By Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri
April 15, 2014 will ever remain fresh in the minds of the people of Chibok in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State as a result of Boko Haram insurgents invasion of the Government Girls Secondary School in the town in the process of which scores of school girls writing their Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (SSCE) were abducted.
Borno State Governor put the number of the abducted at about 50. But locals said they were over 100.The gunmen laid ambush to the town killing two security personnel suspected to be a soldier and a policeman before they abducted the girls. It was gathered that the gunmen, numbering over 100 and operating on motorcycles and Hilux vehicles, stormed the council’s headquarters at about 9 p.m. on Monday, had a field day as they did not leave until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday.
An eye witness said, “Apart from the abduction of the female students, the gunmen also carted away foodstuff, before setting many residential houses and shops ablaze”.
A resident of Chibok, who escaped the attack, Mr. Nuhu Amos, in a telephone chat with our correspondent, said, “The gunmen, armed with AK47 rifles, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and petrol bombs, stormed Chibok on Monday evening and shot two security personnel, before abducting the school girls. They also set some houses and shops ablaze.
“The attackers did not kill any resident, they only shot two security operatives before carting away foodstuff into the Sambisa forest”.
He narrated further: “I also learnt that out of about 150 female students writing their SSCE, some escaped into the bush, while about 100 were abducted and whisked away by the attackers using a 911 truck/lorry parked and abandoned by its driver who was heading to Maiduguri, the state capital.
“Prior to this incident, gunmen had attacked Chibok about three times without success. But this time, they were able to accomplish their mission. They arrived Chibok around 9 p.m. and had a field day, leaving about 3 a.m. on Tuesday”.
Another resident, who did not want his name mentioned for security reasons, said, “Seven of my children including those of my elder brother and sister who are writing the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (SSCE) in the affected school are still missing. I don’t know whether they were abducted or amongst those who escaped into the bush”.
Borno State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Gideon Jubrin, confirmed the attack, but said, he was yet to get details.
“Yes, there was an attack in Chibok on Monday evening and lasted till Tuesday at about 3am suspected to have been carried out by members of Boko Haram. We are yet to get details”, Gideon said
However, on Monday, three days after the mass kidnap, which sparked global outrage, the. Defence Headquarters (DHQ) in Abuja said about 80 of the students had been rescued while Governor Kashim Shettima, also same day, disclosed to journalists that only 14 of the abducted girls had been rescued and reunited with their parents, pledging to give N50 million reward to anybody with information on the whereabouts of the other abducted school girls.
The DHQ spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Olukolade, said that all but eight of the girls were safe, citing information provided by the school’s principal, but families of the girls, on Thursday contested the claim.
Likewise, Borno State Commissioner for Education, Comrade Inuwa Kubo, on Thursday, revealed that about 20 of the abducted 129 girls had been rescued.
Kubo, while reacting to the DHQ’s claim in a telephone chat with our correspondent, said, “I have been having 24 hours contact with the principal of the school since the sad incident on Tuesday. In fact, I spoke with her this morning (Thursday) and she said only 20 students had been rescued. But I am happy to inform you that the military authorities have come out publicly to say that 80 of the abducted students have been rescued, with only eight of them still in the custody of the abductors.
“I am not a military man who will give the actual situation of things, but I believe, for the military to say that only eight of the victims are still in the custody of the terrorists, it means the 80 of those rescued may be in the custody of the military operatives who have been doing their best to see to the rescue of the victims”.
Meanwhile, our correspondent gathered from residents of Chibok that the parents of many of the abducted students were still looking for their wards, maintaining that the statement credited to the military that about 80 of the girls had been rescued posed serious concern, as the affected parents/guardians had not seen or heard from their abducted children since Tuesday.
The defence spokesman’s claim has been widely disputed, including by parents who voiced anger at the allegedly false information.
“For the military (which) is supposed to find and rescue our children to be spreading such a lie shows that they have no intention of rescuing the girls,” said Mamman Yakubu, a Chibok resident whose daughter was among those abducted by the insurgents.
“It is the highest form of insult,” he added. “They said our girls have been freed… Bring them to us because they are yet to be reunited with us.”
Governor Shettima said on Wednesday that only 14 of the girls had escaped their captors and offered a reward to anyone with information that could lead to the return of the others.
After the military claimed that most of the girls had been freed, a senior security source, who asked that his name be withheld, told our correspondent that more than 100 of the school girls remained in captivity.
Shettima, who briefed journalists in Maiduguri on the incident, said, “So far, 14 of the abducted female students have been rescued/escaped and reunited with their families, and that government and security agencies are now having a sleepless night to ensure that the remaining ones are being rescued”.
According to the governor, out of the rescued14, four escaped on that ill-fated Tuesday when one of the vehicles conveying them to the camps of the terrorists broke down in the bush, while the 10 others escaped when they were asked to go and wash plates for the terrorists in a nearby stream.
He explained that contrary to report that over 100 girls were abducted, the official figure of those missing as reported by their parents and the school authority stood at 50.
Shettima stated that he had wanted to relocate to Chibok until the students were rescued, due to the security situation in the area, he had been advised to step down till further notice.
“I have already gave an instruction to all the security agencies to marshall all resources to see that these innocent students are rescued. I have to thank the security agencies, the principal of the school, the District Head and the Caretaker Chairman of the affected council for their support and cooperation since the sad incident happened”, he said.
“On behalf of government and the people of Borno State, we have pledged N50million to anyone who gives information that will lead to the tracking/ rescuing of these our innocent daughters,
“I want to appeal to all and sundry to continue to pray for these students and for peace to return back to our troubled state”.
Parents in Chibok swarmed the home of the area’s tribal chief on Wednesday and Thursday, demanding clarification after the military’s claim, residents said.
“The feeling that the military was in pursuit of the kidnappers kept hope alive among parents,” said one resident, speaking on condition of anonymity. But the unsubstantiated report that most of the children were now safe “has shattered that hope”, he said.
Another resident, Mallam Hyeladi Ibrahim, said, “Gunmen stormed Chibok late Monday and torched several buildings before opening fire on security forces guarding the Government Girls Secondary School.
They killed two guards, then forced their way inside, herding the girls on to 911 truck and Hilux vans before driving away.
Three of the girls who escaped said they were taken to the Sambisa Forest part of Borno, an area where Boko Haram is known to have well-fortified camps.
Three of the girls who escaped and returned to Chibok area briefed locals about the attack, said Madu Thomas, whose daughter was among those abducted.
“The girls told us they were taken to the Konduga district part of Sambisa forest by their captors,” said Thomas, referring to an area where Boko Haram is known to have well-fortified camps.
The girls said they ran after getting permission from the gunmen to use the bathroom and were helped back to Chibok by nomadic herdsmen from the Fulani ethnic group.
“My daughter is not among the three lucky girls but their escape and the news on the whereabouts of the other girls has given me more hope”, Thomas said.