Zahra Bukar, 13, Fatima Abdu, 14, Fatima Abdulkarim, 15 and Yagana Mustapha, 15, managed to escape the kidnappers in Dapchi. By AMINU ABUBAKAR (AFP)
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday visited the northeastern town of Dapchi, nearly a month after Boko Haram militants kidnapped 110 schoolgirls in a chilling echo of the Chibok abduction four years ago.
Buhari was given a red carpet welcome at the Government Girls Science and Technology College, which was attacked on February 19, before meeting parents, teachers and residents.
He told them the military and security services were working around the clock to bring back the girls and vowed to punish those responsible for both Dapchi and the Chibok kidnapping in April 2014.
“This abduction Boko Haram carried out and the one they did before we came to power, in 2014, we will not allow them to go scot-free,” said Buhari, who spent 45 minutes on the ground before departing by helicopter.
Some parents were in tears as they begged Buhari to ensure the swift return of their daughters.
Earlier in the Yobe state capital, Damaturu, Buhari said he had “no doubt” the Dapchi girls would be rescued or released.
The jihadists are still holding 112 students they abducted from Chibok, which sparked a global campaign for their release. The Dapchi kidnapping has been given less attention.
“I can reassure parents, Nigerians and the international community that we will do all that is within our power to make sure that the girls are brought back safely to their families,” he said in a speech.
“There will be no rest till the last girl, whether from Chibok or Dapchi, is released. The girls, like all our citizens, must enjoy unhindered freedom and pursue their legitimate aspirations.”
Similarities have been drawn between both kidnappings, as on both occasions, heavily-armed militants were able to take so many pupils without any resistance from security forces.
Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, was lambasted for his delayed and lacklustre response to Chibok, which happened as Boko Haram rampaged across the northeast, seizing territory.
The Dapchi kidnapping occurred despite repeated claims from Buhari, his government and the military that Boko Haram was a spent force, as a result of a sustained counter-insurgency.
Nigeria’s political opposition has called into question the extent of those claims and also urged him to meet parents of the missing Dapchi girls.
His visit to Yobe was part of a tour of a number of states hit by repeated unrest, including deadly clashes between cattle herders and farmers.
On Tuesday, the #BringBackOurGirls pressure group gave the government a seven-day deadline to free the remaining 112 Chibok girls and 110 Dapchi girls or face court action.
The group, which was set up in the wake of Chibok, accused the government of “incompetence and carelessness” and would sue it for criminal negligence if the girls were not freed.
Buhari, who is expected to seek re-election next February, said he was aware of “orchestrations by some evil elements to take advantage of the development to score cheap political points”.
“The government, under my watch, will continue to maintain normalcy and ensure that incidents of this nature (mass kidnappings) are stopped,” he added.
“Be assured that measures are being put in place to achieve these objectives.”
Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war during its nearly nine-year fight to establish a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.
Women and young girls have been abducted to act as sex slaves and suicide bombers, while men and young boys have been forcibly conscripted to fight alongside the jihadists.
At least 20,000 people have been killed and more than two million others made homeless in the conflict, which has triggered a humanitarian crisis in the region.