Nigerian parents: Can government keep schoolgirls safe?

Garba Tela’s wife did not want him to send their daughter to school in Dapchi. She feared Zainab would be an easy target for insurgents.

“They take girls there,” she told him.

Her prediction has proved accurate. Their 14-year-old daughter is one of 110 schoolgirls feared kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram militants in a raid on their school last Monday.

Tela, who lives in Dapchi, now says his other children are refusing to go to school after last week’s attack.

“The situation we are in now, we don’t know what to do. Her sisters say they won’t go to school again,” he said.

“My wife had told me before that it was not good to take her to a girls school, that they take girls there. And this now happened.

“I have tried to pet (cajole) them now. What can I do? I leave everything to Allah,” said Tela, who works as a tailor.

“We’re village people, we don’t have the power to chase the people who take our girls,” he added. “Government should just help us get our daughter.”

The Chibok kidnapping

The Government Girls Science Technical College school, which their daughter attended, is about 275 km (170 miles) from the site of the infamous Chibok girls kidnapping in 2014. When Boko Haram abducted 276 schoolgirls from the Chibok school in northeast Nigeria, it sparked global outrage and reignited the fight against the ISIS-aligned terrorist group.

First lady Michelle Obama, Malala and other celebrities joined forces to protest the kidnapping in a social media campaign that went viral.

Some of the girls were finally freed three years later, following negotiation talks between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram. But more than 100 of them remain in captivity.

Now, nearly four years after that kidnapping, Nigeria finds itself in the global spotlight again over missing schoolgirls. This time, #Dapchigirls is trending online.

But the momentum that gathered online around the Chibok girls is so far largely missing this time.

The Dapchi raid

On Monday, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari admitted for the first time since their disappearance that the girls had been kidnapped.

In a statement posted to his official Twitter account, the president said he had asked the country’s security agencies “to ensure that every abducted person — including the Dapchi girls — is safely released.”

According to witness accounts, armed men, dressed in military gear, stormed the school and herded girls into trucks.

Thirteen-year-old Hassanha Mohammed told CNN: “I had a sprint on my ankle but kept on running, holding the hand of my sister. We saw Boko Haram gunmen in military uniform and wearing turbans. They kept calling on students to come to them, that they were going to rescue them.

“We did not listen to them and continued running. I was limping,” she continued. “I lost grip of my sister’s hand in the confusion. I managed to return home in the company of my two classmates but my sister has not been seen since then. I believe she was among the girls taken by the gunmen.”

Campaigners from the Bring Back Our Girls movement say the Nigerian government has yet to release an official list of those missing and federal agencies have given contradictory information, which makes it difficult for them to make demands for their return.

“Conflicting accounts and pronouncements from government officials on the whereabouts of the girls have yet to give a clear direction on advocacy efforts for their return,” Bukky Shonibare told CNN.

President Muhammadu Buhari has called the latest incident a “national disaster” and issued an apology, but he faces angry accusations that he cannot keep citizens in the northeast safe, despite his claims that “Boko Haram has been technically defeated.”

‘Parents should not panic’

There are currently 11 million out-of-school children in northeast Nigeria because of Boko Haram terrorist activity in the region, and that number will only rise after incidents like the suspected Dapchi kidnapping.

About 1,400 schools have been destroyed in Borno as a result of years of Boko Haram insurgency in the state, according to recent UNICEF figures. These figures estimate that 92% of those displaced internally are from the three worst-hit states in the country: Yobe, Adamawa and Borno states.

A spokesman for Buhari told CNN that the government is doing it all it can to keep students in the northeast safe.

“Parents should not panic,” said Garba Shehu. “Police and civil defense have been asked to reinforce security in all the … northeast schools.”

Shehu Sani, a Nigerian senator, believes that security operatives in the area took “their eyes off the ball,” which is why the attack happened.

“They were more focused on places near Borno state, which is where Boko Haram usually attacks,” he told CNN.

“Nigeria has declared Boko Haram technically defeated many times but each time they say this, Boko Haram gives a response and each time it’s the people in that area that suffer,” Sani said.

But Nigeria’s military has denied their withdrawal led to the raid on the school.

In a statement, they said their soldiers withdrew because they thought the area was “relatively calm and peaceful.”

Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, a spokesman for the Nigerian army, said the troops pulled out on the “premise that Dapchi has been relatively calm and peaceful and the security of Dapchi town was formally handed over to the Nigeria Police Division located in the town. Troops’ redeployment was therefore done in tandem with the exigencies of operation and not as misconstrued.”