18 April 2014

Nigeria: Students' Abduction Saga - Girls Yet to Be Rescued - Borno Govt, Principal

Maiduguri — THE Borno State Government and Principal of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State, Mrs. Asabe Aliyu Kwarmbula have denied reports that most of the abducted girls have been rescued.

Mrs. Kwarmbula particularly denied reports credited to her that she told the Military Spokesman, Defence Headquarters, Major General Chris Olukolade that most of the girls abducted have been rescued, with only eight still missing.

It will be recalled that the military spokesman in Abuja told newsmen that about 80 of the abducted school girls have been rescued on Wednesday, with only eight of them missing or are still captives of the terrorists. But Mrs. Asabe Kwarmbula in an interview with journalists, yesterday, said: "The statement credited to the military spokesman was a blatant lie, I never spoke to the Defence Headquarters' spokesman as widely reported by national and international media".

Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters, yesterday, retracted its statement that the girls had been rescued, saying that it depended on field reports which it had found out to be misleading. It, therefore, confirmed the statements of the school principal and Borno State Government that the girls were yet to be rescued.

Also, yesterday, parents of the missing female students cried out to the authorities to rescue their children.

I am disappointed - Principal

"I am highly disappointed by the spokesman of the Defence Headquarters who told the media that I confirmed to him that 80 of my students who were abducted by terrorists have been rescued. From the official record I have, only 14 out of the 129 missing have been rescued as at today (Thursday)".

On whether there were security operatives guarding the school before the incident, which had claimed lives of a soldier and a policeman, she said, the security operatives only came during exam hours and left after the exams, pointing out that, when the gunmen struck, no security operative was guarding the school.

Defence Headquarters, in a statement issued by its spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade on Wednesday claimed that only eight of the 129 abducted schoolgirls were missing as others had been rescued by the military. Major-General Olukolade also claimed that the principal of the affected school confirmed that only eight students were still being held by the terrorists.

Following the announcement by the military, the parents trooped to the home of the area's tribal chief, yesterday, demanding clarification, saying they have not heard anything from their children.

Where are our children, parents cry out

A resident of Chibok, Lawan Zanna, whose daughter was among those abducted said: "For the military which is supposed to find and rescue our children to be spreading such lies shows that they have no intention of rescuing our girls. It is the highest form of insult. They said our girls have been freed. Bring them to us because they are yet to be reunited with us."

"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 dubious report that most of the children were now safe "has shattered that hope", he said.

The affected parents, who were visibly angry and dejected have therefore mobilised themselves, insisting that they were prepared to sacrifice their lives and storm the Sambisa forest in search of their children, if the military would not be of help.

A resident, who spoke to the BBC Hausa service monitored by our correspondent said:

"We were disappointed with the statement coming from the Defence Headquarters' spokesman that the girls were rescued. Our children were still in the bush and if the military has failed, we will go after the insurgents even if it means sacrificing our lives".

The update by Borno Govt

Meanwhile, Borno State Commissioner for Education, Musa Inuwa Kubo in a statement, yesterday, gave an update on the abduction of the students.

He said in the statement: "I'm right at Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, the scene of the unfortunate abduction. At the moment, we have taken custody of 30 girls. There is an increase of 16 students whose parents returned 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 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. My self, the principal of the school, 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."

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. Boko Haram's latest school attack sparked outrage and condemnation from Britain, the United States and UN chief, Ban Ki-moon. Borno's governor Shettima voiced outrage at the violence targeting teenage girls.

"In Islam, women and children are spared during war," said a visibly shaken Shettima.

Defence Headquarters retracts rescue report

Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters, yesterday, disclosed that there was no need to play politics with the lives of the students of the Government Girls College, in Chibok, noting that as a result of the denial by principal and government of Borno State, it was retracting its statement on the rescue of the students.

A statement signed by Major General Chris Olukolade said: "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.

"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."

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