On Wednesday, March 23, 2018, the Boko Haram sect, in a brokered deal with the federal government, released 104 of the abducted 110 schoolgirls. This development, of course, was relieving to the grieving parents and the community. But that was not all. Their tale of woes soon took a different dimension, when the news came that five of the girls had died and that the sole Christian victim amongst them, Leah Sharibu was held back, because of her faith. After interacting with parents of some of the girls and others, Senator Iroegbu and Michael Olugbode, who were part of the THISDAY and the Arise News Network International Teams that monitored events in Dapchi, give fresh insight into the kidnap story and the subsequent release of the girls
Not because they had some special protection arrangement by the federal government or that the invaders of their neighbouring communities had promised to “pass over” whenever they were unleashing their terror, Dapchi, a sleepy town in the Northeast of Yobe State had always maintained the impression that it was far away from the reach of the ‘locusts’. And because of this assumption, it had always gone about its businesses, unperturbed about the incidences around it. But as it has turned out, the terrorists, perhaps, had ‘saved the best for the last’ as they took the lid off the Dapchi cover on February 19, with an invasion that recorded the abduction of 110 girls of the Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi.
Like the Chibok experience of 2014, the development literally set the country on fire, attracted international outrage and put the federal government under pressure to facilitate the release of the girls. Much more disturbing to an average observer was that with the Chibok experience about four years ago and the political capital that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), then the opposition party, made from it, no one would have thought that another heist of schoolgirls would come with so much ease especially that the man now in authority is a known retired general. However, still unlike Chibok, which had taken four years and all the girls are yet to be rescued, over 100 of the Dapchi girls had been rescued, albeit through alleged trade-off, for which the APC forbade the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
“We feel helpless yet hopeful but lack the experience on how to go about the rescue of our girls. This is why we called on the Chibok parents to tell us how they went about resolving the similar predicament and were able to attract global attention to their plight”, said one of the fathers of the abducted Dapchi girls.
This was the collaboration, between parents of the Chibok schoolgirls, Borno State and the Dapchi schoolgirls, that journalists went to the town to witness, not knowing that much bigger news was yet to come. When THISDAY and Arise News teams arrived at the sleepy town of Dapchi, Yobe State on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, the mood was sombre yet charged. Apart from the upsurge in the deployment of security personnel, the people of the town were totally unaware of what the federal government had in stock for them. But they had queried why the soldiers increased in numbers when just one could not be found at their desperate moment of need.
The mood was pensive and all that the parents could do was to learn from the Chibok parents how to pressurise the governments, both at the state and the federal, to act as well as draw the attention of the international community to their plight, oblivious of the fact that their problem was just hours from being solved.
They all gathered at the centre of the town and wore their sorrow and disappointment like a badge of recognition. They had turned to the supreme being for hope as they had little or none in the government. All they could do was pray to God for help.
Some of the relatives of the girls wasted no time in opening up to journalists about their pains and helplessness.
“We invited the Chibok parents to identify what roles we should play to get our daughters back. We want to learn from their experience how they were able to attract global attention to their plight, because for us, it has been a painful experience. We don’t know why government caged us here that we cannot even go near Damaturu (Yobe State Capital) let alone Abuja (nation’s capital) to express ourselves. We don’t know how to go about this and that is why we welcome the solidarity visit,” said Mr. Goni Ali, whose younger sister was among the 110 girls abducted.
According to Ali, what happened was new to Dapchi town, which they considered very safe until February 19, 2019. He explained that prior to the abduction the community had been left untouched by the vagaries of terrorism and insurgency that had ravaged most parts of the North-east since 2008.
The Mass Communications students narrated the pain his mother had been subjected since the disappearance of his 17 years old younger sister, Zarahu, whose dream, according to him, was to become a nurse.
“Since her abduction, we have been in a very painful situation. My younger sister is very lovely, homely, hardworking and endearing. I have not been myself since they took her away. Do you know that up till now my mother is yet to eat? She stopped cooking and has lost her appetite while her younger sister has quit school since the incident out of fear,” he said.
Ali further informed the THISDAY and the Arise News teams that he spoke with Zarahu a day before she was kidnapped alongside other girls. “She told me how she wanted to be a nurse and whenever I remember that her dream was about to be truncated, it makes me sad.”
Apart from the fact that they were pained by the abduction of their daughters and sisters, the villagers were more disappointed at the government, particularly the security agencies.
One of the angry Dapchi fathers, who pleaded anonymity, accused the security agents, especially the Nigerian Army of sabotage and irresponsibility. He also alleged that the District Police Officer (DPO) of Dapchi, Kabir Satomi, made several ‘mysterious calls’ and was informed before the terrorists struck, “but curiously, he ran away and never returned several hours after the abduction.”
The concerned father also narrated the events that led to the abduction of the girls and wondered why the soldiers were redeployed to the community after the deed had been done. Some of the parents even asked for the immediate withdrawal of the soldiers if their presence could not guarantee the safety, let alone release of the abducted girls and the already terrified community.
“The coming of the soldiers after the abduction of the girls is too late and a waste of time. Why come after the head has been cut off? They should take their soldiers away,” one of the parents said.
