• President meets freed Unimaid lecturers, 10 women
• DSS DG speaks on how their release was negotiated
Omololu Ogunmade and Paul Obi in Abuja
With Nigerians and the rest of the world still reeling over another major abduction of schoolgirls in the North-east, the Nigerian Army and the Police Force Monday engaged in a blame game over the abduction last week of the 110 girls from Government Science and Technical Girls’ College in Dapchi, Yobe State by Boko Haram insurgents.
The army, in a statement issued Monday by the Deputy Director, Public Relations of the Theatre Command, Operation Lafiya Dole, Col Onyema Nwachukwu, described the statement by the Yobe State Governor, Dr. Ibrahim Gaidam, who had accused the military of withdrawing the troops from the town one week before the girls were abducted, as not only unfortunate but far from the truth.
It further explained that the troops were withdrawn on the premise that Dapchi had been relatively calm and peaceful, and the security of the town was formally handed over to the Nigeria Police Division located in the town.
According to the army, “The attention of the headquarters Theatre Command, Operation Lafiya Dole, has been drawn to a statement credited to Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam, the governor of Yobe State, currently circulating in the media, in which he reportedly alleged that the withdrawal of the military was responsible for the recent suspected Boko Haram attack and abduction of female students from Government Girls’ Science Technical College in Dapchi. This allegation is not only unfortunate but also very far from the truth
“Although this headquarters will not attempt to join in any blame game, it is very expedient to set the records straight for the benefit of posterity. In carrying out its mandate to counter terrorism and the insurgency in Northeastern Nigeria, Operation Lafiya Dole has been alive to its responsibilities vis-a-vis the fight against the Boko Haram insurgents.
“Several communities and local governments that were hitherto under siege of the insurgents have been liberated and the insurgents pushed out. While troops continue to trail and decimate the remnants of the insurgents in the hinterlands, the security of the liberated communities and towns fall in the hands of the sister security agencies.
“The recent dislodgement and further decimation of the insurgents from their enclaves in the Sambisa and the Lake Chad Islands are testimonials to the effective operations of troops against the insurgents.
“Additionally, troops are regularly conducting long-range patrols, raids and ambushes to canalise and take out fleeing insurgents. Given all these efforts, it is very astonishing and shocking that such unfortunate comment and allegation is been touted against the loyal and dedicated troops of Operation Lafiya Dole.”
The army said contrary to the governor’s comment, the troops earlier deployed in Dapchi were redeployed to reinforce troops at Kanama, following the attacks on troops’ location at the Nigerian-Nigerien border.
“This was on the premise that Dapchi has been relatively calm and peaceful and the security of Dapchi town was formally handed over to the Nigeria Police Division located in the town.
“Troops’ redeployment was therefore done in tandem with the exigencies of the operation and not as misconstrued.
“It is thus obligatory to state that the allegation reportedly attributed to the governor of Yobe state is misleading and misinforming. We reiterate our commitment and determination to carrying out our mandate to fight Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east.
“We also implore members of the public to continue to support us with credible information on the whereabouts of the Boko Haram terrorists. We would also like to assure the parents, government and the good people of Yobe State and indeed members of the public that we will not rest on our oars in the search and rescue of the abducted schoolgirls and any other persons held captive by the terrorists,” it added.
But in a swift riposte Monday, the Yobe Police Command dismissed the claims by the army that Dapchi town had been handed over to its division in the state.
A statement issued by the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Sumonu Abdulmaliki, the police said: “The attention of the Yobe State Police Command has been drawn to press statement from headquarters of Operation Lafiya Dole subscribing that ‘Dapchi has been relatively calm and peaceful and the security of Dapchi town was formally handed over to the Nigeria Police Division located in the town’.
“The statement by the military of formal handing over of Dapchi town to the Nigeria Police Division in Dapchi is not correct and untrue, as there was no time that the military informed the police of their withdrawal, consult or handed over their locations in Dapchi town to the police.
“The whole of Yobe State is still under security emergency which the police, the military and other security agencies are battling to ensure lasting peace.
“Members of the public in Yobe State are implored to disregard and discountenance this claim that the military formally handed the security of Dapchi town to the Nigeria Police as untrue, unfounded and misleading.”
The Police Command added that it would continue to co-operate with other security agencies in ensuring the safety and protection of lives and property of people of Yobe State.
Freed Lecturers Meet Buhari
But even as the military and the police shifted responsibility over the Dapchi kidnappings, three lecturers of the University of Maiduguri (Unimaid) and 10 other women met with President Muhammadu Buhari Monday in the State House, Abuja, 16 days after regaining their freedom from Boko Haram insurgents.
The lecturers were part of a surveillance team of oil explorers contracted by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to search for crude oil in the Lake Chad Basin in Borno State, the epicentre of the insurgency.
They and the women had spent seven months in captivity before their recent release.
Addressing the ex-captives, who were led to the Presidential Villa by the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, Buhari said he was saddened by their abduction on June 20 and July 26 last year, respectively, adding that the federal government consequently made relentless efforts to secure their freedom.
Buhari, who said his administration places a high premium on human lives, added that all persons abducted by the insurgents would be rescued including the 110 girls kidnapped from Government Science and Technical Girls’ College, Dapchi, Yobe State, over a week ago.
