Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, has described the release of majority of the Dapchi schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram as a gesture of goodwill by the insurgents.
Mr Mohammed also revised upwards the number of kidnapped schoolgirls as well as the number of released girls.
Speaking during a press conference in Lagos on Sunday, Mr Mohammed reiterated his earlier claims that the federal government neither paid ransom nor swapped any Boko Haram member to secure the release of the girls.
“This is a fact, irrespective of how a section of the press has tried to spin the story,” he said.
“The insurgents brought the girls back to the location of the kidnapping themselves as an apparent gesture of goodwill, following relentless efforts by the Government to find long-lasting solutions to the conflict.”
The minister’s comment came just as the schoolgirls arrived Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, on Sunday morning on their way to reunite with their families.
Four days ago, Mr Mohammed said a total of 106 abducted persons, comprising of 104 Dapchi schoolgirls, one other girl and a boy were freed by the insurgents.
But on Sunday, the minister reviewed upwards the figure of abducted persons based on “a lot of developments.”
“Gentlemen, a total of 111 girls were abducted from the Government Girls Secondary and Technical College (GGSTC) in Dapchi on 19 Feb. 2018,” the minister said.
“That means one student was not captured on the list of 110 abducted students that was compiled by the school, on the basis of which the Federal Government gave the number of abducted schoolgirls as 110.”
That first figure of 110 was provided to Nigerians by the federal government after a presidential delegation went on a fact-finding mission to Dapchi, days after the February kidnap.
“Also kidnapped were two other persons, who are not students of the college. They include a primary school boy who came to the school to sell pure water and another primary school girl. That brings the total number of abducted persons on that day to 113.
“So far, a total of 107 persons, comprising 105 Dapchi schoolgirls and the two non-students, have been released by the insurgents.
“Six Dapchi schoolgirls are yet unaccounted for. All efforts will be made to secure their release,” Mr Mohammed said.
One of the kidnapped girls had said five of her colleagues died during the kidnap. Another, Leah Sharibu, is believed to have been held back by the insurgents because she refused to denounce her Christian faith.
On how the insurgents were able to return the girls and were not attacked despite the military presence, Mr. Mohammed said the government had been in a cessation of hostility talks with Boko Haram “for some time now.”
“The talks helped to secure the release of the police officers’ wives and the University of Maiduguri lecturers recently. And the talks did not stop thereafter.
“Therefore, we were able to leverage on the wider talks when the Dapchi girls were abducted. As I said earlier, the insurgents decided to return the girls to where they picked them from as a goodwill gesture.
“All they demanded was a ceasefire that will grant them a safe corridor to drop the girls. This is not new. Even in larger war situations, safe corridors are usually created for humanitarian and other purposes.
“Consequently, a week-long ceasefire was declared, starting from Monday, 19 March. That is why the insurgents were able to drop the girls. This counters the conspiracy theories being propounded in some quarters concerning why it was so easy for the insurgents to drop off the girls without being attacked by the military.”
The minister said the return of the schoolgirls was due to the swift response to the situation by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He added that the current government’s response was a marked departure from the attitude of the preceding administration in the aftermath of the kidnap of the 276 Chibok girls in 2014
“Whereas it took that administration 18 days to even acknowledge the kidnap of the girls, the current administration was responsive and was not in denial.
“No stone was left unturned to secure the release of the girls.”
The return of the schoolgirls after their abduction in February raised suspicions among some Nigerians, with the major opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, saying it was “staged for political purposes” by the ruling party.
Another opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, questioned the circumstances of the girls’ abduction and return.
On Sunday, Mr Mohammed tore into the PDP and other “naysayers” saying that what called for non-partisan celebrations was “rather thoughtlessly turned into bad, despicable politics.”
“Let me encapsulate my reaction to the disgraceful and insensitive politics, that the PDP has been playing with the Dapchi girls, by quoting the statement of the President when he received the Dapchi girls last Friday:
‘May I also warn against those elements who have chosen to make political fortune of our citizens’ misfortune. Government would not tolerate any attempt by any person or group to trivialise or politicise security issues for politically motivated ends. Accordingly, security agencies would not hesitate to decisively deal with such unscrupulous characters.’
“Those are very clear words that need no elaboration.
“The PDP and its co-travelers do not understand that terrorism is a global problem. A terror attack on any country is an attack on all countries. The UN was among the first international organizations to condemn the abduction of the Dapchi girls and also among the first to welcome their release.”
Mr Mohammed also dismissed reports of a supposed sergeant in the Nigerian Army, named David Bako, who claimed to have played a part in an alleged conspiracy by the government to abduct the Dapchi girls.
“This is a classic example of what I have just said: Disinformation and fake news,” he said.
“I can tell you categorically that this David Bako is fake. There is no such soldier in the Nigerian Army. There was no conspiracy anywhere.
“The intention of those behind the disinformation and fake news is to cause disaffection between Christians and Muslims, and between Southerners and Northerners.”