When the Ghost of Chibok Visited Dapchi

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The nation is still in shock, that four years after the embarrassing abduction of about 275 school girls in Chibok, Borno State, another abduction by the deadly Boko Haram sect in Dapchi, Yobe State happened. Michael Olugbode reports

Date was April 14, 2014. Preparation for the 2015 elections was in top gear. Many were at the time displeased with the President Goodluck Jonathan administration but quite a good number had not really decided what they could make up of the government. Alas, a group of insurgents suddenly showed up somewhere called Chibok in the Northeast state of Borno and abducted about 274 young school girls, who were sitting for their exams.

Unfortunately, for days, the government failed to believe that such incident occurred and before the reality of the truth dawned on the administration, Jonathan was on his way out of Aso Rock, the seat of power. The kidnap became a major campaign tool and the then opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), made a huge capital of it. Although some of the girls were rescued by the Buhari administration, many others are still stuck with their abductors.

Today, the same thing might be playing out again, this time in Yobe State. The insurgents struck again and attacked Dapchi, a town in Yobe State. So comfortable were they in their devilish assignment that they merely employed the same old trick of sending a group of armed bandits, clad in military camouflage and with several trucks.  By the time they were done, 110 schoolgirls had been abducted and taken to a location yet-to-be identified.

What this presupposes is that the Boko Haram sect even though degraded, still have capacity to strike at the own chosen time and target. It is for such a reason that the latest abduction of the schoolgirls in Dapchi would go down as one of the unfortunate incidents to be recorded under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

A Show of Anger

Quite expectedly, the visit of the Yobe State Governor, Ibrahim Gaidam, to Dapchi  drew the ire of some irate residents of the town who pelted his convoy with stones. The irate crowd showed their disgust for the governor because of the initial wrong information the state government provided that many of the abducted girls had been rescued and were in the custody of the military.

His security attaché had to shoot canisters of tear gas to disperse the angry crowd who in their anger, vandalised and destroyed seven of the cars in the governor’s convoy.

A reporter in the convoy of the governor, who spoke anonymously to THISDAY, said one of the cameramen, who sat next to him, was severely injured in the attack.

“We all had to duck, and we were in fear as they continued to throw stones at us to protest the lie told about the rescue of the schoolgirls. The angry residents were ready to withstand the teargas of the governor’s security as they, in spite of everything, vandalised seven vehicles in our convoy,” he said.

Some of the residents were said to have come to meet the governor to present to them the girls he claimed were rescued. They could not hide their annoyance when the governor gave another story that the girls had not been rescued. This was believed to have triggered their anger and the reaction that followed.

Not surprisingly, some of the parents of the missing schoolgirls, had immediately asked government to stop playing games and tell the whole world that the school girls were abducted by Boko Haram. The parents, who came out with a list of 105 students, who were still missing, said they were still expecting the list to rise as some parents might not have come forward to register their missing wards. This, perhaps, forced government to quickly come up with a more detailedlist of 110 missing girls.

How the Attack was Carried out

The parents, who immediately organised themselves into a forum and appointed a leader, Mallam Bashir Manzo, said the insurgents were at the school dressed in military uniform and deceived the girls that they were leading them to safety after another set of insurgents shot sporadically at another direction. The girls’ parents said it was clear from the attitude of the invaders that their mission was solely to abduct the students.

 Manzo said: “The insurgents came into the town with a plan to abduct the girls. They did not know the exact location of the school, so, they abducted some boys in town to take them there. The boys mistakenly took them to the Central Primary School, and when they found out that it was the wrong place, they were angry and threatened to kill the boys. They subsequently abducted some other boys, who took them to the school.

“When they got to the staff quarters’ gate as they could not locate the girls, they started shooting and since the girls were alerted in their hostels, some scaled the fence and some others tried escaping through the main gate and they saw some men in khaki, who they mistook for soldiers. They invited the girls into their parked vehicles and took off in the name of rescuing them from Boko Haram.

 “We have compiled the list of the girls still missing, the number is 105, and we have formed ourselves into a forum and in the list of the names collected are the girls’ names, their parents’ names and the phone numbers of the parents. We would want those parents that have not yet seen their children to come and register on the list.”

Military Absolves Itself

In a response to inquiries by THISDAY after the incident, Deputy Director, Army’s Public Relations in charge of counter-insurgency Operation on the North East (Operation Lafiya Dole), Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, said the Operation Lafiya Dole troops had a mandate to carry out counter terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in north eastern Nigeria and as such, was deployed following the development.

“The security architecture is fundamentally fluid, considering the asymmetrical nature of the adversary, hence, as troops clear Boko Haram insurgents from a locality or community, the expectation is that operatives in other sister security agencies would take charge of the security in such cleared areas, while the troops move ahead to continue their counter-insurgency operations.

“Given the vastness of these areas, you have mentioned, troops cannot be deployed on 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 troops, however, carry out patrols and ambushes; maintain blocking positions and checkpoints to deny the insurgents freedom of action.

“Specific measures for the protection of schools in areas that have been cleared by troops rest on the sister security agencies. Definitely schools won’t be in session in a location that has not been cleared. The Dapchi incident is an unfortunate one, because the information received was that the principal of the school had 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 explained.

The Blame Game

Governor Geidam set this in motion when he blamed the attack on the fact that the military relocated from the town. His claim was promptly responded to by the military which maintained that the relocation of troops from Dapchi was due to other pressing demands in other locations where its troops had come under attack. It further claimed that at the time of the relocation of the troops, there was presence of police in the town which were expected to have taken charge of places cleared and secured by the military. The police in their reaction disputed the claim of the military by insisting that there was never a time when the military informed them that its troops were relocating nor were they handed over the security of the town.

The Search Continues

Within a week, two federal government delegations visited the state on fact-finding missions and to convey the president’s assurance that everything would be done to get the missing girls. A 12-man probe panel was  also set-up to unravel the circumstances surrounding the abduction of the girls. The panel has until March 15 to submit its report. Military assets were also said to have been deployed to the area for the search of the missing girls while service chiefs were also said to have relocated to the state for proper coordination of the search  with the theater commander.

While the search for the missing girls continues, question are however being asked about some of the glaring lapses before and after the incident.  With the Chibok experience, why would a girls-only school, or any school in the theater of war, be without security cover? Why did it take long for the government to admit that the Dapchi school girls were abducted? Why was there no efforts to rescue the girls within the first few hours of the incident? What was responsible for the wrong information that the girls had been rescued?