Describing the process, which led to their freedom as painstaking and protracted, Buhari thanked the security agencies and international bodies that facilitated their release, and notably the International Committee for the Red Cross.
Promising that his administration would leave no stone unturned in degrading Boko Haram, Buhari said his administration would also work closely with stakeholders and international organisations, including the United Nations (UN) on the rehabilitation and resettlement of the freed captives.
Upon being briefed that one of the ex-captives, Jummai Ibrahim, spent seven months of her service year in captivity and could have passed out with the last batch of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members, Buhari said it made sense for the NYSC to present her discharge certificate to her.
“I thank all the various security agencies for their professionalism throughout this process as well as other agencies of government, sister nations in the Lake Chad region, and the International Committee for the Red Cross who have contributed to this feat of bringing you all home safely.
“While thanking the security agencies and all those who facilitated this, let me clearly reiterate the resolve of this administration to ensure all persons abducted by the insurgents are rescued or released safely.
“This is especially against the backdrop of the recent incident where another group of girls was abducted on the 19th of February from Government Science and Technical Girls’ College, Dapchi, Yobe State.
“I have since directed all the security agencies to immediately ensure that every effort is directed to ensure the safety of our schools and students, as well as bringing back the abducted girls to their families.
“Government remains unrelenting towards rescuing all those abducted. The government will also work closely with all stakeholders, especially the United Nations and other donor agencies and voluntary organisations towards rehabilitating and resettling all those displaced as a result of all these conflicts, in order to quicken the resumption of meaningful social and economic activities.
“I remain very mindful of the pains and injuries collectively meted out by the insurgents and we will ensure that government does not leave any stone unturned to degrade and contain these insurgents and ensure that complete peace returns to our land.
“Once again, I’m pleased to see that all of you are now free and will soon join your loved ones as well as be fully integrated back into the society.
“Nigerians sympathise with you over your ordeal and wish you welcome back to your families and friends. And I suppose the NYSC should give a certificate of discharge to the person that spent the remaining of her service year somewhere else (with abductors),” Buhari said.
In his presentation, Daura who listed the freed women to include: Jummai Ibrahim, Esther Wazari Kwasina, Amina Adams Gomdiya, Gloria Bulus, Paulina Amos, Faustina and Tani Audu, a final year student of the University of Maiduguri, said the process leading to their release took several months of negotiations.
According to him, the process was slow because the negotiators had to deal with two different groups of abductors who were based in two locations, disclosing that the negotiations took place mainly outside the country.
He also said the negotiations with Boko Haram included freeing arrested members of the terror group, who were not found culpable in any criminal activity, putting paid to attacks on civilians, worship centres, schools and public places using improvised explosive devices as well as stoppage of air strikes in return by military helicopter gunships.
“The process was slow due to the problem of dealing with two different groups based in different locations at the same time. In addition, the negotiations took place mostly outside the country, though subsequently finalised in the theatre of operations.
“The negotiations were mainly centred on an attempt at conflict mitigation which includes the fate of arrested members of the insurgent groups, especially accepting to be freed by government those found not to be culpable in any criminal activity.
“Also, possible cessation of hostilities, especially the attacks with IEDs on innocent civilians, worship centers, schools and other public places in return for the temporary stoppage of air strikes by helicopter gunships.
“Lastly, the negotiation was also centred on the possibility of granting amnesty to those willing to surrender and ready to lay down their arms by the federal government,” he said.
Daura also explained that a negotiated release of the abducted victims was chosen because it was considered the safest option.
“Mr. President, the search and negotiations for the rescue of the victims commenced in earnest following your directives to the effect that all abducted persons must be found and rescued alive.
“However, we chose the path of negotiation because it was considered the safest option, as any forceful attempt to rescue the victims could have endangered their lives.
“These negotiations took several months and the Department of State Services, with the support of the external elements of the group in the diaspora and support from friendly countries and liaison with the International Committee for the Red Cross, made the rescue possible,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the freed captives, one of the lecturers, Dr. Solomon Nicholas Yusuf, thanked the president profusely for ensuring that they were freed and demanded fresh jobs for himself and his two colleagues, in view of what he described as incessant threats to their lives.
According to him, “While we were in captivity, we wondered if, with 180 million or more Nigerians, Nigeria would ever come to our rescue. We lost hope. But sir, you surprised us.
“After seven months for us in the university and eight months for the 10 ladies, Nigeria rescued us. This shows that the life of every Nigerian is important and is worth rescuing.
“Sir, we are grateful. You gave us hope when there was no hope and we are excited. We thank you, sir. We also want to appreciate the DSS, the Nigerian Armed Forces, and the entire team that worked together to make sure we regained our freedom. We appreciate the labour of love they have shown to us.
“We also want to appreciate Nigerians for praying. We were informed that the entire nation was praying for us and we were excited… Sir, we are grateful.
“Sir, from the university, it is a golden opportunity for us to see you and to share our fears and concern because we were abducted while working for the nation. And right now, going back home to us is still a nightmare because of our experiences.
“We have this golden plea… Sir, if there is an opportunity for us to be relocated and may be given other jobs, that is our golden request.
“This is the only opportunity we have to share with you. But we appreciate everything that has been done and the sacrifice you have made for us. Thank you, sir.”