The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, on Thursday said the Nigerian government would need more time to assess the situation around the community where some schoolgirls were reportedly kidnapped in Yobe State on Monday.
"On the issue of the number of missing girls, we cannot give what we are not sure of, until we hear from their parents, we cannot say this is the number," Mr. Mohammed told reporters shortly after he arrived at Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Thursday afternoon. "Give us a few more time please".
Mr. Mohammed was amongst the three ministers that President Muhammadu Buhari asked on Wednesday to embark on an immediate fact-finding mission to the state.
Scores of girls are reported missing following a Boko Haram attack on the school Monday night. Conflicting accounts of both state and federal officials over the crisis have further confused and worsened the anxieties of parents and other citizens.
Mr. Mohammed's comments that the Buhari administration cannot immediately give any details about the situation came a day after the state government said some of the kidnapped girls have been rescued and handed over to the Nigerian Army.
But that account now seems to be in dispute, as the Defence Headquarters said the alleged rescue could not be confirmed.
"We cannot confirm" the statement by Yobe State that some of the girls have been rescued, Defence spokesperson, John Agim, told PREMIUM TIMES Thursday morning.
Similarly, a federal lawmaker who represents the community said the report that girls were kidnapped was untrue.
"The military did not rescue any girls yesterday as being reported in the media," Goni Bukar, the lawmaker representing Bursari/Geidam/Yunusari federal constituency, told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Thursday afternoon.
"I am currently speaking with you from the school and I stand here with the governor and other top military officials, I can tell you that no girls were rescued," he added. "We have only been able to locate some girls in one or two batches at different places."
A PREMIUM TIMES reporter arrived in Dapchi, about 100 kilometres from Damaturu, the state capital, Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Mohammed arrived at the community with Khadijat Bukar-Ibrahim, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
Governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Geidam, was on ground to receive the team. The Theatre Commander, Operations Lafiya Dole, Rogers Nicholas, a major-general, was also on the scene.
The minister and his entourage were briefed by the governor and the General Officer Commanding 3 Division, Damaturu.
Shortly after the briefing, Mr. Mohammed told reporters that he was delegated by the president to visit the attacked community and commiserate with the victims.
He said his delegation which also includes a representative of the minister of defence, was also to find out the true situation about the missing schoolgirls.
On the issue of the missing students, the minister said it is still too early to determine their whereabouts.
"We are still monitoring the situation and what I want people to understand is that since two days ago some of the students who fled to neighbouring towns and communities had returned and more have been returning.
"When we arrived here we have been briefed by the governor and the GOC about the situation of the students. We know there are few students who are yet accounted for, but we don't want to manufacture stories on this issue. But give us few days, we will be able to tell you exactly the real situation of things.
"But you can see response of the military, the response of the state government is quite commendable. Since four days now we have been following the efforts being made to arrest the situation," he said.
He lampooned the Boko Haram and said the sect only attacked the school because it is in its dying days and craving media attention.
"But we must understand that these are they dying days of the Boko Haram and what they intend to do is to embarrass the government because they have been degraded, they have been pushed out of Sambisa forest.
"They have been starved out of oxygen and the oxygen they feed on is publicity so that they can grab the world's attention. But I can assure you that with the determination of our gallant military, the days of Boko Haram are numbered."