Four more girls out of the over 200 girls kidnapped from the Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State, have escaped from Boko Haram insurgents, the Chairman of Chibok Local Government Area, Mr. Bana Lawan, has said.
Lawan, at a one-day stakeholders meeting for validation of draft humanitarian response plan for the abducted girls in Abuja on Wednesday, said that with the four, the number of those that had regained their freedom had risen to 57.
He was represented by the Director for Personnel and Management, Mr. Musa Elijah, during the meeting organised by the National Emergency Management Agency.
The LGA chairman said, “The people of Chibok are anxiously waiting for the safe return of their children. Except for the unfortunate situation where two of the parents have passed on. The deceased were known to have high blood pressure.
“Latest report reaching us is that instead of 53, those that have escaped are now 57 and those remaining are 164 and not 168.
Our correspondent in Borno however gathered that the state Commissioner for Education, Inuwa Kubo, told the Presidential Fact-Finding Committee on the Chibok attack on Friday that 219 girls were still missing.
Lawan explained that it was not all those who registered for the Senior School Certificate Examination in the school that stayed back in the school on April 14 when the insurgents struck.
“Those that registered for the SSCE are not all that sat for the examination. Over 500 registered and those who had relatives around decided to move to various places like Kaduna and Maiduguri to take the exams. Those that were left with no relations decided to stay back and among them, 221 were abducted,” he claimed.
The chairman said the morale of girls in the North-East was low as most of them were now discouraged from going to school because of the abduction saga.
“The school in particular has been existing for long and the quality of education in it has been diminishing. So I want to appeal to the Federal Government, through NEMA and the presidential committee, to intervene in rebuilding the school,” he added.
Lawan commended Nigerians for showing support for Chibok people, saying their action had restored the hope and aspiration of the people for the return of peace to their community.
He also lauded the Federal Government’s prompt intervention through the provision of relief items for the people.
Lawan, who also decried the poor health facilities in the area, however appealed for the deployment of medical personnel and teachers in the area.
He said the deployment of National Youth Service Corps members would boost the educational and health needs of the people of Chibok.
Elijah later told journalists on the sidelines of the meeting that the insurgents might have noticed that the four girls had become a liability to them and therefore decided to ‘discard’ of them.
“You know we just generalise it as escape. But when they (Boko Haram) notice that you are sick or very weak or a liability to them, they will discard of you,” he said.
He also dismissed the claim that the Sambisa Forest where the girls are believed to be held is bigger than Lagos.
Elijah said, “The reserve (Sambisa Forest) is about 17 by 24 kilometres. As students of the University of Maiduguri, we used to go there. It is not as big as people are saying and when they (Boko Haram) discard of you, you can actually trek it. So the girls can actually trek from the forest to a nearby village where somebody could spot and assist them.”
But he said that security operatives might find it difficult to penetrate the forest because of the mines allegedly planted there by the sect.
Asked if the remaining girls were still being held in the forest, Elijah replied, “Of course, they are there. The first time when vigilante groups went there, they saw them. The girls even talked with them. But nobody can go there to rescue them. But I believe the girls will be reunited with their families.”
Elijah also refuted claims that the abduction saga was pre-arranged.
“You mean the whole villagers will gather themselves and connive and say let us lie. These people (sect) have over 40 Toyota Hilux vans and they can beat checkpoints because they have heavy weapons,’’ he said.
Earlier, NEMA Director-General, Alhaji Mohammad Sani-Sidi, had said the meeting was aimed at strengthening the coordination mechanism for humanitarian response in Chibok.
“While the Federal Government is working towards the safe release of the abducted girls, it is important that a sectoral response plan is prepared for their rehabilitation and reintegration back to normal life,” the News Agency of Nigeria quoted him as saying.
“The objective of the meeting is to integrate all sectoral response plans into one holistic multi-sectoral response plan to avoid duplication of efforts,’’ he added.
Also, the UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Dr Dauda Toure, said the organisation had mapped out a $75m intervention plan for states affected by the state of emergency in the North-East.
According to him, the UN system in Nigeria has developed an integrated response package to address the humanitarian needs in Chibok.
It was gathered in Maiduguri on Wednesday that the state Commissioner for Education told the presidential fact-finding committee that government officials found out during the data capturing and visits to parents that the four more girls who escaped from the insurgents had reunited with their parents.
The commissioner was said to have been furious with the parents for keeping the government in dark.
Meanwhile, the President of the Civil Rghts Congress of Nigeria, Mallam Shehu Sani, has said that the meeting between ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and some family members of Boko Haram insurgents in Abeokuta, Ogun State was to open a new channel of dialogue for the release of the abducted schoolgirls.
Sani, in a statement on Wednesday, said that the meeting was also meant to fashion out a fresh understanding to resolve the insurgency in the North-East.
He said, “My statement is in response to the reports and the enquiries on the Abeokuta meeting with the former president and some family members of the Boko Haram insurgents.
“This is to confirm that the meeting actually took place and I was part of it. The meeting was solely aimed at exploring the possibility of opening a new channel for dialogue or negotiation with the sect members towards securing the release of the abducted Chibok girls held in captivity for over a month.”
He said at the meeting, there was an appraisal of the ‘back door’ deal that was later cancelled by the government.
Sani added, “I wish to also confirm that the report of the intervention of Mallam Ahmed Salkida in negotiating the release of the Chibok girls is credible.
“I personally introduced Salkida to the government and spoke about him in many of my previous interviews. He has tried his best in the past and of recent to help in resolving the insurgency through dialogue but was on all occasions frustrated by the government.
“Mallam Salkida should not be vilified but should be appreciated. Salkida’s attempt could have actually seen to the release of the abducted girls. The meeting in Abeokuta was aimed at repackaging and salvaging the dialogue option.”
He warned that the use of force would not bring back the schoolgirls, saying that it was agreed at the meeting that negotiation remained the best option in rescuing them.
Sani said, “The consequences of the use of force to rescue the girls are clear. The indecision whether to swap or to storm is also not helpful.
“Our children are our precious seeds for tomorrow’s harvest. We cannot celebrate Democracy Day with our children in chains.The ongoing insurgency is now part of our history and the challenge before us is not to allow it to be our fate.With national solidarity and resilient spirit we shall overcome.
“It was generally agreed that the initiative cannot take off without the consent of the Federal Government. It’s significant for Nigerians to note that negotiation is the only safer option to get the girls back home.”
Also on Wednesday, a British newspaper, Daily Mail, reported that the United Kingdom planned to send hundreds of soldiers to Nigeria to assist the military in rescuing the girls.
The newspaper, however, said that the UK ministers and military chiefs had yet to sanction the plan put forward by senior officers attached to the specialist UK team sent to Abuja following the kidnap of the girls.
It added that the troops would not be involved directly in the hunt for the girls or take an active role in any military action against the insurgents.
The newspaper said Downing Street was anxious to assist the Nigerian government in providing security against the terrorists without committing any UK troops to ‘high risk’ deployments.
It added that the role of the British force would be to help restore morale and train Nigerian soldiers on how to track and fight Boko Haram.
Britain, France and the United States already have Special Forces, anti-terror experts and specialists in hostage negotiation helping the Nigerian military to pinpoint where the girls are being held.
Britain, the US and France have been using aerial surveillance, satellite intercepts and evesdropping on telephone calls made between suspected representatives of the kidnappers and their supporters to track the movements of the Boko Haram gunmen.
Until recently Britain had a training facility in Ghana where its military instructors trained West African countries in readiness for their deployments with the African Union in a project calledExercise African Winds.