As Boko Haram frees 101 Dapchi girls, one boy…
• 4 ministers in Yobe to receive freed hostages
By Lawrence Olaoye, Umar Muhammad Puma, Abuja and Uche Uche, Damaturu
The federal government has said that it did not pay any ransom to Boko Haram insurgents for the release of the abducted girls of the Government Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe state yesterday.
Following the release of the girls, President Muhammadu Buhari immediately dispatched the ministers of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Interior, Abdulrahman Danbazzau, Defence Monsur Dan-Ali, and State for Foreign Affairs, Khadijah Ibrahim, to Yobe state to receive the released girls.
110 girls were adopted by the insurgents last month from the Dapchi school and news broke yesterday that 101 of them were returned by the Boko Haram after a protracted negotiation with the authorities.
Fielding questions from State House Correspondents before their departure to Yobe yesterday, Minister of Information and Culture said the only condition attached to the release of the girls by their captors was to be allowed to drop them back to where they were captured without any molestation by the security agencies.
He said, “The girls were released unconditionally; no money changed hands. They only had one condition – that they will return them to where they picked them. So, in the early hours of today, they did return the girls; and most of them went to their parents homes.
“As of now, I can confirm that 91 girls and one boy have been released. The event is developing. Many of the girls that were released were not dropped in one place. Some were dropped on the road, and they went back naturally to their parents Houses. They are now being asked to come and be documented at a center; and as at five minutes ago, I was told 91 girls and a boy had been documented.”
The minister later confirmed that 101 girls have been documented as at the time of filling this report.
In a statement issued later by the Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in Abuja he said the number could still increase, as the documentation of the freed girls is ongoing.
He said the girls were released around 3 a.m. through back-channel efforts and with the help of some friends of the country, and that it was unconditional.
‘’For the release to work, the government had a clear understanding that violence and confrontation would not be the way out as it could endanger the lives of the girls, hence a non-violent approach was the preferred option.
‘’Within the period when the girls were being brought back, operational pause was observed in certain areas to ensure free passage and also that lives were not lost,’’ he said.
He continued: “Like I said in the statement released to you early, once violence and confrontation was ruled out and negotiation started, there was a deliberate pause on the part of the military. In other words, it was agreed that there will be no force; there will be no confrontation. That was why it was possible for them to drop the girls. It was part of the agreement that ‘we will release the girls, there will be no violence nor confrontation’. And don’t forget that the lives of these children are much more important to us than any cheap victory.
Asked what the government is doing to prevent a repeat of such abduction, Mohammed said, “If you remember, immediately after this thing happened, Mr. President actually directed the security agencies, especially the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps, to man every school. But you see, we must look at this thing in context. If you look at other countries like the US, you saw how gunmen entered the school and killed about 17 pupils. Insurgency, all over the world, is a global issue and the government must always be on its toes.
One of the things we have done today is that we have tried to secure the schools; and there are even efforts on parts of government to even merge some schools – schools that are far flung.”
Also speaking with newsmen on the release of the girls, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said, “I’m very excited today. My name is Hon. Khadijah Bukar Abba Ibrahim, the minister representing Yobe State. I’m exhilarated. I’m happy. That is what I feel because the Dapchi girls have been released. We are very very happy. We have achieved what we had gone out to achieve; and we thank the almighty God for His mercies.
On the news that some of the girls are dead, she said, “As far as I know, now they are taking a roll call. So we cannot ascertain how many have passed on or whatever. We will find out much later on what the casualties are.
On her advise to parents, as regards the girls going back to school, she said, “I will advice them to continue sending their children to school. We, as a government, will just fortify the schools in order to make them safe for children to actually go and learn.”
The minister of Defence, who predicted that the girls will be released a week ago, said, “Basically, I want to speak on the impression that people had that we cannot get the girls released. If you can remember the last interview I had with Channels Television, I said in two weeks, two months or less, we are going to get the girls released and this has happened.
“So, this is as result of the efforts of Mr. President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces for the support he has been giving us; and the output is showing now.
On the negotiations that went in before the release, he said, “I did say even if you are going for negotiations, if you are not doing so from the point of strength, then you cannot make it.”
When contacted by Peoples Daily last night for update, Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu said, “The girls are being transported to safety. We will give the details later. We thank God.”
Our Yobe State correspondent reports that one of the parents of the abducted girls, Kachalla Bukar, who is also secretary of the group of parents of the Dapchi girls told him in Dapchi that the insurgents brought the girls around 8am and released them in the town.
“When they brought the girls to Dapchi, some of the girls went home to greet their parents; and so up till now, we don’t have specific number of the girls who returned. And it was members of the Boko Haram insurgents that brought back the girls and not Nigerian soldiers.”
He said when they released the girls, they told them not to present themselves to the soldiers because the soldiers would thereafter claim to have rescued them from the insurgents, and they even told the girls to note that they, the insurgents, were the ones who returned them on their own will.
He stated further that the insurgents, after releasing the girls, even stayed for sometimes in the town preaching to the people around, after which they also had handshakes with members of the communities, took photographs and then left.
He told our reporter that at present, they do not have the actual number of the girls returned, but one of those who returned told them that five of the girls died in the hands of the captors and were buried there; while one of them remained behind because she refused to disown her own faith and convert to the Islamic faith; and for that reason the captors refused to return her back with her friends.
He called on the government of President Buhari to please ensure that these girls continue with their education; but added that he would not allow even his own daughter to go back to the Dapchi school premises, where they were abducted.
Another parent, Abdullahi Ali, whose daughter, Fatima Abdullahi of Gs1 and her sister Hajara Ali in SS 1were among the released girls, said they came back to the house, took their bath before going back to the camp where they were then being kept for onward conveyance to Damaturu, the state capital.
One of them said they travelled for four days with the captors before getting to Dapchi and they crossed a river, the depth of the river was reaching up to their jaws, suggesting that they were taken to and brought back from somewhere outside the country, possibly Cameroon or Chad republic.