110 girls missing after Boko Haram attack, Nigeria confirms

ABUJA (Nigeria) • The Nigerian government has confirmed that 110 girls were missing after a Boko Haram school attack in the north-east, following days of silence on the children's fate.

"The federal government has confirmed that 110 students of the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe state, are so far unaccounted for, after insurgents believed to be from a faction of Boko Haram invaded their school on Monday," the information ministry said in a statement yesterday. The statement came after the authorities were unable to account for 110 of the school's 906 students, the ministry said.

The mass kidnapping has raised questions about the military's repeated claims that the Islamist militants are on the verge of defeat, after nearly nine years of bitter fighting. It has also revived memories of the 2014 mass abduction of more than 250 schoolgirls from Chibok that shook the world.

Last Monday night, terrified students fled the boarding school when heavily armed fighters in military fatigues and turbans stormed the town, shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest"). The authorities initially denied that any student had been kidnapped.

On Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari apologised to the girls' families, saying: "This is a national disaster. We are sorry that this could have happened."

Enraged relatives of the missing girls had tried to surround the convoy of the state mayor of Yobe, only to be pushed back by the security forces.

The mass kidnapping is the worst assault to have hit Nigeria since Mr Buhari came to power.

Mr Buhari, the former military ruler, was elected in 2015 on a promise to defeat Boko Haram, after the extremists grew in strength under his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan.

Mr Jonathan was lambasted for his tardy response to the Chibok abduction, which saw 276 girls from the town in Borno state taken in the dead of night.

Schools, particularly those with a secular curriculum, have been targeted by Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates from Hausa as "Western education is forbidden".

Boko Haram's quest to establish a hardline Islamic state in north-east Nigeria has left at least 20,000 dead and made more than 2.6 million others homeless since 2009.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2018, with the headline '110 girls missing after Boko Haram attack, Nigeria confirms'. Print Edition | Subscribe