Dapchi, Nigeria | AFP | Anger erupted in a town in remote northeast Nigeria on Thursday after officials fumbled to account for scores of schoolgirls who locals say have been kidnapped by Boko Haram jihadists — a disappearance reviving traumatic memories of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
Police said on Wednesday that 111 girls from the state-run boarding school in Dapchi, in Yobe state, were unaccounted for following a jihadist raid on Monday night.
Hours later, Abdullahi Bego, spokesman for Yobe state governor Ibrahim Gaidam, said “some of the girls” had been rescued by troops “from the terrorists who abducted them”.
But on a visit to Dapchi on Thursday, Gaidam appeared to question whether there had been any abduction.
“The girls scattered during the attack, and we can’t be sure whether they were lost or taken,” he said. “We have no certainty that these boys (Boko Haram) took these girls.
“Nobody saw these girls being taken in vehicles. It is possible some of the girls came across motorists and they gave them a ride to some places.”
As news of his comments spread, groups of angry youths set up barricades and burned car tyres in the streets, hurling missiles at the governor’s convoy.
Bego’s statement had been the first official acknowledgement of an abduction, two days after Boko Haram fighters stormed the remote town in pick-up trucks and a lorry.
The disappearance sparked fears of a repeat of the 2014 mass kidnapping of more than 200 girls from a similar school in Chibok, in neighbouring Borno state.
Initially, the students in Dapchi were reported to have fled with their teachers at the sound of gunfire. Families claimed the authorities tried to cover up the abduction.
A federal government delegation spent less than an hour on the ground at the school meeting Gaidam and military commanders before leaving by helicopter.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed made no direct comment on Gaidam’s remarks, but said some students “have phoned from their hiding places… (and) other locations”.
He told reporters: “As things develop we will let you know. But we cannot categorically say, ‘x number of girls have been abducted’. But we can say that not all have returned.”