Boko Haram still holding Nigerian school girls captive

CNN
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - 3:53pm

KANO, Nigeria (CNN) -- Boko Haram kidnappers are still holding 187 girls captive more than a week after the Islamists abducted them from their dormitories in northeastern Nigeria, according to school and government officials.

The figure is much higher than the one earlier released by authorities.

"A total of 230 parents registered the names of their daughters who were missing on the day of the kidnap," said Asabe Kwambura, principal of the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok.

"From my records, 43 girls have so far escaped on their own from their kidnappers. We still have 187 girls missing," the principal said.

The school asked parents to come forward and register the names of their missing daughters a day after the April 16 kidnapping.

Borno state government officials insisted only 129 girls were originally abducted from the school, and had said that 51 escaped.

Isa umar Gusau, the spokesman for Borno state's governor, said the escape of seven more girls on Sunday reduced the number of girls in the custody of their Boko Haram abductors to 77.

Kwambura disputed Gusau's claim of seven more escapes.

"I'm not aware of any seven girls that escaped on Sunday," the principal said.

Borno state Education Commissioner Musa inuwa Kubo confirmed the numbers released by Kwambura and sought to explain the discrepancies in figures provided by the government and the school.

"There was break in communication which resulted in a lack of coordination, as a result of which different figures were provided," Kubo said.

"But the opening of a register ... provided an avenue where parents of missing children recorded the names of their daughters, which furnished us with a comprehensive list of girls taken away and those that were able to escape," the commissioner added.

Families becoming impatient

In Chibok, angry parents are becoming impatient, accusing military and state authorities of playing politics with the lives and safety of their children.

"It is unfortunate that the kidnap of our girls is being politicized, with so many false claims by the military and the government," said Chibok resident Haladu Sule.

"Parents and vigilantes have suspended searches for the kidnapped girls since Thursday and we are not aware of any military rescue operation going on," Sule said, disputing claims that the military is conducting ongoing rescue operations.

Enoch Mark, a father whose daughter and two nieces were among the kidnapped girls, also doubted the military's claim.

He and hundreds of other Chibok residents, as well as people from nearby villages, went into the forest on motorcycles on April 19. They followed the tracks of the kidnappers up to Baale village, close to the camp where the girls were being held. During their nine-hour, 100-kilometer trek, they never saw a single soldier, Mark said.

Villagers told them the gunmen had passed through "and were camped with the girls in a creek some hundreds of meters outside the village." Some of the girls had even been brought back to the village at gunpoint to fetch water.

"We were warned by residents of Baale not to proceed, saying they feared for our lives because our sticks and (outdated) guns were no match for the heavy arms of the Boko Haram gunmen," he explained.

"The villagers warned us we would all be killed if we dared face the gunmen and would put the lives of our daughters in danger. We have therefore abandoned the search for our daughters since we know where they are but we don't have the capacity to liberate them," Mark added.

Some managed to escape

The father of a girl who escaped with two other girls from their abductors on April 16 also said they had been held at gunpoint.

"She told us that all the girls were gathered under trees in the forest under constant watch of gunmen," said the father, who asked not to be named for security reasons.

"My daughter was among those selected by the kidnappers to cook food and she and two other girls cooking together came up with a plan. They told their kidnappers they needed to use the bathroom," said the father.

The girls ran off once they were out of view of the their armed guards until they came across a village, where residents helped them get back to Chibok.

Barnabas Yakubu, a Chibok resident, wondered why the government failed to act on information supplied by residents about the location of the Boko Haram camp near Baale village.

But Kubo said the government and the military were "doing everything possible" to secure the release of the school girls.

"This is a delicate situation that requires careful handling," Kubo said.

"When you have heavily armed men holding close to 200 girls hostage, you have to be very careful in your approach so as not to risk the safety of these girls you want to rescue.

"It is a security issue and we just can't be divulging all the efforts we are making to get these girls freed," the education commissioner explained.

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