‘We’ve been living in anguish,’ parents of missing Dapchi schoolgirls say

One hundred and ten girls remain unaccounted for after a faction of Boko Haram raided their school in the northeast Nigerian town of Dapchi, Nigeria’s Ministry for Information said in a statement Sunday.

The Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, compiled the figures based on briefings he had with the college principal and others, the statement said.

Faced with seeming government inaction and contradictory and confusing statements about the whereabouts of the Dapchi students, the girls’ parents have joined forces, tracking their own list of missing girls and forming an association.

Bashir Manzo is the newly elected head of the parents of the missing Dapchi schoolgirls association. It’s a dubious honor, one that he would give anything not to hold.

His 16-year-old daughter, Fatima, is one of the girls who was taken when armed men stormed the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, about 275 kilometers (170 miles) from Chibok, where another group schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram four years ago.

The parents are learning fast what it means to have your child stolen by militants in Nigeria. They have come up against a state bureaucratic machinery that is adding confusion and chaos to their pain.

Shortly after the attack last Monday in Yobe state, the governor’s office released a statement saying 50 girls were unaccounted for.

They later released another statement to say the missing girls had been rescued by the Nigerian army, although they didn’t specify the number that was rescued.

Manzo and the other parents were jubilant, but their cheers quickly turned into tears when the state government was forced to issue an embarrassing retraction the following day stating that the girls had not actually been found or rescued.

Officials apologized in the retraction for the “erroneous” statement that it said was based on inaccurate information.

“The Yobe state government has no credible information yet as to whether any of the schoolgirls was taken hostage by the terrorists,” said Abdullahi Bego, an aide to Yobe state governor Ibrahim Gaidam.

“We began jubilating but the story of the rescue turned out to be false,” one of the parents, Adamu Alhaji-Deri, said.

Kachalla Bukar’s daughter, Aisha, who is 14, is among the missing.

He told CNN: “We can’t get any information from the school because soldiers are all over there. No security came to Dapchi the day the men came, now over a hundred soldiers have taken over the village,” Bukar said.

“I haven’t slept for five minutes since the attack on Monday. I can’t even eat or focus. The government should just produce our girls.

“Aisha has been sick for a while, I spent so much taking care of her before she went back to school. Now they are telling me she is missing,” said the distraught father.

‘Don’t panic, we’re not here for you’

Thirteen-year-old Hassanah Mohammed, who attended the Dapchi school, recounted the terrifying moment when gunmen wearing military uniforms burst into the school.

“We were about to start evening prayers when we heard gunshots outside the school. Everybody was terrified and we rushed to the gates and frantically scrambled to jump over the fence. I, my younger sister and two classmates managed to jump over the fence,” she said.

“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,” Hassanah said.

“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.”

One of the parents also told CNN how he inadvertently witnessed his daughter being carted off in a truck along with the other schoolgirls on that fateful Monday night.

Adamu Alhaji-Deri said he was preparing for the Muslim sunset prayer at a mosque when he saw armed men in trucks shooting in the air.

The 42-year-old said the men ceased fire when they got to the mosque and asked residents to proceed with their prayers, Alhaji-Deri told CNN.

Alhaji-Deri said the men told him: “‘Don’t panic, we’re not here for you. We won’t harm you. Go ahead with your prayer inside your mosque.'”

As he returned from prayers, the militants later passed him as they drove out of the school with the schoolgirls in their vehicles.

“As they passed by me, I saw the girls. ‘These are the schoolgirls,’ I told myself,” he said.

“My wife and I kept mentioning our 15-year-old daughter, Ummi. We were asking each other repeatedly if Ummi was among those girls that that were just taken away,” he said.

He later heard that some of the girls were able to jump the fence of the school and run away, said Alhaji-Deri, adding that he hoped she had escaped.

“We’ve been living in anguish since we found out,” he said.

‘National disaster’

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has apologized, calling the incident a “national disaster” and saying that troops and surveillance aircraft have been deployed to search the entire territory for the missing students.

Buhari promised the families of the missing girls that they’ll be found and their attackers brought to justice.

“We are sorry that it happened; we share your pain. Let me assure that our gallant armed forces will locate and safely return all the missing girls,” Buhari said in a Twitter statement.

In a similar incident, Boko Haram militants kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a school in Chibok in April 2014, setting off global outrage.

Many of the Chibok girls were freed after negotiations, but more than 100 remain in captivity, their whereabouts unknown.