DAKAR, Senegal >> Parents of girls who disappeared after their school in northern Nigeria was attacked by militants this week heckled state officials today and pummeled a motorcade after being told that, despite government reports to the contrary, their daughters had yet to be found.
“For three days he didn’t tell us the truth until now,” Modu Goniri, the father of two teenage girls who are among dozens still missing, said of the state’s governor. “That’s why we are very angry.”
Militants from Boko Haram attacked the Government Girls Science and Technical School in Dapchi on Monday evening, guns blazing, in an episode that evoked painful memories of the group’s 2014 attack on a school in Chibok that included the mass abduction of schoolgirls.
An official count of the missing in Dapchi hasn’t been released, although the governor’s office said it was working to compile one. Initial accounts from the police and state officials put the number somewhere between 50 and 100; Goniri said 94 girls were still missing.
Amid conflicting rumors about the episode and its aftermath, state officials had told parents Wednesday that the girls had been rescued. But when Ibrahim Gaidam, the governor of Yobe state, arrived at the school Thursday to update frantic and worried parents, he said the girls in fact were still missing. Boos rang out from the crowd.
“He said to take this as from God and that we should go back to our houses and pray for their return,” Goniri said, a remark that enraged the crowd.
At least two vehicles in the governor’s convoy were vandalized and some people tried to attack the governor, said Goniri, who had come to the school today in hopes of learning the whereabouts of his two daughters.
Later in the day, Gaidam issued an apology for having announced Wednesday evening that the girls had been rescued.
“We issued the statement on the basis of information provided by one of the security agencies that is involved in the fight against Boko Haram and which we had no reason to doubt,” the statement read. “We have now established that the information we relied on to make the statement was not credible.”
Critics have also expressed outrage that neither government nor military officials have offered information about whether the girls have been taken hostage. The lack of clarity has left parents wondering whether their daughters are in the hands of the militants or are wandering the remote countryside.
Teachers at the Dapchi school said many of the 900 students fled as militants rushed the village. Some of those now accounted for hid for hours in the surrounding bush or trekked for miles to their family farms. Some didn’t get away in time, witnesses said.
Many Nigerians fear the episode is similar to the 2014 abduction of nearly 300 girls in Chibok. About 50 of those students escaped in the hours after they were taken, nearly 100 more were released after government negotiations, and a few escaped in recent months. But another 100 remain captive.
The government’s silence in the days after the Chibok attack was blamed for stalling the rescue effort.
Nigeria’s war with Boko Haram is in its ninth year. The military has made progress against the group but militants still attack villages and military and food aid convoys, as well as deploy suicide bombers. Despite that, President Muhammadu Buhari has declared repeatedly to have defeated Boko Haram.
The attack at the school in Dapchi “draws dreadful and eerie similarities with the confusion that surrounded official communication following the abduction of our #ChibokGirls,” said a statement from Bring Back Our Girls, a group that advocates for the release of the Chibok students. “How is it that a terrorist group said to have been defeated able to abduct in the range of 100 schoolgirls?”