Nigeria school attack: despair and anger grows with dozens of girls still missing
Chibok girls, Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies, Girls' education, Safe schools
Confusion surrounding the fate of the Yobe state schoolgirls after a Boko Haram raid echoes the aftermath of the Chibok abductions.
For Aisha Yesufu, the #BringBackOurGirls co-convener, the events of the past few days in Nigeria have been painfully familiar.
When Boko Haram gunmen stormed a school in Chibok in 2014, it was many days before a full-scale search for the 276 abducted girls began – and even longer before the world sat up and took notice.
Now Nigeria is facing a similar crisis, after fighters attacked a girls’ boarding school at Dapchi in Yobe state on February 19.
Confusion has reigned, with reports at first of everyone escaping to safety, then an official announcement of girls being rescued, followed by a retraction of that statement. And now admissions that dozens are still missing and may have been kidnapped.
Yesufu tweeted this:
Yesterday the governor of Yobe, Ibrahim Gaidam, told residents of Dapchi in person that scores of students from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College who had reportedly been rescued from Boko Haram were in fact still unaccounted for.
How many appears to be unknown. Yesterday parents said 101 children were missing, according to the Associated Press. Unidentified sources told Reuters 91 were gone. Nigeria’s Punch newspaper put the figure today at 46.
“We will need a few more days so we can give an exact figure of those missing,” said Yobe’s Information Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
He said some students “have phoned from their hiding places… (and) other locations”. He told reporters: “As things develop we will let you know. But we cannot categorically say ‘X number of girls have been abducted’. But we can say that not all have returned.”
Inuwa Mohammed, whose 16-year-old daughter Falmata is missing, said he was “devastated by this twist of events”. He said his wife fainted when she heard the news and was in hospital.
“I woke up with the strong hope of meeting my daughter and my wife had been making preparations for a warm welcome, only for us to receive this shattering news that all along the story has been a rumour,” he added.
Another resident, Ali Yari, said: “We were happy yesterday when the government said they have found our daughters. Now the story has changed.”
With so much uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Dapchi schoolgirls, here’s a look at how events have unfolded.
Monday, February 19
In the early evening, Boko Haram fighters storm the town of Dapchi, in the northeast of Nigeria – where the jihadist group’s nine-year reign of terror has led to at least 20,000 deaths. Almost 1400 schools have been destroyed, over 2295 teachers killed and three million children need emergency support on education.
The gunmen arrive in trucks, some of them camouflaged and mounted with heavy guns. They attack the state government-run school, which has more than 900 students.
Initial reports say all the students and teachers are alerted by gunfire and manage to flee to safety before Boko Haram arrive.
Later reports say students were still at the school when they arrived, sparking panic and sending hundreds of girls running from the scene. A teacher says: “They shot sporadically and forced the school food store opened. We and the students ran into the bush for safety.”
Tuesday, February 20
Fears begin to grow as it emerges than more than 50 girls may be missing. Families start to search frantically for their loved ones.
Wednesday, February 21
President Muhammadu Buhari tweets:
I share the anguish of all the parents and guardians of the girls that remain unaccounted for. I would like to assure them that we are doing all in our power to ensure the safe return of all the girls.
— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) February 21, 2018
Police say 111 girls are now unaccounted for. Hours later, Abdullahi Bego, spokesman for Yobe state governor Ibrahim Gaidam, says “some of the girls” have been rescued by troops “from the terrorists who abducted them”. That figure is later put at 76.
An official statement from Yobe state says the rescuers were “officers and men of the Nigerian Army who are currently executing the war against the Boko Haram insurgents”.
Thursday, February 22
Anger erupts in Dapchi after the Yobe state government issues a statement that retracts the previous day’s claims about girls being rescued by the military.
“We have now established that the information we relied on to make the statement was not credible. The Yobe state government apologises for that,” says spokesman Bego.
Minister of Information Alhaji Lai Mohammed visits Dapchi and says: “Since the incident happened, the army and other security agencies have swung into action and have been combing every nook and cranny. So far, we cannot say the number of people that are missing because people are still reporting or calling that they are safe.
“The girls scattered during the attack and we can’t be sure whether they were lost or taken,” he said. “We have no certainty that these boys (Boko Haram) took these girls.
“Nobody saw these girls being taken in vehicles. It is possible some of the girls came across motorists and they gave them a ride to some places.”
As news of his comments spreads, groups of angry youths set up barricades and burn car tyres in the streets, hurling missiles at the governor’s convoy.
News agencies talk to locals who say girls were definitely abducted from the school. Dapchi tea seller Muhammad Kabo tells AFP: “They (Boko Haram) were here for less than an hour. I heard girls wailing in the truck and it was clear that they abducted some girls from the school.”
A school security guard says the gunmen tried to stop the girls from fleeing and tricked them into thinking they had come to rescue them. He adds: “Some of the girls believed them and climbed up into the lorry. Many others just kept running.”
Nigeria’s Punch newspaper publishes an interview with information minister Mohammed. He says: “Since the incident happened, the army and other security agencies have swung into action and have been combing every nook and cranny.
“So far, we cannot say the number of people that are missing because people are still reporting or calling that they are safe.”
Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s West and Central Africa Regional Director, issues a statement. She says: “Attacks on schools are a violation of children’s rights and international humanitarian law. Schools should be safe spaces and protected at all times.
“No words can console a family sending a child to school and not seeing her return home. We stand with the families of the missing girls and the community affected by this horrifying incident.
“We have not forgotten the tragedy of the Chibok girls from four years ago, when 276 girls were abducted by Boko Haram militants. Still a large number of the girls have not returned. And now comes this new horror. This is not just an attack on a school. It is an attack on all of us.”