Residents of Dapchi, the Yobe community attacked on Monday, said the Boko Haram gunmen that invaded their community had no other mission than to abduct the female students of Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi.
The grieving parents, relatives and residents of Dapchi, a dusty agrarian community, informed PREMIUM TIMES that the gunmen that invaded their community were strangers who had to force some of the residents to show them way around the town.
“They were total strangers to the town”, said Abubakar Muhammed. “They did not even know where the school GGSS is located even though it is just by the road on the way to Gashua. And when they eventually located the school they moved in, captured many of our daughters and left without any one confronting them”, said Mr. Muhammed in tears.
Dapchi, a town 101km from Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, is one of the oldest communities in Yobe State. PREMIUM TIMES reporter arrived Dapchi at noon on Thursday and met a quiet community, in the state of grief.
There was heavy security presence formed by soldiers and police officers all in strategic position as they waited for the arrival of a federal government delegation led by the Minister of Information, Mr Lai Muhammed.
The Yobe State Governor, Ibrahim Gaidam, was already in the town ahead of the visiting federal government delegation. It was also his first visit to Dapchi since that attack occurred. Then, he was away from the state on an official function in Abuja, according to his spokesman, Abdullahi Bego.
The presence of the governor in the attacked town gave residents hope that they would soon be reunited with the rescued schoolgirls whom the state government had the previous night announced had been rescued by soldiers
But before the arrival of the minister, the governor had to address the residents and tell them the truth. There were no girls that had been rescued.
The governor’s message doused the mood of the parents some of whom broke down in tears.
Mr. Gaidam urged them to take heart as the government “is still working round the clock to see that the missing girls were found”.
The Nigerian government has not come clear on the fact that these missing girls were actually abducted by the Boko Haram and the narratives that the girls have fled the attack and are still somewhere in the bush really pissed the members of the attacked community.
PREMIUM TIMES spoke with many of the residents who confirmed that they saw the Boko Haram gunmen taking the missing girls away in their trucks.
Abdullahi Jimuna, a young man who identified himself as a trader, said many of them are yet to overcome the shock of witnessing such invasion, which was the first ever in the community.
“On Monday at about 6.30 p.m., we were about to perform the evening prayer, then we saw about eight Hilux vans and a Tata truck coming into the town the other direction”, said Mr. Jimuna, a lanky fair-skinned man.
“When they arrived the town the vehicles separated in two groups, taking different directions. Then suddenly they began to shoot sporadically. After a while, as everyone was fleeing, then we began to hear the schoolgirls were screaming, we saw some of them scaling the fence and taking to the bush. Then we saw some of them being conveyed in a truck and being taken away.
“We were told on Wednesday night that they have been rescued somewhere near Geidam, but we later found out that it was all lies. It was lies because the governor came here today and informed us that as far as he was concerned these kids were not even abducted and taken away, that they might have ran into the bush.
“So if that is his opinion on the matter, then it means the issue of rescuing them from the Boko Haram does not arise. As I am talking to you now, many of us are traumatised, many are hospitalised due to the incident and abduction of the girls,” Mr. Jimuna said.
CLEAR MISSION TO ABDUCT SCHOOLGIRLS
Usman Na-Katarko, a farmer, told PREMIUM TIMES that he was very sure that the schoolgirls were the primary target of the Boko Haram gunmen whom he said were total strangers to the town.
“It was about prayer time, and we were in the mosque when we began to hear sounds of vehicles moving at unusual speed around the streets,” he said.
“Then we saw some of them driving towards where the security people are stationed. Then we began to hear shootings. From my experience as an internally displaced person from Katarko, I knew that such kind of shooting was not a friendly one. So I told people that this is not good we have to take to safety.
“I told them that these people in military uniform are not soldiers, because on their Hilux vans are inscriptions in Arabic.
“So I had to flee out of the mosque. As I was running towards my house to see if my family had also ran out, I saw a large number of Boko Haram gunmen (marching on) a village head of a nearby community called Dana, asking him to take them to a school; I had to dock and I heard them cursing him and shouting at him that “show us where the school is, show us where the girls school is.” And I think the Village head deliberately took them to a junior secondary near the hospital, where there were no student at that time, and when they were going into the school the village head escaped.
“When they found out that the school was empty they came back asking people to tell them the location of GGSS until they eventually located the school. They were very specific about what they were looking for. In fact they were telling some people in Kanuri language that “go on with your prayers we are not here for you people.” They even shook hands with some villagers to tell them they did not mean harm.
“From all indication, their primary mission was the school and it appeared most of them don’t know much about the town, they were strangers that was why it took them time to locate the school which was along the highway at the outskirts of the town.
“When they eventually found the school, they abducted more than 90 girls, most of them are our friends and brothers’ daughters, and took them away,” he said.
Another resident of the attacked town, Garba Dapchi, said even if the security operatives had arrived Dapchi two hours after the attack they would have been able to intercept the abductors and rescue the girls.
“On Monday at prayer time, they came into the town, they did not beat or harm anyone”, he said.
“All they were interested in was abducting the girls and taking them away. They also looted our wares in shops and then made away with the girls in trucks.
“After a day, we got the information that they have been intercepted in Geidam and the girls were being returned to Dapchi town. We all gathered here to receive them, then the governor came and said the truth was that there were not girls that were found.
“Everyone saw them leaving with our daughters, they took them on trucks and headed east, towards Gumsa village. As they were leaving many of us saw their vehicles breaking down on the way and they were stopping to fix it then carry on; they did not go far from this vicinity up till about 9 p.m. in the night. No one came to chase them; even when the soldiers arrived, they did not give them any pursuit.
