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UPDATE: Parents of kidnapped students lament as principal says 230 girls now missing

Nigerian army search for missing schoolgirls

“I have not seen my dear daughter, she is a good girl, we plead with government to help rescue her and her friends; we pray nothing happens to her.”

One week after scores of female students of a Borno school were kidnapped, parents of some of the students lamented the situation and begged the government to ensure the release of their wards.

The parents wailed and cried as they told the state governor, Kashim Shettima, of their predicament. Mr. Shettima visited Chibok for the first time since the kidnap of the students. The governor went to Chibok with some other Borno officials, a serving senator representing the area, Ali Ndume, and a large retinue of security officials including soldiers.

“I have not seen my dear daughter, she is a good girl, we plead with government to help rescue her and her friends; we pray nothing happens to her,” said Musa Muka, whose 17-year-old daughter, Martha Musa, is among the kidnapped students.

Mr. Shettima’s visit also enabled journalists, who travelled with the governor to Chibok, hear first hand reports from parents and understand the true situation about the kidnap.

One of the obvious observations was the poor record keeping and management of information and students data by the school; which has led to conflicting information emanating from the principal, the Borno government, and the Nigerian military.

Mr. Shettima was told by anguished parents that 230 students were still missing and could be with the captors, contrary to the 85 students the Borno Education Commissioner, Musa Kubo, had said on Friday were unaccounted for.

“When we heard that they have attacked the school, we rushed down here but found our daughters missing”, said Shettima Hamma, a parent of one of the abducted students. “We were asked to register the names of our daughters, which we all did, but up to this moment we have not seen 234 of our daughters; we have only seen 39 of our daughters that were able to escape on their own”.

The controversy

The female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School Chibok, in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno on the night of April 14. They are believed to have been kidnapped by the Boko Haram, the terrorist group responsible for the death of thousands of people since it began its insurgency in 2009.

When the news of the kidnap was first reported on Tuesday morning, the BBC Hausa Service said over 200 students were kidnapped.

However, the Nigerian military and the Borno State government later said 129 students of the school were missing, majority of them kidnapped. Both institutions relied on information from the principal of the school, Asabe Kwambura.

The military had on April 16 said it freed all but eight of the students, but withdrew the claim a day later after it turned out the claim was false.

Following the kidnap and the need to get the accurate report, Mr. Kubo, the Education Commissioner, had relocated to Chibok and through telephone calls called journalists in Maiduguri to provide regular situation report.

On Friday, Mr. Kubo told journalists that of the 129 missing students, 44 had been accounted for, while 85 were yet to be found.

Out of the 44 accounted for, he said, 16 had ran to their parents during the last week Monday night incident and were not kidnapped; while 28 others escaped from their abductors.

“Meanwhile, with this development, we have 44 out of our 129 students at the hostel on the day of attack on the school. This means that we have 85 students yet to join us,” the commissioner had said.

However, from the statements of the parents on Monday, and as later confirmed by the principal, the true figure of the victims was understated.

The ‘actual figure’

Although Ms. Kwambura was present when the parents gave the number of their wards still missing, she did not contradict the figure.

PREMIUM TIMES and other journalists later accosted the principal to get the actual situation of the number of girls missing.
“The total number of missing female students now stands at 230,” Ms. Kwambura said “Initially before the arrival of the governor, 234 were missing (the figure mentioned by Mr. Hamma). 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 apparently distraught principal, who appears to still be recovering from the shock of the incident, tried to justify the initial false figure of 129 missing students.

“The 129 I gave were those that sat for Physics exams on the day they were abducted,” she said.

She explained that “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 on them.”

Ms. Kwambura also explained that “the School was initially Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS) Chibok, but in 2011 it became Government Secondary School Chibok which now allow for combined male students. So the entire students’ population, including the Day students which are boys, is 530.”

The principal explained that of the 530 final year students in the school, 125 are boys, while 405 are girls. The school, however, only has boarding facilities for girls. Also, not all the female boarding students were in the hostel on the night of the kidnap.

