The Nigerian military has once again confirmed the possibility that most of the over 200 girls of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorists in 2014 are alive and allegedly kept in two locations in the North-east.
This was disclosed by the Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj-Gen. Leo Irabor, through the CNN Special Report yesterday on the ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.
Irabor said credible military intelligence indicates that Chibok school girls are still being held in a Sambisa Forest, which is the remaining stronghold of the terrorists, and as well as a location close to the Chad-Niger border.
The commander’s lead is coming barely two months after the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Director of Public Relations and Information (DOPRI) of the Air Force, Group Capt. Ayodele Famuyiwa, disclosed that the military had discovered the location of the girls but that the areas cannot be attackedfor the safety of the girls.
“We have no fears that the girls are not there because that particular location has been under surveillance for quite a while and we suspect that maybe it’s a kind of ammunition depot or maybe a workshop that they are using as their logistics place.
“Once you take off the logistics base, of course you gradually weaken the resolve of the enemy to be able to prosecute any campaign,” Famuyiwa was quoted to have stated.
In the same vein, Irabor while speaking to CNN, said that intelligence surrounding the current location of the Chibok girls does, in fact, point to the Sambisa corridor, where his forces continue to advance deeper. But while proud of the accomplishments of his men, he says they need more international support.
He said: “The question of the Chibok girls remains a sore point in our history. The biometrics — as it were — of the Chibok girls are not known to us. Those are the issues which I believe are among the challenges.
“We think, from the intelligence available to us, that the remaining areas that we are working to move into, that is where we are hoping to be able to rescue the Chibok girls.”
He expressed belief that following a two-year-old trail while waging war against Boko Haram’s brutal insurgency, the missing teens are now being moved in clusters so as not to attract unwanted attention. The commander explains that while his forces advance on the Sambisa Forest, they are also running down other leads on the whereabouts of the Chibok girls.
“It’s a belief,” he says. “But beyond that, we’re also getting some intelligence that (they) maybe somewhere on the Niger-Lake Chad border areas.”
Despite the obstacles his men face, Irabor is optimistic the Nigerian Army will ultimately be victorious in their mandate. The recent “proof of life” video obtained by CNN, has reinvigorated their resolve to bring back the girls.
“(It) gives us hope that what we have in mind — in terms of operations — that that is going to yield results.”
There are few things worse than a child being ripped away from its mother. For two years, this has been the unimaginable reality for the parents of the missing Chibok girls. But the commander has a message for them: “Keep hope alive.”
Irabor said: “We are working assiduously so that all of them are rescued and brought back to live in their communities.
“I think that the light is beginning to shine and in a short while we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
However, the revelation was not well received by the former Director of the Department of Security Services (DSS), Mike Ejiofor, who warned that it could jeopardise operations and safe rescue of the girls.
Ejiofor reminded that the United States (US) were highly secretive about the whereabouts of Osama Bin Ladin until he was captured and killed.
“That information given by the commander is a very critical information that ought not to be given out. You could recall how Osama Bin Ladin was captured and that the Americans did not give any lead to his whereabouts. This is because if you give out such important lead, they might harm those girls.
“It is also very important that this current administration ensures that those girls are rescued because it is the cardinal point of their electoral campaign and promises,” he said.
The security expert also called on the federal government to look into the recommendations and findings made in the Chibok girls committee report, saying it will be helpful to resolving the conundrum.
“I believe that the present government has a duty to look into that report and recommendations. One is to ensure that safe return of those girls and the second is to prevent future occurrence,” he added.
Meanwhile, Gen. Irabor has assured that Nigeria has been working closely with the US, running operations based off of air reconnaissance that they have provided. He said that this has led to clearing a significant portion along the east of the forest and some promising wins.
The Theatre Commander also claims over 2,000 women and girls have been rescued in the last several months.
“We do have pockets of the Boko Haram terrorists still left in some places but very largely we’ve decimated them,” he says.
According to him, there is a sense among the military that as Boko Haram has lost their territorial footprint, they are regrouping and using asymmetrical tactics, deploying waves of would be suicide bombers — some successful, some not — to inflict terror as opposed to the ground assaults they once unleashed.
Irabor believes the militant group’s current capacity is “limited” and credits his force’s recent missions for the halt in attacks.
He reminded that just last month, the Nigerian Army captured Boko Haram’s camp in Alagarno forest, once considered the group’s “spiritual base” in the north-east.