TUESDAY Column by VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
Dapchi. This village in Yobe state situated some 100 kilometres from Damaturu, the state’s capital and some 275 kilometres from its more famous (notorious?) Chibok village in neighbouring Borno State is gradually beginning to ring a bell in our consciousness after the dramatic events in last eight days following invasion of its Government Girls Secondary School by the marauding Boko Haram insurgents. Who in Nigeria and overseas is not familiar with the name Chibok?
Chibok. Chibok girls. What sad memories these words evoke. The former instantly conjures up the latter. Prior to April, 2014, Chibok was a relatively unknown rustic settlement in a far flung part of Nigeria; some 90 per cent of Nigerians could not locate it on the Nigerian map and cared less. Citizens of western, industrialized countries never gave Chibok a thought. How could they, when most of them cannot name capital cities of African nations, hardly know Africa’s major towns, much less still, aware of one little community in a remote corner of the earth called Chibok. But all that changed in 2014 when they began to talk so much about Chibok as though it is located in their backyard. Indeed, Chibok soon became about the most popular settlement on planet earth. And Dapchi may soon follow suit.
Like Chibok, Boko Haram insurgents attacked a female secondary school in Dapchi. What is more, the school is one that specializes in equipping girls for the modern-day, 21st century – Government Girls Science and Technical College. Why the militants particularly target female schools may not be farfetched, for women are the fulcrum of a nation. Besides, secondary school students as teenagers, are in that important juncture of life where the ‘generative power’ is beginning to unfold whereby they are beginning to have their being anchored in creation and beginning to be able to shape it and vice versa. In targeting these teenage students, Boko Haram is hitting at the soul of both the girls and the nation. Be reminded that before Chibok’s 2014 sad episode, the insurgents had invaded a boys secondary school Buni-Yadi in Yobe State. However, this dastardly act was overshadowed by the Chibok girls kidnap that quickly attracted international attention, relegating Bun-Yadi to the background.
Like the Chibok episode, there was initial confusion as to what really happened in Dapchi and it took days for us to eventually piece together what actually transpired. In the case of Chibok government of the day then, regarded it as a fairy tale initially, arguing that accounts of the ‘so-called’ abduction did not add up. Later, the then Director of Defence Information said that the kidnapped Chibok girls had been released. The military later withdrew this false statement, averring nonetheless that its initial statement was based on information it got from the Principal of Chibok Girls Secondary School. In a similar scenario the Yobe State Police Commissioner, Abdulmalik Sunmonu said two days after the attack on Dapchi Girls Science Technical College that there was no evidence of any missing girl.”For us (Police) no case of abduction has been established and from the military, they had not told me any because it is a joint operation led by the military”. The state government would later issue a statement signed by the Director-General Press Affairs to Governor Gaidam on Wednesday evening gleefully announcing that some of the girls had been rescued.
It read, “The Yobe State Government hereby informs the public that some of the girls at Government Girls Science Technical College whose school was attacked by Boko Haram terrorists last Monday have been rescued by gallant officers and men of the Nigerian Army from the terrorists who abducted them. The rescued girls are now in the custody of the Ngerian Army. We will provide more details about their number and condition in due course. His Excellency Governor Gaidam who is very grateful for the gallantry and hard work of the officers and men of the Nigerian Army involved in the operation, is monitoring the situation closely and will make a statement in due course.” However, this information like the one on the Chibok girls at its initial stage was untrue and the Yobe government had to retract it the next day saying indeed, some 50 girls were still missing.
But there is no agreement as to the number of girls really missing. After last Tuesday’s headcount, the Education Commissioner, Mphammed Lamin gave a different figure; Bashir Manzo newly elected head of the Association of missing Dapchi girls has a list of 105. The federal government delegation that visited Yobe on a fact-finding mission listed 110 while a published list has names of 104 girls. “Among those who are missing (110) some may have been back to their families and decided not to return, some could still be in the bush”, an official explained.
Like Chibok where even parents of the abductees had accused the vice president of complicity, there is some conspiracy theory of a sort about Dapchi kidnap too. This time it is from no less a person than the Yobe governor himself. Hear him, “If the soldiers had been on ground, the attack on the town and subsequent abduction of the schoolgirls would not have happened. There was no any justification whatsoever to withdraw the military from that place, knowing full well that there is a girls’ school with about 900 of them and it is a local government headquarters. They withdrew the military personnel last week which was not even known to us”. Let me be quoted anywhere, the military must take the blame for the attack in Dapchi. The same thing happened in 2013 when the military suddenly removed troops guarding the town and a week later Boko Haram went there to attack the town (Buni-Yadi) and the secondary school there, killing 29 students”.
Unlike in 2014 the current administration is owing up to the fact that over 100 school girls were indeed abducted and had sent two delegations comprising of the Defence Minister, Minister of Interior and the Information minister to the hot spot of Yobe to find out the true position of things. The delegation first visited on Thursday and made another visit on Sunday. Unlike Chibok, the government this time is sending aircrafts –helicopters and fighter jets – on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission to search for the missing/abducted schoolgirls day and night. The federal government did not have such sophisticated aircrafts in 2014 because apparently foreign countries were unwilling to sell to it directly. Let us hope that the air force’s search and rescue mission will yield fruit soonest.