Sad, Chibok schoolgirls not found in Sambisa forest
• Feared relocated to Cameroon mountains
• Military insists they’ll be rescued
More than one week after air bombardment and ground tactical operations commenced deep inside the dreaded Sambisa forest, the nation’s Special Forces have failed to locate the more than 200 students kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents on April 14, 2014, from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State.
Military sources said Special Operations Forces, who raided parts of the forest last week soon after war planes bombarded the wooded area to neutralise the insurgents, including dozens of landmines and other bobby-traps that the terrorists used to secure the area, could not trace the missing girls and all efforts to find them in the area have been fruitless.
It was gathered that the soldiers were, however, baffled by the sheer number of tunnels, open, long trenches and defensive ridges dug in the forest by the terrorists to shield them from frontal ground attacks or air raids by outside forces.
The sources stated that the insurgents were really prepared for a long stay in the forest and made adequate arrangements by planting numerous land mines round the enclave to defend the place from invasion by troops, adding that aerial surveillance of the area had alerted the Armed Forces of the insurgents’ protective gear and was partly responsible for the long delay in attacking the place.
Military personnel are working on the theory that the terrorists may have moved the girls out of the forest as soon as the bombardment started last week. Quoting some of the fighters captured by soldiers as saying that their leaders and their families have moved to caves in the Cameroon mountain region with some captives, the sources said the search would now shift to those areas.
This is not the first time that the military has tried to locate and rescue the Chibok girls who have spent more than nine months in captivity. The first military operation to free the girls was in May 2014 and it was launched with international backing, but it failed to locate or rescue them.
The operation failed even when the government signalled that it was willing to negotiate with Boko Haram to secure freedom for the girls.
Boko Haram leader, Sheikh Abubakar Shekau, has repeatedly maintained that the girls will only be released in exchange for jailed insurgents. In one of his videos, he said, “I swear to almighty Allah, you will not see the girls again until you release our brothers that you have captured.”
Although members of the #BringBackOurGirls led by former Education Minister, Mrs. Obiageli [Oby] Ezekwesili, have been forced to stop their daily vigil at the Unity Fountain, Maitama, Abuja, in support of the abducted girls, government officials have since rejected suggestions that the girls may have been married out to Boko Haram members or sold into slavery in north and central African countries.
Coordinator of the National Security Information Centre, Mr. Mike Omeri, believed that all the girls are alive and are still being held somewhere within the Nigerian territory.
He rejected criticism that the government does not know where the girls are detained, saying, “When the Americans wanted to get their hostages in Iraq, they knew where they were and it took them 200 days. We don’t want ours to take 200 days. One thing I feel certain of is that the mystery of the missing girls will be unravelled soon.”
When the case of the girls was raised with the Defence spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade, during an interview during the week, he said the military has not abandoned the effort to rescue the students.
The operation, the general said, was still ongoing even as he appealed to members of the public to continue praying for the girls and the Armed Forces.
Olukolade said although the military has lately concentrated more in denying the Boko Haram terrorists the freedom of action that they enjoyed previously by destroying every cell of the fanatics, wherever it may be located, the search for the girls will continue until they are located.
He also said troops are increasingly gaining an upper hand in the counter-terrorism operational theatres of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, stressing that the insurgents are in disarray since the Armed Forces deployed several new equipment and weapons which encouraged better mobility of combatants and amplified the fire-power of soldiers on the battle field.
“We have made serious progress in the counter-terrorism effort. In the field in the last few weeks, there have been lots of successes on the part of the military in checking the freedom of action that the terrorists have enjoyed before now. Terrorists are enemies of the society and their target is to destroy our society. This is why they should not be allowed to operate anywhere.
“Their cells and enclaves are being destroyed and troops are moving to every location, any area where there is a terrorist cell will be raided. We have made some progress considering that many of them have been arrested. Many of them have died and their weapons and installations destroyed or captured in the process of ensuring that their activities are curtailed,” Olukolade stated.
He said the military has succeeded in destroying terrorists’ enclaves in five communities namely, Baga, Gwoza, Sambisa, Bama and Pulka.
The Director of Defence Information said the attack was carried out jointly by the Air Force and ground troops, assuring that the military operations had been very successful.