Hopes of an early rescue for the schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents at the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, appeared dim as security agencies are yet to discover the exact location of the pupils.
Although the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, had assured Nigerians that security agencies would soon close in on the abductors and rescue the girls, Saturday PUNCH authoritatively learnt that the agencies had yet to make any breakthrough in their investigations into the whereabouts of the girls. The girls were abducted on April 14, 2014.
Some parents had on Tuesday said that the children had been taken to Cameroon and Chad by their abductors, who married them off.
But a security source said that the military believed that the girls and their abductors are still within the country.
He stated, “There is confusion on the issue. While the parents are saying that the girls have been ferried out of the country, security agencies believe that they are in the country.”
“But the truth is that we do not know for sure where the girls are. We don’t know the exact place that the insurgents have carried the girls to, though we believe the girls and their abductors are still within Nigeria.’’
Investigations further showed that the military was in a dilemma as to how the rescue operation could be conducted without any of the girls being killed or injured.
“Even if we know where they are, we do not want to strike in such a way that the girls will be injured,” the source added.
The source said that President Goodluck Jonathan had ordered that all the girls should be brought back to their parents alive.
It was gathered that the situation was worsened by the lack of cooperation among stakeholders, including parents, security agencies as well as states and federal governments.
He said, “We cannot just be discussing all our operations in the media. As the Chief of Defence Staff has said, the military does not want to kill the girls.’’
It was gathered that the insurgents were determined to use the girls as human shields if the military attacked them.
The Chief of Defence Staff had on Wednesday said, “Where we are told that they are, we can’t go there with our armoury, otherwise, we will go and kill them. If you go and kill them, then you will not have achieved anything. But I know we will get those girls. I know we will get them.”
But a security consultant, Ben Okezie, expressed doubts about the capability of the military to rescue the girls.
He said that the force was willing to combat terrorism, but lacked the logistics to do so.
He stated that the huge security budget to the security agencies should be probed to know how it was spent, noting that Nigerians needed to ask questions.
Okezie said, “I am sure the military wants to work but it does not have the logistics. Unfortunately, the people are not speaking out. The police had the same problem and were not speaking out until Mohammed Abubakar became the Inspector General of Police. I found out that the military doesn’t have the logistics and we need to start asking questions.
“All the money appropriated during the tenure of the former Chief of Defence Staff, Azubuike Ihejirika, what happened to it? Nobody should say Army budget cannot be probed, it’s not true, it’s our money. Ihejirika’s tenure should be probed.”
The security expert expressed fears that the abducted girls might be brainwashed and used as suicide bombers by the sect, going by media reports that none of the girls that escaped was sexually molested by their abductors.
Okezie said, “Boko Haram can’t just abduct such a large number of girls if they don’t have an ulterior plan. None of the girls that escaped had said they were sexually molested and I don’t think they are marrying them as a section of the media reported.”
He advised the government to empower the security agencies with technological gadgets and facilities that could make their jobs easier.
“If the government is serious about investigating the abduction, government should have got a surveillance drone by now. The one I saw at the force headquarters went to Masaka and took pictures of Masaka for ten minutes and we saw the whole place, very clear pictures. According to him, there should be more intelligence reports that would show the location of the sect and their captives.
He said the military should use more propaganda to secure the support of the communities around the area, “because for now, I don’t think they are getting that support; we need to support the Army with everything they need.”
Another security expert, Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, observed that government was not spending money in the right direction, adding that the security budget should not be spent on the military, but on a Counter-Terrorism Unit that would lead the campaign against terrorism in the country.
He advised the security agencies to downplay “their noises and increase their surveillance,” pointing out that intelligence is key to tackling terrorism in the country.
The former security adviser to the Rivers State government restated his conviction that the security situation could only be tamed with the establishment of a vibrant Counter-Terrorism Unit that would report to the President alone.
According to him, it took the United States many years to capture Osama bin Laden, the founder of the global terror group, Al-Qaeda, adding that the success was achieved through intelligence and surveillance.
Sara-Igbe said,” Fighting terrorism is not about military hardware and what are needed are strictly intelligence facilities and high-tech security gadgets. Government needs to take advice. Terrorism is not a conventional warfare, it’s not armed robbery, it is carried out by a cartel and it can only be fought with intelligence and rakers who are known as spies.
“This government does not know the depth of terrorism, if it does, it will know it’s not a thing you use helicopters or artillery to fight. Terrorists are desperate people who can use anything to achieve their goal. The government must set up a Counter-Terrorism Unit to spearhead the campaign, headed by a director who reports only to the President.”