The military has tracked down and surrounded the location, where over 200 schoolgirls who were abducted two weeks ago from Government Secondary School, Chibok, are being held captive, while exploring various options, including intense negotiations by locals and the Borno State Government to secure their release.
Disclosing this yesterday, security sources said the military has already identified the various camps in which the girls are being held, but is being cautious about executing a full onslaught against their captors, in order to avoid collateral damage.
Giving THISDAY a status report on efforts to rescue the girls, he said: "The operation is being strategically carried in a very covert manner because the terrorists will not hesitate to use any of the girls as human shields or even kill them in the event of an attack.
"Another thing you must consider is that apart from being a large expanse of land area, the Sambisa forest also has many clusters of villages and settlements that can suffer from the collateral damage, should an all-out bombardment be carried out.
"Assuming the military attacks them and some of the girls get killed in the process, can you imagine the outrage that will come from the members of the public? So they (military) are being careful.
"All this while, the military has known and has tracked the locations where they are and has even concluded plans to invade the place, but later shelved it to avoid collateral damage."
Owing to the change of tactics, it was revealed that the military is relying more on intelligence gathering and negotiations by some local indigenes and the state government with the terrorists to secure the release of the girls. It has also emerged that in the course of searching for the girls, the military has arrested some of the arrowheads behind their abduction and are currently undergoing interrogation.
The source further explained that the security forces do not want to get involved in negotiations since they consider the kidnapping a "highly coordinated local issue" with the full backing of the state government. "The state government and the Commissioner (of Education) are seriously negotiating (for the girls' freedom) because they know these boys. And what you see playing out is the politics of the state of emergency," he said. Also, sources within defence circles further revealed that after being embarrassed by the conflicting accounts on the number of girls that were abducted or released, the military is taking a more cautious approach in dealing with the situation.
Most of the military top brass, the sources also revealed, are still aggrieved with the way they were misled into giving a false statement about the missing students, which forced the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) in Abuja to retract its statement.
One top security officer expressed doubts that 234 schoolgirls were kidnapped, stating that the number of the abducted girls was grossly exaggerated and may not be more than 70 in total.
According to him, since the total number of the students in the school from junior to senior secondary level is about 1,200, this would explain the high number of parents claiming that their children are missing. "This is aside from the calculated effort aimed at getting some kind of financial compensation from the state government, which was alleged to have doled out the sum of N1 million to each family of the missing girls. "Now if you divide that figure by six, you would have a maximum of 200 students in a class. And when you consider the fact that the SS3 (Senior Secondary 3) students are normally fewer in number than other classes, it stands to reason that less than 200 schoolgirls were abducted," the source explained.
Expressing frustration with the entire incident, the security official added: "Another thing you should note is that schools were closed within this period and this is both a day and boarding school, and not all the students were living in the school.
"So who gave them the directive to come to school and what were they doing in school at that time? Who are the students that make up these figures, because most of them were going to school from home since they are all members of Chibok community.
"The fact is that the figure is less than 100, or even less than 70 from our estimates, which was admitted by the school security men there and even the principal of the school before she started changing figures and statement. Today, she will say the figure is 129, then later she said 234 and again changed the figure."
He alleged that the whole situation playing out with the abduction saga was beginning to appear like a hatchet job meant to ridicule the military in order to gain the upper hand in their quest to lift the state of emergency imposed on Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States.
"Owing to what has happened, the military has decided to operate in the background since our men cannot trust the people (community members) who are also being brainwashed to see us as enemies. "The way this whole situation has played out has made the military wary of those it is working with, that is, the locals and their hunters, as you can see how the principal has been made the star of this whole misfortune. "She has been granting interviews to the media in a euphoric manner, ridiculing the military and saying the hunters are the ones doing the job," the source added.
Meanwhile, THISDAY findings have further revealed that the two men arrested Friday night, which resulted in the fierce fighting that left 40 terrorists and four soldiers dead, were the leaders of the group that kidnapped the girls. Intelligence sources said the kidnappers were tracked down when they came to buy food for the girls, leading to the arrest of their gang leaders who are currently undergoing interrogation and providing vital information. In addition, the intelligence efforts of the Nigerian military to find the girls is being aided by the deployment of sophisticated and advanced satellite imagery and surveillance technologies provided by the United States, United Kingdom and a few other countries to track and map out the terrorists' movements.
"They are being watched, monitored and tracked and the whole escape routes are guarded," the source said. However, as the military continues in its efforts to secure the release of the schoolgirls, women all over the country will on Wednesday converge on the nation's capital, Abuja, in red attire to stage a million women protest march aimed at pressurising the federal government into taking the necessary action to free the girls.
The one-million-women march was disclosed by Prof. Hauwa Abdu Biu yesterday after an emergency meeting convened by the Borno State First Lady, Hajia Nana Kashi Shettima, on the way forward for the release of the schoolgirls.
Biu, who only last week led a coalition of Borno women to a press conference, where they offered to go into the Sambisa forest, the stronghold of the Boko Haram insurgents, where the girls are believed to be held hostage, said yesterday that there was a change in plan.
Biu informed the meeting that the one-million women march, which is tagged "Free Our Girls" would involve women from all over the country and called for the mobilisation of Borno women to Abuja for the rally. "The last time we were in black but this time around, the colour for the Abuja rally is red, so we should all be prepared and mobilise ourselves for the rally," she said.
Earlier, the Borno State first lady, while addressing the meeting, called on the wives of service chiefs both in the state and the federal levels to assist in mounting pressure on their husbands to intensify efforts towards rescuing the abducted schoolgirls.
"I want to seek this opportunity to appeal to the wives of security chiefs at the national and state levels to run and mount pressure on your spouses to intensify efforts to rescue our dear children. "However, I feel it is necessary to call on all women in Borno to come up with their resolutions and harmonise them. Let us all put our differences aside, irrespective of our faith and ethnicity; let us all join hands together to rescue these girls. I know that we can do it, Almighty Allah is with us, he knows our intention," Hajia Nana said amidst sobs.
"I am sure for now we are not on our own. I am happy to inform you that the wife of the president called me two days ago. I believe that she is also with us, so let us all join hands together irrespective of political affiliations," she added. Most of the women who spoke at the meeting called on the federal government and the security agencies to intensify efforts towards rescuing the kidnapped schoolgirls.
They also called for prayers and fasting in mosques and churches so that God can touch the hearts of the insurgents to release the girls and they agreed to mobilise to Abuja for the rally. Also, Mrs. Aisha Wakil, who has been in the forefront of calling on the insurgents to lay down their arms and embrace dialogue, cautioned against the use of force in rescuing the girls.
The meeting had in attendance wives of service chiefs in the state, non-governmental organisations, women professional bodies, representatives of Federation of Muslims Women Associations (FOMWAN) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), among others.