â€¢ Yobe gov blames military for Boko Haram attack
â€¢ PDP calls for prompt, decisive action
â€¢ NAF deploys air assets, surveillance in search and rescue
By Tobi Soniyi in Lagos, Olawale Ajimotokan and Paul Obi in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
The federal government has confirmed that 110 students of Government Girlsâ€™ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, are yet to be accounted for, after insurgents believed to be from a faction of the terror group, Boko Haram, invaded the school last Monday.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the figure after a meetingÂ on Sunday, in Damaturu, the state capital, between a federal government delegation and representatives of key stakeholders, including the state government, the college, the parents, security agencies and Bursari Local Government, where Dapchi is situated.
Mohammed in a statement said based on the briefings from the Principal of the College, Hajia Adama Abdulkarim, and the state Commissioner for Education, Hon. Mohammed Lamin, 906 students – out of whom 110 have not been accounted for – were in the school on the day of the attack.
There had been confusion over what transpired at the school last Monday, as there were conflicting accounts on the fate of the school girls. While the federal government and the police command in the state could not as atÂ ThursdayÂ confirm if there was any abduction by the terrorists group, unconfirmed reports put the number of missing girls at 111.
By the weekend, however, parents who had their wards in the school put the number of those who had not been found at 105.
Hoisting some clarity on the matterÂ on Sunday, Mohammed rounded up the figures at 110 and announced that the federal government had directed the police and civil defence authorities to immediately deploy their personnel in all the schools in the state in order to ensure the security and safety of the students and their staff.
The minister disclosed that the federal government had stepped up efforts to rescue the girls and return them safely to their parents, adding that security agencies were working on many leads regarding the whereabouts of the girls.
He said: “This is the second timeÂ in four daysÂ that a federal government delegation would visit Yobe State since the unfortunate incident. This is a measure of the seriousness with which we are addressing the issue. The security forces are leaving no stone unturned in their search for the girls.
”We are back here in Yobe as part of efforts to provide some succour to the parents of the girls, to let them know that they are not alone and also to reassure them that we will not rest until we have found the girls. We will carry the parents along on the efforts we are making.”
The Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd), who was also on the delegation, said the team embarked on the trip in order to get the facts right so that the approach to the solution would be correct.
“We must get back the girls and also ensure that this does not happen again,” he said.
The federal government delegation, comprising Mohammed and Dambazau, held an enlarged meeting that was attended by the state Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam; members of the state cabinet; the principal and vice-principal of the school; representatives of the parents of the missing girls; and security agencies, among others.
Gaidam Blames Military for Abduction
The blame for the attack and the eventual abduction of the girls have, however, been laid at the doorsteps of the military by the governor of the state, Gaidam.
Speaking during a solidarity visit by the Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kassim Shettima,Â on Sunday, in Damaturu, Gaidam said the withdrawal of soldiers guarding Dapchi barely a week before the attack made last Mondayâ€™s school incident easier for the terrorists.
â€œLet me be quoted anywhere, the military must take blame for the attack on Dapchi,â€ he said angrily, adding: â€œThe same thing happened in 2013 when the military suddenly removed troops guarding the town and a week later Boko Haram went there to attack the town and the secondary school there, killing 29 students.â€
According to the governor, â€œI blame the whole attack on Dapchi on the military and the defence headquarters who withdrew troops from Dapchi.
â€œThe attack occurred barely a week after the military withdrew the soldiers from there.
â€œBefore then, Dapchi has been peaceful, there was never such incident. But just a week after they withdrew the troops, Boko Haram came to attack the town.
â€œWhen I met the theatre commander on why the military were withdrawn, he said they had shortage of manpower. To me, it is not an excuse because the FG is duty bound to recruit and bridge the gap.â€
He likened the incident to the Boko Haram attack on Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, also in Yobe, in 2014 during which some students were killed.
He said if the troops were on the ground, both attacks would not have occurred.
Borno Gov Warns against Boko Haram Resurgence
During his visit to Damaturu, Shettima warned the nation to learn from the Chibok experience and separate politics from issues of security, warning other northern states to be on guard as Boko Haram could come pouncing.
