• Asks military to take charge
• Saraki condemns attack
Omololu Ogunmade, Damilola Oyedele in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Damaturu
Forty-eight of the 94 girls declared missing on Tuesday after a Monday evening Boko Haram attack on Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, have returned to the school, the state Commissioner for Education, Alhaji Mohammed Lamin, said on Wednesday.
He spoke in Damaturu just as President Muhammadu Buhari dispatched three ministers, Brig-Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (Defence), Chief Geoffrey Onyema (Foreign Affairs) and Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture), to the state to collate information on the attack and report back to him.
The president, according to Mohammed, who briefed State House Correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, also directed the military to immediately take charge of the school and ward off any other potential security threat.
Updating journalists in Damaturu, Lamin said 48 of the 94 missing girls had returned to the school leaving the search team of the state government with 46 more girls to find.
He said 28 of the missing girls returned on Tuesday night, while 20 more were received from Magwaram Village on Wednesday morning.
“This has brought down the 94 missing students released at the yesterday’s (Tuesday) headcount to 48 this morning (Wednesday). We are still hopeful that more are returning soon,” Lamin said.
The commissioner asked parents to report to the school whenever their children arrived home to enable the government update its record.
An anonymous source in the school told THISDAY that the 28 students that returned were rescued by villagers in bushes around Dapchi town.
“You know, some of the children trekked 15 to 20 kilometres in the bush to save their lives. We also received calls from Fulani settlements that they were bringing more students they found in the bush,” the source said, adding: “So far, no dead body of the students has been recovered, but we, however, had one student who was bitten by a snake. She was treated locally and would be taken to the specialist hospital, Damaturu for better medical attention.”
It was also gathered that a combined team of security operatives had been drafted to the area for the search of the remaining missing students.
Meanwhile Yobe Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam, has charged the military and other security outfits to ensure that none of the students was lost.
The governor in a statement by his spokesman, Mr. Abdullahi Bego, said: “Following the incursion of suspected Boko Haram terrorists into Dapchi, headquarters of Bursari Local Government Council, and the Government Girls Science Technical College (GGSTC), the Yobe State Government is working with the Nigerian Army and other security and law enforcement agencies to ensure that all students in the school are fully accounted for.”
Saying the students were helped by their teachers to escape through the night to the surrounding bush and villages as the terrorists stormed the town on Monday, the governor said 50 out of the 926 students has remained unaccounted for.
“The state government is coordinating with the army and law enforcement to ensure that those girls are returned safely,” he said, adding that the state government had no credible information yet on whether any of the school girls was taken hostage by the terrorists.
“I am deeply saddened and outraged by the unfortunate event,” Gaidam said, directing all relevant personnel and agencies of government to work closely with the army and other security organisations to address the situation.
Buhari Dispatches Ministers to Yobe
Meanwhile, President Buhari has ordered the military and other security agencies to immediately take full charge of the school as a result of Monday’s attack and provide him with update on the situation.
The president, according to the Minister of Information and Culture, Mohammed, also sent a delegation comprising ministers to the community to provide him with original information about the situation.
Mohammed, who made the disclosure to journalists after over six hours of FEC meeting in the State House, listed members of the delegation to include: Dan-Ali, Onyema and himself.
He said: “Mr. President has directed the military and other security agencies to take immediate charge and control of Government Girls Technical College, Dapchi, and inform him of developments.
“He has released a delegation led by the Minister of Defence to Dapchi, to get first-hand information as to what is happening.
“Others in the delegation are Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Information.”
Asked about the information at his disposal on the state of the missing girls, aside the 48 that had reportedly returned, Mohammed said it would be made known as soon as the picture is clear.
“That is precisely why Mr. President is in direct contact with the military and the police, and as soon as we get any information, we will let you know,” he said.
The military has, however, said it was waiting on the school authorities to ascertain if any student was abducted.
It also claimed that the attack on the school was the desperate last kicks of a dying horse.
Speaking on the phone to THISDAY on Wednesday, the spokesman of the military counter-insurgency operation in the North-east (Operation Lafiya Dole), Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, said troops had been deployed in Dapchi to restore normalcy and go after the marauding insurgents.
He said the military could not say for now if there was any abduction from the school as it was still waiting on the school authorities to make a roll call and check through the school register to ascertain if there was any student missing.
Nwachukwu said it was also gathered that some of the students who have relatives in the town ran home when gunshots were heard.
He said: “The Dapchi incident is quite an unfortunate one. The information so far received is that the principal of the school dispersed the students on hearing sporadic shooting before the insurgents arrived the school premises.
“Many of the students some of whom are indigenous had scurried to safety in different directions. So far no destruction of property or killing has been reported but there were cases of looting of food and provisions. Our troops have moved into the community and are on the trail of the insurgents.”
He added that: “I will like to add that the attack on Dapchi is diversionary because of the heat being brought upon the insurgents by our troops in the ongoing operation Deep Punch II.”
He absolved the military of any blame on the attack.
Nwachukwu said: “Operation Lafiya Dole troops have a mandate to carry out counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations in north eastern Nigeria and as such are deployed vis-a-vis the threat situation.
“It is fundamentally a fluid security architecture, considering the pseudo and asymmetrical nature of the adversary. Hence, as troops clear Boko Haram insurgents from a locality or community, the expectation is that operatives of other sister security agencies take charge of security in such cleared areas, while the troops move ahead to continue their counter insurgency operations.”
He added that: “Apparently given the vastness of these areas you have mentioned (Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States), troops cannot be deployed in every inch of the geographical space to hold the ground in cleared locations. Troops must be relieved of this burden by other security agencies while they continue to conduct kinetic operations against the insurgents in the hinterlands.”
The military spokesman, however, said patrols and ambushes, were being carried out by troops who, he added, maintain blocking positions and checkpoints to deny the insurgents freedom of action.
Saraki Condemns Attack
The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on Wednesday, condemned in strong terms the attack on the school by suspected Boko Haram insurgents.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu, in Abuja, Saraki described the attack as one too many even as he urged the security agencies to get to the root of the matter, bring the perpetrators to book and ensure that all students of the school are accounted for.
He called on security agencies to reinforce security around academic institutions in the country in order to prevent criminal elements from taking advantage of such soft targets to disrupt academic activities and wreak havoc at a time the federal government is working assiduously to end the incidents of terror in the North-east and other flash points in the country.
He urged the security agencies to be proactive in protecting lives and property in the country and also ensure that accurate information about attacks such as the Dapchi’s, are promptly made available to members of the public to prevent unnecessary speculation and panic by family members of victims and citizens alike.
He expressed sympathy with the affected students, parents, school authorities and the government and people of Yobe State over the incident.