PUNCH: FG confirms 110 Dapchi schoolgirls missing, helicopters, jets join search

The Federal Government has confirmed that 110 pupils of the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, are still unaccounted for after Boko Haram terrorists invaded their school on Monday last week.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said this in a statement on Sunday by his Special Adviser, Segun Adeyemi.

According to the statement, Mohammed announced the figure after a meeting between a Federal Government delegation and representatives of key stakeholders in Damaturu, Yobe State capital, on Sunday.

The stakeholders included the state government, the college authorities, parents, security agencies and the Bursari Local Government Area, where Dapchi is situated.

Mohammed said, based on briefings from the principal of the college, Hajia Adama Abdulkarim, and the state Commissioner for Education, Mr. Mohammed Lamin, 906 pupils — out of whom 110 had not been accounted for — were in the school on the day of the attack.

The minister said the Federal Government had stepped up efforts to find the girls and return them safely to their parents.

He said, “This is the second time in four days that a Federal Government delegation will visit Yobe State since the 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.”

The Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd.), said the delegation embarked on the trip in order to get the facts right “so that the approach to the solution can be correct.’’

“We must get back the girls and also ensure that this does not happen again,’’ he added.

In one of its verified Twitter handles, @Aso Rock, the presidency also said 110 pupils were missing.

The message read in part, “The Federal Government delegation is back in Yobe State today (Sunday), regarding the missing girls of Government Science and Technical Girls College, Dapchi.

“The Federal Government confirmed that 110 students are so far unaccounted for.

“An earlier visit took place Thursday February 22, 2018.”

FG creates situation room, awaits B’Haram contact

The Federal Government is to establish a situation room to harness information about the missing schoolgirls.

The Minister of Interior stated this, adding, “We need to work with the parents, security, the state government and everybody. That is why a kind of situation room is being put together now that will involve traditional rulers, the parents, local people and all the security agencies.”

A highly-placed security source told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the government was working on the suspicion that the Abu Musab al-barnawi-led faction of Boko Haram might be responsible for the abduction of the schoolgirls.

The source said the government expected that the terrorists would reach out to it in the next couple of days.

He said, “Now that we have been able to ascertain the number of missing girls, we are waiting for the terrorists to make contact. We believe that it is the al-barnawi faction of Boko Haram that abducted them because Shekau and his men have been decimated.”

Gaidam blames military again

The Yobe State Governor, Ibrahim Gaidam, has insisted that the military and the defence headquarters that withdrew troops from Dapchi town shortly before the attack and abduction of the schoolgirls in Dapchi are to blame.

According to him, Dapchi town has been peaceful and never witnessed such an incident until barely a week after the military withdrew the troops from the town.

“If the soldiers had been on the ground, the attack on the town and subsequent abduction of the schoolgirls would not have happened.

“This is not the first time the absence of soldiers has exposed our people to attack by Boko Haram. In 2013, a secondary school in Buni-Yadi was attacked a week after the military removed soldiers guarding the town. So, let me be quoted anywhere, the military must take the blame for the attack on Dapchi,” he said.

No blame game – Military

But the Director, Defence Information, Brig. Gen. John Agim, in a text message and telephone conversation with The PUNCH said, “This is not an entertainment. The lives of children are involved. The military is not ready for a blame game. I don’t want to comment on anything again on that issue (the Yobe State Governor’s claim).”

The Defence Headquarters, Abuja, had on Saturday, faulted the governor, noting that troops were located “just 30 kilometres to the school.”

Seven surveillance helicopters, jets join search

No fewer than seven surveillance aircraft, including helicopters and fighter jets, have been deployed by the military in Yobe State to join in the search for the missing schoolgirls, it was learnt on Sunday.

The PUNCH gathered that the air assets – NAF 575, NAF 560, NAF 454, NAF 810 NAF 452, NAF 931 and NAF 930 — would be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission in the North-East in an effort to locate the schoolgirls.

The Nigerian Air Force, which confirmed the deployment of the ISR platforms on Sunday, noted that its search operations for the schoolgirls in the last few days “did not yield the desired results and it was set to renew its efforts.”

The NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, who confirmed the deployment of air artillery in Yobe State, said, “The air force has deployed additional air assets, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms in the North-East in a renewed effort at locating the missing Dapchi girls. Before now, following confirmation of reports that some of the girls had yet to be accounted for, the NAF had deployed some ISR platforms and helicopters to search for the missing girls, as well as the rogue Boko Haram terrorists.

