Military authorities last night admitted that none of the abducted Borno schoolgirls had been rescued, a day after claiming that troops had freed all but 8 of the 129 students.
The recant came hours after the principal of the Government Girls Secondary School Chibok spoke and denied the claims by the Defence Headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday evening.
Following the principal’s denial, the Borno State Education Commissioner said a total of 30 students had so far been located, leaving 99 still missing.
The schoolgirls were taken from their hostel by suspected Boko Haram gunmen on Monday night.
The school principal, Mrs Asabe Kwambura, told Daily Trust by telephone yesterday morning that other than the 14 students who escaped on the night of the attack, no more girls had been found.
“There is nothing in the military statement that is true about our abducted girls. Up till now we are still waiting and praying for the safe return of the students,” she said.
“All I know is that we have only 14 of them, and the security people especially the vigilante and the well-meaning volunteers of Gwoza are still out searching for them. The military people too are in the bush searching.
“So we have not received any information that they have gotten the students yet. So let it be clear that all the information passed on the media by the military concerning 107 girls is not true.”
In a statement Wednesday evening, spokesman for the Defence Headquarters Major General Chris Olukolade said the principal had confirmed that only 8 of the abducted students remained to be found.
But Mrs Kwambura said yesterday: “I, as the principal, did not tell anybody any figure on released students other than what our Governor, His Excellency Kashim Shettima, had informed the media.
“A military official called me from Abuja and I told him that I don’t want to be seen to be contradicting myself on that because what the governor had said was what we know about.”
The GGSS Chibok principal spoke to Daily Trust in the morning. Later in the evening, Borno State Education Commissioner Musa Inuwa Kubo issued a separate statement saying 16 more missing students were found and the total of those yet to be seen stood at 99.
He said, “At the moment we have taken custody of 30 girls. 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 to 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 14 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.”
Later last night, the Director of Defence Information Major-General Chris Olukolade issued a statement explaining the circumstances surrounding the controversy over the claimed rescue of abducted girls.
He said, “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.”
Parents head to B/Haram enclaves
Meanwhile, parents of the teenage girls have joined the search efforts into the dreaded Sambisa Forest to try to find their daughters.
One of the parents told the BBC Hausa radio that each of them contributed N13,500, which they gave to the local vigilantes.
“Male parents have gone into the Sambisa forest, because we are tired of what we are hearing from government. And then this morning we heard government is saying they rescued our daughters. That is why we said we would do the search ourselves,” the man said.
“The pain is too much for us. As I am speaking to you now, I will join them in the bush as soon as I finish this interview.”
Security sources told Daily Trust yesterday that the abducted students were yet to be found because troops on rescue mission around the Sambisa Forest could not get deep into the bushes because of the difficult terrain.
Military officers handling the rescue mission are also “mapping out strategy to avoid being ambushed,” a source said.
Our correspondent gathered that hundreds of troops have been deployed from various fronts around Konduga, Bama and Damboa in central part of Borno State, as well as Gwoza and Chibok in the southern part in order to achieve “coordinated onslaught with minimum risk.”
Other sources said the insurgents may be using the girls as “human shield or war brides,” stressing that it will require a lot of strategy to free the students without allowing them to be harmed by the insurgents or killed during confrontation.
Calls for decisive action
Alhaji Ahmed Ashemi, the pioneer chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Borno State, said the Federal Government must organise special military task force that would also include collaboration with neighboring countries and local hunters to rescue the girls.
“The Boko Haram insurgents do not listen to plea and the fact is that they have reached the extreme. We must salvage the dignity of these girls before it is too late. Let Nigeria set aside its pride as the giant of Africa and seek assistance because from all indications, our security agencies need serious help,” he said.
Hajiya Falmata Usman, a mother of five, said those misleading Nigerians must be made to account for their actions.
“The President should also relocate to Borno immediately and see to the release of these girls. The insurgents are in Sambisa and not Cameroon. Don’t we have satellite images? Don’t we have fighter jets? Don’t we have enough troops to cordon the whole of southern Borno and save these young girls?” She asked.
Janet Abu, a student in Maiduguri, said they deserve an apology from Nigerian authorities.
“I doubt much if I would pass my final-year exams because my mind is with my abducted sisters…this is something that can also happen to me. If it is true that the girls have been freed, we want the military to show them on television; we want to hear their voices,” she said.