Saying the latest abduction reminded him of the kidnap of over 200 students in Chibok four years ago, he said politicians should have learnt a lesson on the need to separate politics from issues of security from the Chibok experience and ensure the same was not repeated now.
He told the Yobe State governor: â€œI have been in your shoes since 2014 when schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok. I know exactly how you feel. When our daughters were abducted in Chibok, only God understood how I felt and I can imagine how you also feel, and the trauma you are going through.
â€œThe parents of these girls would always look up to you with hope in the midst of agony. I know you are pained but I also believe that insha Allah, these girls will be rescued very soon. It is unfortunate that we have faced yet another abduction but that only reminds us about the difficulties of fighting insurgency.
â€œOftentimes, they strike where you least expect. Before Boko Haram attacked Chibok, that Chibok had the least threat of Boko Haram in the northeast. No one expected them to even think about Chibok because it is mostly Christian community where Boko Haram was hardly an issue there.
â€œIf the parents thought Chibok wasn’t safe, I don’t think they would allow their children to be there. Of course, as Government we wouldn’t dare do so. In the same vein, I don’t think anyone ever expected an attack in Dapchi. This incident however, reminds all of us not only in Borno and Yobe but perhaps across northern Nigeria to be on guard.”
PDP Calls for Prompt, Decisive Action
In its reactionÂ on Sunday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) asked the federal government to stop whining and take prompt and decisive action to find and rescue the missing girls.
The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, queried the Muhammadu Buhari administration, asking it to account for the incident, saying the security agencies were complicit in the attack.
It said: â€œThe PDP and indeed all well-meaning Nigerians are appalled by the crocodile tears being shed by the incompetent and deceptive APC-federal government instead of scaling up actions on the matter.
â€œNigerians have been in shock over revelations by the Yobe State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam, that the abduction was preceded by withdrawal of troops around Dapchi, thereby rendering the area defenceless and paving the way for insurgents to attack and abduct our girls.
â€œWe challenge the presidency to come out clean on issues surrounding this abduction. Who authorised the said withdrawal of troops from the area and for what purpose? What alternative security measures were put in place to protect the people after the troops were withdrawn? Who controls security intelligence gathering and consequential protection action and what action was taken to guarantee adequate security in the area?
â€œWe charge the federal government to open up on who scripted and released the false rescue report, which frustrated prompt action that would have led to the recovery of our innocent girls? Why was that misleading report issued and whose interest did it serve?
â€œIndeed, from all indications, every right thinking Nigerian has deduced that there are more than meet the eyes in this ugly episode for which those in authority have a lot of questions to answer.
â€œWe invite the world to note that after exposing the community to harm and frustrating prompt rescue, the incompetent APC-controlled federal government has not taken any concrete step to give the abductors the desired chase to recover our girls.
â€œRather, they sent a delegation of persons with no knowledge of security to Dapchi on fact-funding missions.â€
NAF Deploys Air Assets, Surveillance in Search and Rescue Mission
As part of the search and rescue plan of the federal government, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF)Â on SundayÂ deployed air assets, surveillance and other air power infrastructure to locate the missing girls.
Speaking on the operation, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, said the deployment ranged from additional air assets, including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms, to the North-east in a renewed effort at locating the missing Dapchi girls.
He said: “Before now, following confirmation of reports that some of the girls were yet to be accounted for, the NAF had deployed some ISR platforms and helicopters to search for and possibly locate the missing girls as well as the rogue Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs).
“Although these search operations were conducted in a covert manner, for obvious reasons, the efforts did not yield the desired results.
â€œAccordingly, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, directed the immediate deployment of additional air assets and NAF personnel to the Northeast with the sole mission of conducting day and night searches for the missing girls.â€
According to Adesanya, “It is noteworthy that the renewed efforts at locating the girls are being conducted in close liaison with other surface security forces.
“While the NAF will spare no efforts at possibly locating the girls via its air operations, it also seizes this opportunity to call on anyone, especially the locals, who might have any information that could lead to the location of the girls to bring such information forward to NAF authorities or other relevant security agencies.”