“Although these search operations were conducted in a covert manner; for obvious reasons, the efforts did not yield the desired results. Accordingly, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, ordered the immediate deployment of additional air assets and NAF personnel in the North-East to conduct day and night searches for the missing girls.

“It is noteworthy that the renewed efforts at locating the girls are being conducted in close liaison with other surface security forces.

“NAF 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 relevant security agencies.”

Stop shedding crocodile tears, PDP tells FG, APC

The Peoples Democratic Party has, however, told the Federal Government and the All Progressives Congress to “stop shedding crocodile tears” and provide answers to questions surrounding the abduction of the schoolgirls.

The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said the Muhammadu Buhari-led presidency must answer questions regarding alleged compromise of security in the area, as well as the misleading reports that frustrated immediate rescue of the abducted girls.

Ologbondiyan said Nigerians had been in shock over revelations by the Yobe State Governor that the abduction was preceded by the withdrawal of troops around Dapchi, thereby rendering the area defenceless.

He said, “We challenge the President to come out clean on issues surrounding the abduction. Who authorised the withdrawal of troops from the area and for what purpose?

“Furthermore, we 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?

“We 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.”

Ologbondiyan wondered why the government sent a delegation which he alleged had no knowledge of security to the scene of the abduction on a fact-finding mission.

“The 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,” he added.

The spokesman for the former ruling party called on the security agencies to rise to the challenge and ensure the safe return of “our girls.”

B’Haram can attack anytime, Shettima warns

The Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, on Sunday said Nigeria should learn from the Chibok experience and separate politics from security.

The governor, who warned northern states to be on guard as Boko Haram could attack when least expected, spoke during a visit to his Yobe State counterpart, Gaidam, on Sunday to sympathise with him on the abducted pupils of Government Girls’ Science Technical College.

He said the latest abduction reminded him of the over 200 kidnapped students in Chibok four years ago.

The governor said politicians must learn to separate politics from security, especially from the Chibok experience, and ensure that same was not repeated.

He said, “I have been in your shoes since 2014 when some schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok. I can imagine how you feel and the trauma you are going through.

“The parents of these girls would always look up to you with hope. I know you are pained but I also believe that insha Allah, these girls will be rescued very soon.

“Before Boko Haram attacked Chibok, Chibok had the least threat of Boko Haram in the North-East. No one expected them to even think about Chibok because it is mostly a Christian community where Boko Haram was hardly an issue there.

“In the same vein, I don’t think anyone ever expected an attack in Dapchi. This incident has, however, reminded all of us across the northern Nigeria to be on guard.

“I think the difference between the Chibok incident and this one is that the Federal Government didn’t react in denial, doubt or formed a conspiracy theory. The Federal Government assumed responsibility which we hope will lead to the rescue of the schoolgirls.”

Ganduje in Damaturu

Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State has visited the Yobe State Government House in Damaturu to sympathise with his Yobe counterpart, Gaidam, over the missing 110 Dapchi schoolgirls.

Ganduje said Kano was praying for the missing girls, adding that it was unfortunate that such happened “when the menace of insurgency was withering away from the country.”

He said. “What happened has told us that we should always be extra-vigilant.”

Ganduje expressed optimism that the girls would be rescued soon to rejoin their families and schools.

He commended his Kano State counterpart, adding that there was nothing to suggest that the 110 missing pupils had been kidnapped.

“Among those who were missing, some may have run back to their families and decided not to return to school. Some could still be in the bushes,” Gaidam said.

‘B’Haram has found abduction lucrative’

The Majority Leader of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan (Yobe-North), says Boko Haram has found kidnapping, particularly of girls, lucrative.

He said this was responsible for the continued attacks on schools in the North-East by the terrorists.

Lawan, while speaking to one of our correspondents on the telephone, called for more security in schools, especially the female dominated ones, warning that the trend might frustrate girl-child education.

He said, “We need to really take extraordinary security measures around our schools, especially girls’ institutions. In my view, Boko Haram has found abduction of girls to be a gold mine for them. They will continue to do that.

“There is a need to ensure that security around our institutions is tight, especially around girls’ schools, so that we don’t take any chances with our girls in schools.”
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