The puzzle over the number of schoolchildren kidnapped in a dawn raid on Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State by Boko Haram insurgents deepened yesterday as some of the parents disputed the number of the abductees.
According to them, 234 pupils, not 129 schoolchildren, were kidnapped in the school.
Also, contrary to earlier reports that the school was a girls' institution, it was learnt that it is co-educational.
Initial report by the Defence Headquarters in the aftermath of the attack on the school last week had put the figure of the abducted pupils at 129 and said 121 of them had been freed, remaining only eight in captivity.
But when the state government and the principal of the school, Asabe Kwabura, said only 14 pupils had been accounted for, the Defence Headquarters was forced to recant.
Also, a breakdown provided by the state government shows that of the 129 students who were in the school on the night of the attack, 14 escaped that same night from their captors when the truck they were being conveyed in broke down; 16 girls were returned to the school last Thursday by their parents in response to the state government’s call to enable it take a proper account of the students that were really missing; another 14 were discovered last Friday, having also escaped from their abductors; one girl was returned by her parents on Saturday; and another seven escaped captivity yesterday, bringing the total number of girls that have been accounted for to 52.
But at a meeting with the state Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, yesterday in Chibok, the parents also disputed the figures of those that had been accounted for, saying they were only 39 and not 52 as claimed by the government.
However, amid the raging controversy over the number of pupils abducted from the school, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has appealed to the insurgents to unconditionally free the remaining schoolgirls in captivity.
One of the parents, Shettima Haruna, gave the figures during the meeting with the governor, who was visiting the town for the first time since the dawn raid on the school.
Haruna, who told the governor that they have been having sleepless night since the abduction, added that at a time they had to brave the odds to visit Sambisa forest to rescue their daughters, but their efforts yielded no result.
He said: "We want to seize this opportunity to thank you (governor) for the visit and for identifying with us at this sorrowful moment, but the truth of the matter is that only 39 out of about 234 students were so far rescued, and we want to emphasise that we are not happy with this development. Inasmuch as we continue to pray for the safe return of our daughters, we are appealing to government and our security operatives to please intensify search of our missing innocent children."
Another parent, Mallam Amos Chiroma, said they saw many strange things at the Sambisa forest while searching for their daughters.
He said: "When we were in the bushes of Sambisa, we came across different make -shift camps suspected to be deserted by the insurgents."
He added that they had to withdraw to their homes after the endless search.
The tearful parents appealed to the state government to help them find their abducted girls.
THISDAY observed that most of the buildings in the attacked school were totally burnt down by the insurgents.
Responding, Shettima, who was moved to tears, promised that his government would deploy all human and material resources towards rescuing the girls.
He said: "They can burn physical structures but cannot destroy our souls… Patience is the ultimate solution to the problem and I will ask us to have patience. We would soon get over this."
The senator representing Borno South in the National Assembly, Senator Ali Ndume, who could also not hold back his tears while consoling the parents, called on them to intensify prayers for the release of the girls. He added that government was doing all it could to make sure that they rescue them.
"We are all touched by the incident concerning the abduction of our daughters. I am a father too, I have 10 children and every day I put my children in the position of these girls currently in captivity and I weep for them. I weep for the poor parents. My heart goes to you all, so is that of our governor here. But you should know our limitations here in the state concerning the security deployment. Neither the governor nor I has control over our security; we can only plead with the federal government to assist us. But be assured that we are doing our best to see that these girls are freed," he added.
The state Commissioner for Education, Mr. Musa Inuwa Kubo, who conducted the governor round the school, which was totally destroyed by the insurgents, said on the request of the people of Chibok, the government had allowed the school to admit both male and female students.
Kubo said had the school be in session, over 1,000 pupils would have been endangered.
Meanwhile, APC has called on the abductors of the pupils to release them immediately and without conditions, in the spirit of Easter.
The party's interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said in his hometown of Oro in Kwara State, at the dedication of a Catholic Church in the town that whatever grievances the abductors might have against the government, they had nothing to do with the innocent schoolchildren.
APC therefore urged the kidnappers to free the remaining pupils in their custody and cease forthwith all acts of violence against innocent citizens.
''Violence has never resolved any issue. Dialogue is always the preferred and civilised way to go in resolving any conflict, no matter how difficult. We are therefore calling on those who have been perpetrating unbridled violence to stop their despicable acts and renounce violence,'' it stated.