBC: “We were disappointed with the statement coming from the Defence Headquarters spokesman that the girls were rescued. Our children are still in the forest and if the military has failed, we will go after the insurgents ourselves even if it means sacrificing our lives.”
It would be recalled that Governor Shettima told reporters on Wednesday that 14 students had so far escaped from the Boko Haram stronghold.
He pleged a N50 million cash gift to anyone who produced information which could lead to the release of the students.
Our correspondent reports that parents thronged the school premises yesterday when news broke that almost all the students had been freed, only to be told that the story was false.
Many of the parents cried uncontrollably when their hopes were dashed and could not come to terms with the reality.
The BBC also reported that parents of some of the girls have headed into the forest in a desperate search for their daughters.
It said a group of parents have raised money to buy fuel and water, and have headed into the forest with a local vigilante group to search for the girls.
It is an extremely dangerous mission, the BBC’s Will Ross in Lagos reports. The well-armed Boko Haram fighters have killed hundreds of civilians this year, slitting the throats of many of their victims, he said. One father told the BBC he was willing to die in the forest in the attempt to free his daughter.
The air force, army, police, local defence units and volunteers have all been involved in the search for the schoolgirls.
Correspondents said the raid on the boarding school is a great source of embarrassment for the Nigerian authorities, who have been saying that their military campaign against the militants is succeeding.
Meanwhile, the Borno state government has corroborated the stand of the school principal on the issue of the missing girls.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, the state Commissioner for Education, Alhaji Musa Inuwa Kubo, said: “I’m right at Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, the scene of the unfortunate abduction. At the moment we have taken custody of thirty girls out of those abducted.
“There is an increase of sixteen 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 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 fourteen 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. Myself, the principal of the school, Asabe Kwambura, parents, other students and residents are awaiting the return of our students.
“We have no reason to doubt or contradict Wednesday’s announcement by the Defence Headquarters, given the fact that the military personnel are those leading the search and rescue operations along with civilian volunteers.
“We are very hopeful that perhaps the freed students are safely with the military and being brought to us. We pray that not just all our students return in good health but also all the security agents and volunteers safely return in good health after a successful and patriotic rescue effort.
“We call on parents to remain prayerful and hopeful that by the grace of God all the students will return to us in good health.
“On behalf of the Borno state government, my ministry, staff and students of the affected school, parents and relations of affected students, I deeply appreciate the concern of all Nigerians and rest of the world for their solidarity and well wishes. I also thank the media for their very critical role as we look forward to overcoming this grieving experience.”
The military yesterday admitted that its earlier report was indeed incorrect.
In a press release, Gen. Olukolade said: “The controversy that has been generated around the efforts at securing the lives of the abducted students of Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok is unfortunate.
“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.”