22 April 2014

Nigeria: Principal, Parents Say 234 Schoolgirls Still Missing

The number of girls abducted by suspected Boko Haram insurgents from a school in Borno State is nearly twice the figure given earlier by the school and state officials.

The girls were abducted from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok two weeks ago.

The school principal announced soon after the abduction that 129 students were taken but that some escaped.

But yesterday when Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima visited the school, the principal and distraught parents said the number of girls missing stands at 234 while those that escaped from their abductors are 39.

Parents who heard of the governor's visit thronged the venue of the meeting and filed 234 complaints of missing schoolgirls.

An official who preferred not to be named explained that the mix-up arose because arts students who had finished their examination did not leave the school as previously thought.

The official said, "From what I learnt, there were 129 science students at the hostel. They had not completed their exams and were expected to remain in the hostel. Then, there were over 105 arts subject students who had completed their extermination and were expected to leave the hostel in the evening of that day hours before the attack. Unknown to the dormitory master, the art students remained at the hostel and were part of those abducted. The man gave his record of 129 science students as those abducted not knowing there were more."

One of the parents, Shettima Haruna, who spoke during the governor's visit yesterday said, "234 girls are still missing while only 39 were reunited with their parents.

"We have been having sleepless nights for nearly 10 days-since the day our innocent daughters were taken away. We waited patiently to see what the custodians of security would do but we could no longer endure.

"We summoned courage and visited Sambisa Forest to rescue our daughters but our effort did not yield results because of the complexity of the forest.

"We want to seize this opportunity to thank you (governor) for coming to identify with us at this sorrowful moment; but the truth of the matter is that only 39 out of over 270 students were so far rescued, and we want to emphasise that we are not happy with this development.

"In as much as we continue praying for the safe return of our daughters, we want to appeal to government and our security operatives to please intensify the search for our missing innocent children."

Another parent, Malam Amos Chiroma, said when they reached Sambisa Forest, they had to beat a retreat because of the frightening things they came across.

He said they came across different make-shift camps owned by suspected insurgents.

"We had to withdraw because we may likely disappear... we had to forget the search even though we are all desperate to see our missing daughter," he said.

The parents of the abducted girls could not hold back their tears as they appealed to the governor for help to find the girls.

Responding, Governor Shettima said he shared their grief assuring that human and material resources would be deployed towards rescuing the girls.

"They (Boko Haram) can burn physical structures but cannot destroy our souls. I want to encourage us to be patient believing that we would soon get over this," Shettima said.

In her latest account of the incident, the principal of the school, Asabe Kwambura said, "The total number of missing female students now stands at 230. Initially before the arrival of the governor 234 were missing but we just recovered additional 4 female students.

"The number of girls recovered so far is 43. It is only 43 girls I have recovered and handed over to their parents. The initial 129 figure I gave were those that sat for exams on the day they were abducted.

"The total number of boarding female students is 405; this means that out 405, 230 are still missing. But the other issue is that out the 230 missing girls, some of them had ran home to meet their parents and we have not receive any information from them."

In a statement he on Sunday, Governor Shettima's spokesman, Isa Umar Gusau, had said 52 girls have escaped from their abductors.

"Seven more girls escaped from captivity, bringing to 52 the number of those with us out of 129 students that were at the hostel on the day of the attack. This means 77 students are yet to be found," he had said.

Meanwhile, some youth vigilantes, also known as civilian JTF, have accused some military commanders of discouraging troops under their command from advancing into the Sambisa Forest.

Most of the youths who spoke to our correspondents in confidence said something must be wrong somewhere, pointing out that the rescue operation should not have taken this long.

One of them said, "We were going into Sambisa together with some soldiers... in fact, we even sighted one of the camps from a distance but the commandant said we have to withdraw and wait for further directive from above.

"Some of us were really annoyed because we believe if we can get little support, we would confront the insurgents."

Another vigilante wondered why fighting equipment will not be deployed to Sambisa Forest. "Is like the insurgents have been allowed to keep on breeding... sending threat messages to localities and attacking them at will," he said.

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