Most of those who spoke with the THISDAY and the Arise News teams said the terrorists struck around 6.30pm, when a majority of them were praying in the Mosque. After the initial confusion that engulfed the community, many of the villagers including security personnel abandoned their homes, businesses and duty posts, realising that Boko Haram had come to town.
One of the elders in Dapchi, Mr. Adamu Gashuama, whose 12-year old daughter, Aisha Gashuama was among the abducted, gave his account of what transpired that fateful day.
“I lost my daughter, Aisha Gashuama, whom I saw last on the day she was abducted. In fact, she gained admission to JSS 1 and I sent her off to school and that was it. What happened that fateful day was like a film as we heard gunshots but initially thought it was transformer that blew but when the sound became louder and more frequently, we realised it was Boko Haram and ran to the bush including the security men. Unfortunately, we returned the following day only to realise that our daughters were taken by the terrorists,” he said.
The concerned father viewed the incident, which he though considered painful, as an act of God. “I feel miserable and helpless,” he said.
He also confirmed the fact that some of the Chibok parents had been invited to help them with the rescue efforts but pleaded with the government to double their rescue initiative. However, little did he know that his prayers would be answered the following day!
Having waited in vain and with 6.30pm curfew approaching rapidly, the THISDAY and the Arise News teams were informed that the eagerly expected Chibok parents could not make it that day as their scheduled arrival were delayed by faulty vehicles that kept breaking down on the road.
Disappointed, the THISDAY and Arise News team left for Damaturu with plans to return to Dapchi the following day, Wednesday, March 20, 2018 to capture the interaction between the Chibok and Dapchi parents.
As scheduled, the THISDAY and the Arise News teams had arrived the town early on Wednesday, to cover the solidarity visit of Chibok schoolgirls’ parents at about 8:00am only to be turned back by stern looking soldiers. The military, which were apparently aware of the deal to release the girls, had stationed a large detachment of soldiers in the village since Tuesday and prevented the media teams from going into the school to take pictures.
One of the soldiers said they have been informed that the town might be attacked by insurgents any moment, feigning to be unaware of what was to come. He even showed some people fleeing from the town as an indication that there was likely going to be attack. But at about 10 minutes later, a Boko Haram convoy of about 10 Hilux vehicles was seen driven on high speed through the desert part into the town. At about 8.20am, the news wafted through that most of the girls had been released.
In what seemed like a dramatic but cheerful end to the February 19, 2018 heist, about 110 students from Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State were returned. Some of the parents also hinted that they had been told to gather to pick their children as the insurgents would be dropping them off, so, they waited at a weighed distance for the event to unfold.
However, the reality at Jumbam village, which is a-15 minute drive from Dapchi, reflected mixed feelings that oscillated between joy and sadness.
This was where one of the six girls released to the village, Khadija Grema, narrated the sad experience of the abducted girls despite breathing air of freedom. Grema, who is an SS1 student, revealed that five girls died due to the stress they were made to go through during their transportation after their abduction. She noted that she was lucky to be alive but lamented that five of her fellow students were suffocated to death. She also revealed that the five girls, who died were buried in the bush and that two of them were from Jumbam.
Sadly, father of one of those who died, Mr. Abdullahi Hassan, was on hand to unbundle his pain to the THISDAY and Arise News team, saying it was quite unfortunate to lose her daughter to the insurgents. Hassan, who said the name of her daughter is Maimuna Hassan, noted that: “I feel sad because my daughter is one of the two girls that died. Her name is Maimuna Hassan and the second girl is Aisha Adamu.”
It was, however, a different story for Alhaji Aliyu Maina, whose daughter, Aisha Maina returned alive. He said: “Those we have found we are happy for their release but still very sad over the lost girls.”
The bitter-sweet scenario also continued for the parents at the General Hospital, Dapchi, where the joyous relief of those whose daughters were freed was punctured by the pains of those who lost theirs, including one student, a Christian, Leah Sharibu, who was not returned for refusing to denounce her faith as demanded by the terrorists.
An elated Aliyu, who spoke to the THISDAY and the Arise News teams on his abducted younger sister, whose dream was to be a nurse, showed the now trending still picture he took of the Boko Haram terrorists when they came to drop the girls. He expressed joy that his sister came back alive, while commending both the government and security agencies for the efforts.
According to him, “Now, my sister can continue her dream of becoming a nurse and we can share in the joy of having our sister living to achieve her dream.”
On the other hand, the sorrow of those who lost their loved ones was compounded by the actions of some of the overzealous soldiers, who either mishandled some journalists or intimidated some of the villagers, who were in great spirit and even chanted, “Sai Buhari,” in the name of enforcing the order.
Some three women, who were apparently heartbroken from the loss of their girls and were brought to the hospital for treatment, were turned back by the arms-wielding soldiers.
While they shared in the joy of those released, the parents whose daughters were reportedly dead or yet-to-be released still savoured forlorn hope.
The girls were later taken to Abuja for the usual ‘political ritual’, which could prevent the parents from being with them for some time. But at least, they are able to sleep well now, because their daughters were no longer in the dungeon of the Boko Haram terrorists but in the ‘safe house’ of the government.
However, for Dapchi which had lived with the impression that it was untouchable by any of the crises that had been decimating the beauty of most parts of the North-east, the event of February 19, had undone that impression and rewritten its story for good. For, if it wasn’t their Dapchi, then, whose?