Dapchi girls return, but five are dead: Here is what we know and want to know

The Presidency has confirmed that at least 101 of the 110 girls abducted from a secondary school in Dapchi Yobe state on the 19th of February this year have been returned.

Various local and international media reported from early Wednesday morning that the abductors had returned the school girls to the Dapchi school premises from where they had been taken one month and a day ago. There is a huge sense of relief and the scenes are of jubilance, according to reporters from Dapchi.

However, the nature of the return, when matched with the abduction and the comments made over the past four weeks have raised some questions and even suspicions.

Terms of the Negotiation

From the last time abducted girls were returned by the Nigerian government, we have learnt that about three million euros were paid to the terrorists in exchange. It fuelled the perception that abduction has become a source of financing for the Boko Haram, one likely to initiate a vicious cycle.  Hence, it may not be surprising that Mansur Dan-Ali, the Minister of Defence, was quick to state that there was no ransom involved in the return of the Dapchi girls. More details are expected on the terms, but the records from the last release are a reasonable guide for evaluating the terms of the present return of the girls.

Not many persons will buy the claim by Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, that the release was “unconditional”.

Return or Release?

Reports say the abductors virtually drove into Dapchi to deposit the girls at the school gates in the same manner and number of trucks with which they had stormed the town to abduct them. Was this also one aspect of the negotiation in which the terrorists were given the privilege of bringing back the girls on their own terms, especially if there was no money involved? The implications are arguably ominous for the Buhari administration which has made much of its defeat of Boko Haram over the past months, but it will also be in line with the president’s words to the parents on his visit to them last week in which he stressed government’s priority as solely the return of the girls alive.

But Five Died

Unfortunately, not all the girls have returned alive; five have been reported dead, supposedly due to congestion in the abductors’ trucks on the day they were taken away. It was the outcome ultimately feared by every parent of the Dapchi girls, one which the government will be expected to make as bearable as possible for the grieving families. Any consolation could hardly suffice for the loss of a child whose only crime was seeking education at an ordinary school; there will always be the regret that the abduction was allowed to happen in the first place.

Was this a terrorist abduction?

The analysis of Dapchi cannot be objective enough without some consideration of a possible conspiracy, however cynical that may sound. The details remain sketchy, especially from the security agencies who, even after the return of the girls, have permitted certain journalists from entering the town to cover the story. There remains no convincing reason for the removal of the military checkpoints in Dapchi in January, neither have the Army and Police provided explanations as to why they failed to respond to at least five calls from villagers outside and within Dapchi who raised alarms on the convoy of camouflage wearing men, packed into trucks with Arabic inscriptions and waving guns. In the same manner, they rode back into Dapchi to return them. It has felt a bit like a movie and a suspicious public would want to know the scriptwriters.

The Boko Haram war: Which direction?

According to development journalist Mercy Abang, the Dapchi girls were abducted by a faction of Boko Haram headed by twenty-five year old Al-Barnawi, the second son of the sect’s founder Muhammed Yusuf. This group differs from the Abu Shekau group that has held the Chibok girls since 2014. A splinter of the terrorist group, without a break in their ideology but a difference in strategy, could only complicate the approach of the government in its war against abduction and terrorism. What would the government’s willingness to negotiate with one group and secure release of girls portend for the other’s strategy, and what do such negotiations say about the entire war on terrorism?

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