SEVENTEEN days after 234 students of the Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, Borno State, were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists and the public outcry that have continued to greet the alleged uncoordinated approach of the security agents to rescue them, a major military operation is set to commence as four different battalions, a little more than a Brigade of the Nigerian Army, have been mobilised.
Meanwhile, Borno State Police Command and the Department of State Service, DSS, office in the state, yesterday, released new figures of the missing schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents, saying 276 students, not 234 were initially taken away.
This has contradicted the earlier claims by parents of the affected girls, who said 234 of their daughters were kidnapped when the insurgents attacked the school.
The state Police Commissioner, Lawal Tanko and the Director of DSS, Ahmed Abdullahi disclosed this at a joint press briefing held in Maiduguri last night.
Tanko said that the new figure was still not authentic as the actual numbers of the missing girls could only be verified when more parents, who were yet to know the whereabouts of the daughters, lodge a complaint.
The CP added that 530 students from Chibok and other neighbouring towns sat for the final examinations, and that 276 were abducted, while 53 others escaped.
This is just as former British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, has called for international military assistance, such as air support, to be offered to the Nigerian government in the hunt for the abducted girls.
Nationwide protests against the abduction also gathered momentum yesterday as concerned women and activists embarked on protests in Borno and Kaduna states.
It was gathered that the battalions that will storm Sambisa forest are taking positions around all the access routes into the notorious forest.
The battalions comprised all formations of the Army, including those from Signals Corps, Armoured Corps, Ordinance Corps, Intelligence Corps, Infantry Corps, Artillery Corps, Military Police Corps and the Medical Corps.
Also, fighter jets of the Nigerian Air Force and Police surveillance helicopters have been mobilised and are waiting for the command to begin the joint security operations for rescue efforts of the girls.
The battalions are said to have been positioned in the North, South, East and West of the Sambisa forest so that when the troops move in from all the angles, there will be no escape route for the terrorists.
Owing to the possibily of encountering bobby traps, land mines, ambush and other unknown traps, it was gathered that Air Force fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and Police surveillance helicopters would carry out round-the-clock missions.
Aircraft and land equipment including air ambulances, vehicles with mobile medical facilities and a considerable number of medical personnel, are said to have been deployed for the operation to ensure that casualties, if any, are quickly attended to when necessary.
It was gathered that since the forest shares borders with towns in Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and Cameroon, the different battalions would each launch their offensive from these locations.
Vanguard was further told under condition of anonymity, that because of the high caliber nature of the arms and explosives in the hands of the terrorists, the Federal Government had made available to the security forces night vision equipment.
In this regards, specially trained counter terrorist units, anti bomb discovery units, the K 9 Dog units of the Army and the Police, the landmines unit of the army and other specialised units of other security agencies are all involved in this operation, Vanguard was told.
Are the girls still in Sambisa?
Speaking on insinuations that most of the girls may have been moved to Chad, Cameroon or abroad by the terrorists, the security source said: "Let us wait and see.
"All I can tell you is that since the incident happened, the borders close to Sambisa have been fortified and a lot of cordon and search operation has been going on. How they would have moved the girls abroad will be a mystery."
When Vanguard expressed apprehension that a major military intervention involving air bombardments will lead to killing of the girls, the source said: "It doesn't necessarily follow.
"On the contrary, the terrorists are afraid. They will be fighting to save their own lives. Many of them are cowards who cannot stand the army, that's why they look for soft targets.
"They know they won't achieve anything injuring the girls. We feel they just wanted to get attention with the girls in their possession. We have strategies in place to get the girls and ensure their safety if indeed they are in the forest. The plan is to rescue them alive."
Brown has called for international military assistance, such as air support, to be offered to the Nigerian government in the hunt for the abducted girls.
The former UK Prime Minister said he had approached the British government to discuss the possibility of military assistance. Asked if he anticipated a positive response, he said: "I think people will want to help, yes. The international community must do something to protect these girls.
"We could provide military help to the Nigerians to track down the whereabouts of the girls before they're dispersed throughout Africa-- like air support, for example, if that was thought necessary."
Brown will meet President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja next week to discuss the abduction.
He said: "I am not prepared to criticise the Nigerian government. We're dealing with a group of terrorists who have kidnapped children.
"The sensible way of dealing with this is to help the Nigerian government."
NLC, women storm Borno govt house
Meanwhile, in Maiduguri, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Borno State chapter, women groups and other civil organisations, yesterday, converged at the Borno State Government House to register their protest over the 234 abducted girls.
Presenting a protest letter to Governor Kashim Shettima in Maiduguri for onward transmission to President Goodluck Jonathan and the Senate President, Senator David Mark, the state Chairman of the NLC, Mr. Titus Abana called on the Federal Government and the military authorities to intensify efforts in rescuing the school girls.
In Kaduna, a coalition of civil groups comprising women, non governmental organisations, students, women lawyers, among others, yesterday, gathered at Murtala Mohammed Square, calling for the release of the abducted girls.
The women displayed placards with inscription such as 'Bring back our daughters,' 'Mama Patience help our daughters,' 'Respect the future of Nigerian women,' 'Save our girls now,' 'FG, save our daughters,' 'We want our girls back,' 'Reunite us with our girls.'
The Coalition of Nigerian Apostolic Leaders, CNAL, yesterday, condemned the abduction, urging the government to facilitate the girls' release.
Speaking through its governing apostle, Pastor Wale Adefarasin, the body described Boko Haram as audacious, harping on the need for intelligence and infiltration to end the sect's activities.