“We can only pray that God should intervene and help us rescue our children because it is very clear that government and the security operatives are not ready to protect or help us.”
Our reporter was able to meet parents of some of the missing schoolgirls, who are in different state of grief over the disappearance of their daughters. Many of them who felt disappointed that government lied about rescuing the girls would not want to speak. But some that did speak, expressed their disappointment and asked the government to help rescue the girls.
Aminami Maigoro told PREMIUM TIMES that he could not find his 20 years old daughter, whom he said was also among the missing schoolgirls.
“She was in JSS 3. I am deeply saddened by what happened here on Monday,” he said.
“We live in Jimbam, a village not far away from here and she is schooling here. We came here to take delivery of our daughters after we heard that they were rescued in Geidam. But when we got here we found out that there were no girls that were rescued. We are seriously concerned and worried about government coming out to deny its statement made less than 24 hours ago. We fear they should not play politics with the lives of our children.”
Muhammed Sanusi, another parent, said he could not find his 14 years old daughter when the school management asked those that escaped the attack to go home. He said he was not pleased with the way government was managing the situation.
“When the Boko Haram gunmen came, it was already getting dark and initially we did not know that they had entered the school,” he said.
“It was later we heard the news that the school was invaded and that the students all fled. But in the morning, we were later informed that they had taken many girls away. We all gathered in the school premises as some of the girls that escaped into the bushes were being helped to return.
“At about 2pm, they asked us to come and get our girls; but unfortunately my daughter was not among the ones that escaped. My daughter Aisha Muhammed is nowhere to be found; she is just 14 years old in JSS3.
“We were all excited when the news came to us last night that the girls have been rescued in Geidam; we even commended the government for standing by our side in such a crucial time. But the same government now said no girl has been rescued.
“But the government has a duty to get us our children in whatever means or way that is necessary.”
A VISIT TO THE ATTACKED SCHOOL
Government Girls Science and Technical College (formerly known as Government Girls Secondary School, GGSS) Dapchi is located by the roadside at the outskirts of Dapchi town on the way to Gashua. It has a large perimeter fencing around a dusty plane within which the school is situated. It is obviously an old school that appears to be begging for serious face lift, especially the staff quarters and the dormitory.
Driving within the school premises seemed very difficult as vehicles could easily get stuck in the slippery sands.
There are a couple of neem trees providing shades around some of the buildings.
PREMIUM TIMES visited the school dormitory where most of the girls were at the time the Boko Haram gunmen attacked.
The dorm was found deserted as the students had to leave for the one week post-attack break. But the students left a tell-tale of the situation they found themselves at the time of the attacks.
The hall was littered with clothing, shoes, books and the air choked with smell of already served but abandoned meals.
Ya’Ari Malam Ari, the chief cook of the school, who was still at the dorm area because the management asked her and her colleagues to report daily to cook for the newly deployed soldiers guarding the school, told PREMIUM TIMES that in her over 15 years of working in the school kitchen, she had never witnessed a situation in which poor little students were so horrified.
“I have been working in this school as a cook for over 15 years, and this is our first experience with such kind of horror,” she said.
She said her daughter was among those that took to the bush at the time of the attack.
“We were all here preparing the students to break their usual Monday voluntary fasting which most of the Muslim students observe, when we began to hear distant shooting and commotion in town. Suddenly we saw men in uniform but who don’t look like soldiers entering our school premises and heading towards the dormitory area.
“Somebody alerted us that it was Boko Haram and we immediately asked everyone to run for safety. When the students were fleeing some of them were deceived to enter the Boko Haram gunmen’s vehicle. Because as everyone was running in confusion, some of the Boko Haram men started calling on the girls and telling them ‘come and let’s help’, ‘come and let’s help you to escape’. So many of them were either deceived or forcefully taken away by the gunmen.
“I have a child who is a student here and she was lucky to escape and return home, after I had given up hope that she might have been abducted as well. Her name is Zara Bukar.
“But many of her friends are nowhere to be found. We have not seen Ummi, we have not seen Yaani Fanna, we have not seen Zarau, Kaka, Halira, Zara, Maimuna all of them are yet to be found. I know more than ten girls in Dapchi town who are missing. Even one of my neighbour’s daughter who is in her final year and was already betrothed is also missing,” she said.
KIDNAP FOR RANSOM
Hours after it released a statement that some of the girls had been freed, the Yobe State government recanted on Thursday and said none has been rescued. The actual number of missing girls is also yet to be ascertained. While the police said 30 were missing as at Wednesday evening, the state government said over 50 were missing.
On Thursday, the information minister, Lai Mohammed, said the government was yet to ascertain the actual number of missing girls.
The deliberate target of the schoolgirls by the terrorists may be an indication that they hope to profit from it especially by demanding ransom.
The sect has released scores of kidnapped people, mostly females to the Nigerian government after negotiations. These include scores of schoolgirls who were kidnapped from Chibok in Borno State in 2014.
While the government is yet to officially acknowledge it, many Nigerians believe the government paid huge sums as ransom for the release. On Thursday, many senators including the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, acknowledged the ransom payment.
It is not clear how much such ransom payments influenced the decision of the group to target another girls’ school.
For the parents of the kidnapped Dapchi girls, however, all they want is the safe rescue of their wards.
“It is the responsibility of government to get our daughters rescued safely and returned home unharmed because these kids were taken in a facility that is under the care of government,” Mr. Sanusi, the father of the kidnapped 14-year-old student said.