Barely 16 hours after a bomb explosion at a bus park in Nyanya, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), killed scores of people and injured so many others, 129 female students were abducted on Monday night by members of the terrorist group Boko Haram from Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State.
The news of their abduction came just as the federal government confirmed that the death toll from the Nyanya bus park tragedy had risen to 75, while the number of those injured from the incident was put at 140.
But some progress may have been made to unravel the culprits behind the bus station attack, as THISDAY was reliably informed by sources in the Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) of the security agencies that their operatives may have identified and recovered the body of the suspected bomber who detonated the bomb at the Nyanya bus park.
The secondary school girls, who were abducted by members of Boko Haram, were among the 250 boarders at the government secondary school and were sitting for the ongoing WAEC/SSCE when they were forcibly taken away from the school on Monday night.
The incident occurred about three weeks after the Borno State Government had closed down all public schools to avert further attacks on students. The terrorist group had attacked many schools in the North-east, killing scores of students and the teaching staff.
However, it was gathered that the female students were asked to return to school to write their final year secondary school exams that was supposed to commence this week.
Confirming their abduction, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) said 129 girls were kidnapped by members of the sect from the school.
The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade, in response to THISDAY enquiries yesterday, said 129 students were present at the time of the attack, and not the 200 girls who were reported to have been abducted.
Olukolade also disclosed that some of the girls managed to escape and had since regained their freedom from the abductors.
He said: “A group of terrorists yesterday night attacked Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok.
“About 129 students in the school at the time of the attack were said to have been abducted but some of them actually succeeded in escaping from their abductors.”
The defence spokesman also stated that the military was still on a search-and-rescue mission trailing the terrorists.
He assured Nigerians that the abductors were being tracked and cornered within the environment with the help of the locals.
The sect, according to other sources, had attacked Chibok, a town said to be 141 kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, at about 10 pm, burning down houses and shops at will.
They were also alleged to have carted away food items and vehicles and killed an undisclosed number of people in the town.
The insurgents, who were said to have had a field day during the raid, then went to the all-female boarding school and abducted over 100 students who were lodged in the hostels for their final examination.
According to a resident of the town who preferred not to be named, the attackers, who came in large numbers, attacked the community and several houses were razed.
He revealed that the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, was also attacked and over 100 students of the school writing their senior secondary school certificate examination were abducted by the attackers.
Another resident of the town, Amos Ahmadu, who spoke on the phone to journalists in Maiduguri, said the attackers collected large amounts of food items from residents before fleeing the community, which they set ablaze.
It was also gathered that many residents of the town fled into the bushes, while others have relocated to neighbouring Damboa.
When contacted, the Borno State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Lawan Tanko, said he heard about the incident and had deployed his men to the area.
He however said he could not volunteer further details.
Also, the federal government yesterday said contrary to earlier speculations that the total number of victims affected by the Nyanya bomb blast was 236, the correct figure is 215, of which 75 persons were recorded to have died.
Speaking to journalists at the end of a tour of four major hospitals in Abuja, where injured victims are receiving treatment, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said: “When we released the figures yesterday, we made it clear that it was provisional.
“It took us quite a long time as you are aware for us to even release provisional figures, but finally late last evening when we released those figures, we still issued a caveat that they are provisional because sometimes there may be double counting and sometimes there might be people who were not counted.”
Chukwu added: “Having taken everybody into consideration, including the movement of people, what we have now is that those who have been evacuated and captured in hospitals is a total of 215 victims, but out of the 215, 75 are dead. So that is the current figure.”
Also speaking against the backdrop of several complaints regarding the difficulties associated with identifying the dead bodies by relatives, the minister said: “The pathologists are working hard on that. When you have pieces of flesh and bones here and there, they need to be properly sorted out. Sometimes it is not as easy as people may think.
“So as at this time, I may not be able to give this information. By the time the pathologists are through, obviously we may have to revise the mortality figure. So I plead with you to be patient and let’s do it properly.”
When asked if the continuous attacks by Boko Haram had not overstretched health care services and facilities, Chukwu gave the assurance that government had ensured that cases of trauma emanating from acts of terrorism were quickly dealt with.
He said: “We have been doing things as government to also increase the capacity for trauma. As you are aware, the additional trauma facility at the hospital was ready and even used yesterday. But it will be properly commissioned in the next few days.”
However, the minister's statement on the number of casualties from the Nyanya bus park bomb blast conflicted with the figure released by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) yesterday.
While giving an update on the bomb incident to journalists in his office in Abuja, the Director-General of NEMA, Alhaji Muhammed Sani-Sidi, said blood was urgently needed for the treatment of the wounded victims and urged Nigerians to visit the various hospitals where the victims were hospitalised to donate blood.
He said the agency had received a report confirming that one of the victims died at the Asokoro Hospital, thus bringing the number of death to 72.
Sani-Sidi said the president had during his sympathy visit to the victims of the bomb blast directed the agency to collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Health and hospitals’ management to ensure the speedy recovery of injured victims and to take care of the bills.
He said NEMA had visited all the hospitals to ascertain the state of the victims, adding that appropriate arrangements were being made by the hospitals and other relevant organisations to help families who had lost loved ones to claim their remains.
Speaking on measures being taken to assist in identifying families of those who died in the blast, Sani-Sidi said NEMA had opened an information desk at its headquarters that would be working 24 hours a day to attend to any complaints or enquiries from affected families.
He explained that arrangements were also being made to conduct DNA tests to identify some of the dead persons.
According to him, due to the timely intervention of rescue personnel, this led to a reduction of the casualties, adding that reports available to NEMA from various hospitals showed that many of the victims were recovering fast.
Meanwhile, a breakthrough may have been made by security forces in their effort to uncover the culprits behind the Nyanya bus park bomb blast, as THISDAY has learnt that the CTU in the presidency may have identified and recovered the body of the suspected bomber.
Information made available to THISDAY from security sources confirmed that the slightly charred body of the bomber was identified and recovered yesterday with the charms and amulets he must have used for self-protection, still strapped to his body.
The charms and amulets are typical of the type used by members of Boko Haram.
According to security sources, certain leads, including a mobile phone that may have been used to detonate the bomb, were also recovered from his body.
Also, security forces informed THISDAY that they are working on two leads as to how the bomber planted and detonated the bomb: the first is that the bomber may have driven a bomb-laden red Volkswagen Golf car to the bus park and walked away before the explosion.
The second is that the suspected bomber may have walked into the bus park with the bomb concealed in a large jute bag (popularly known in Nigeria as “Ghana-must-go bags”), which was dropped close to the commuter buses.
Either way, security forces said the suspected bomber, having conveyed the bomb to its destination, walked away to a location at the bus park, where he ostensibly waited for the bomb to explode.
But unknown to him, he did not give enough distance between himself and his deadly parcel and like other innocent Nigerians that he had set out to kill, was also killed by the impact of the explosion.
One security official explained that the fact that his body was not dismembered or charred beyond recognition like others who were killed instantly by the blast, might have stemmed from the fact that he was not as close to the epicentre of the explosion as the commuters who had boarded buses at the park.