Following the kidnap, the school authorities were said to have gone round Chibok town and other villages and hamlets nearby to announce to parents who had wards in the school, to come state whether their wards were missing or were at home with their family.

It was from these reports from parents that Ms. Kwambura arrived at her new figure of 230 still missing and 43 accounted for.

A frustrated search

While narrating their pains to Governor Shettima, some of the parents also spoke about their personal efforts to free their wards.
“We have trailed the abductors of our daughters far into very dangerous places inside the forest, but we couldn’t go far because we were warned against going further since we have no sophisticated weapons that could match that of those holding our daughters,” Mr. Hamma said.

“When the news about the attack on the school got to us, we all ran down here to see if our daughters were okay, and unfortunately, we found that they were gone with the Boko Haram people.

Another parent of a kidnapped girl, who did not disclose his name, also briefed the governor on the efforts of the search party. He said they had travelled a distance of over 50km from Chibok to Sambisa, but had to return as they were warned of fatal danger should they proceed into the thick forest.

“We had walked into the forest for over 50km until we got to a place where we saw two houses and plenty women, about a dozen of them; they could not help us. So we continued until we came to another hamlet where we were told that if we follow a tiny foot path ahead, it would lead us to where the abductors took our daughters. We thanked them and proceeded through the path and continued to walk under low but thick threes. We walked for about 25km without seeing the sky or the sun; the whole place was dark because the low and thick branches of trees shielded the sunlight.

“After some hours of walk, we came to a stream with a locally made bridge, we walked over the bridge, everywhere was quiet, but we continued moving and searching until we met a Fulani herdsman, who urged us to move ahead of the route we were following, that surely we would see where our daughters there, because he too saw them being taken away by the Boko Haram gunmen. Many of our young men got lost in the forest, because it was too thick and very large.

“We continued to move on until we arrived at a junction of the foot path that leads to Konduga and the other to Damboa town.

There, we asked an old man who was surprised seeing us riding on motorcycles. We told him our mission and he confirmed to us that of course he saw our daughters with the abductors. He said the girls were brought down from the truck and made to trek into the forest ahead; he pointed to us the direction they took them, but warned us that if we venture to proceed into that part of the forest without any security personnel following us, we us and our daughters will be killed. He advised us to go back to Damboa and get more security agents to help, lest we would be embarking on the most dangerous mission. We took his advice and began to return home, while few of our group went back to Damboa. Many of our young men got lost on the way back, it took them more than three days to get back to Chibok,” he said in Hausa language.

The parent, an elderly man, said what the entourage saw when going into Sambisa “are not things we should say, because they were too gory to be mentioned or narrated again. We feared for everyone, it was a sordid experience.”

Senator weeps

Governor Shettima was in Chibok on Monday, after days of being discouraged by security officials due to the dangers of going to the isolated town that shares proximity with the Sambisa Forest, a major base of the Boko Haram. He was accompanied by some few government officials and a large escort of armed soldiers and policemen.

Also in his entourage was a serving Senator, Ali Ndume, whose constituency also consists of Chibok Local Government Area. Mr. Ndume could not control his emotions as he addressed the parents. He described the abduction as the worst that could ever happen to any parent.

Emotions flowed freely as the government officials consoled the parents of the kidnapped girls.

“We are all touched by the incident concerning the abduction of our daughters,” said Mr. Ndume. “I am a father too, I have ten children, and every day I put my children in the position of these girls currently in captivity and I weep for them. I weep for the poor parents. My heart goes to you all, so is our governor here. But you should know our limitations here in the state concerning the security deployment; neither the governor nor I has control over our security. We can only plead with the federal government to assist us. But be assured that we are doing our best to see that these girls are freed in one piece.

Mr. Shettima also sympathised with the victims’ families.

“The worst of Boko Haram’s insurgency is taking these innocent daughters of ours; they could destroy homes, villages, churches mosques, but the worst is taking innocent girls into captivity in unknown places,” the governor said.

“Our hearts go to you all in all sincerity; we share your grief. I cannot say much than to assure you that all measures are being put in place to ensure that these girls return home safely; we are not giving up on them; we shall not.”

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