The claim by the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) that the military had secured the release of 107 schoolgirls who were abducted by members of Boko Haram has been disputed by the Borno State Government and the Principal of Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Mrs. Asabe Kwambura.
One hundred and twenty nine girls were kidnapped from the school on Monday night by suspected members of the dreaded sect. However, 14 of the students were able to escape when one of the trucks in which they were being carted away broke down.
But as Nigerians and the rest of the world pondered their fate and prayed for their safe return, the DHQ on Wednesday announced that the military had secured the release of 107 girls from their abductors and even arrested one of them.
It added that the manhunt was still ongoing for the eight remaining girls.
But Thursday, the military’s statement about the true fate of the girls was shown to be false, when a Borno State Government official who spoke to THISDAY and the principal of the college dismissed the claim by DHQ.
Speaking on the BBC Hausa Service monitored in Maiduguri, Kwambura said other than the 14 students who escaped from the hold of the Boko Haram insurgents who abducted them from her school on Monday night, she was not aware that others had been released.
She added that she had not held any discussion with DHQ spokesman, Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade, who claimed otherwise.
Olukolade in his statement on Wednesday had said 129 students were kidnapped from the school and had also claimed to be in touch with the principal.
The defence ministry spokesman had said the soldiers, who after rescuing the students, had released them to their principal.
But Kwambura in the BBC interview said nothing like that had happened, as none of the students was released to her by the military.
The principal said nothing could be further from the truth than the information given by the DHQ, stressing that she had not told anyone, let alone the military, that most of the girls had been released except eight.
She said the statement of the military was “a blatant lie, I have not spoken to the Defence Headquarters spokesman”.
She maintained that only the 14 students who escaped from the hold of Boko Haram had been freed.
It was also gathered that parents on hearing the news from DHQ that almost all the students had been freed, had thronged the school expecting to take their daughters home only to be told that the girls had not been rescued.
Sources said most parents wept uncontrollably at having their hopes dashed and could not come to terms with the misinformation from the military hierarchy.
One of the girls’ parents, who spoke on the BBC also said: “We were disappointed with the statement coming from the Defence Headquarters’ spokesman that the girls were rescued. Our children are still in the bush and if the military has failed, we will go after the insurgents ourselves even if it means sacrificing our lives.”
Similarly, a Borno State government official, who preferred to remain unnamed, said as far as they were concerned, only 14 of the girls who managed to escape from their abductors were returned to the secondary school and had been reunited with their parents.
“Other parents and the principal of the college,” he told THISDAY, “have been waiting anxiously for the other girls claimed to have been freed by the military, but had not been brought back to the school.”
He said it would be very unfortunate if the military was lying about something as sensitive as the whereabouts of over 100 missing girls, adding: “This is something that cannot be hidden and will be very shameful.”
To buttress the position of the Borno State government and the principal, the state Commissioner for Education, Alhaji Musa Inuwa Kubo, gave an update on the true status on the abducted girls, stating that 16 more girls had been brought to the school by their parents, bringing the number of girls who had been found to 30.
In a statement issued yesterday from the school premises, he said: “I’m right now at Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, the scene of the unfortunate abduction. At the moment, we have taken custody of 30 girls out of those abducted.
“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 home to bring their wards back for proper enumeration.
“The aim is for us to take a 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 the 129 students 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 DHQ retracted its statement last night on the girls it had claimed the military saved from their abductors.
In a statement issued by Olukolade, DHQ 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 the earlier statement while the search continues.”