Dapchi Attack: 110 Nigerian Schoolgirls Missing in Chilling Echo of Chibok Mass Kidnapping

The recent mass abduction of more than 100 schoolgirls by suspected Boko Haram militants—the second in four years—contradicts Nigeria's repeated claims it had successfully eradicated terrorism in the country's northeast.

After issuing conflicting statements earlier this month, the Nigerian government confirmed on Sunday, February 25, that at least 110 girls are missing following a raid by suspected Boko Haram terrorists.

On February 19, gunmen in pickup trucks stormed a local government college in the town of Dapchi, Yobe state. Initial reports claimed the militants found the school empty as students and teachers had run into the bush. Security forces later told local media the military had repelled the attack forcing the insurgents to flee.

However, days later, different accounts of what happened during the raid emerged.

Parents of more than a hundred schoolgirls said their daughters had been missing since the raid and accused government officials of being too slow to respond.

Officials initially denied the abduction took place.

A spokesman for Yobe state governor, Ibrahim Gaidam, then said some girls had been kidnapped, but the military managed to rescue them successfully. One day later, Gaidam questioned whether there had been any abduction at all and his spokesperson said he had been "misled" with wrong information, AFP reported.

Minister of information Alhaji Lai Mohammed then said 110 students were "unaccounted for after insurgents believed to be from a faction of Boko Haram invaded their school on Monday."

President Muhammadu Buhari, who earlier this year said Boko Haram had been defeated, apologized for the abduction, deeming it a "national disaster".

"This is a national disaster. We are sorry that this could have happened," he said in a statement.

"We pray that our gallant armed forces will locate and safely return your missing family members. Our government is sending more troops and surveillance aircraft to keep an eye on all movements in the entire territory on a 24-hour basis in the hope that all the missing girls will be found."

Dapchi kidnapping
Sandals are strewn in the yard of the Government Girls Science and Technical College staff quarters in Dapchi, Nigeria, on February 22, 2018. Anger erupted in a town in remote northeast Nigeria on February 22 after officials fumbled to account for scores of schoolgirls from the college who locals say have been kidnapped by Boko Haram jihadists. Police said on February 21 that 111 girls from the college were unaccounted for following a jihadist raid late on February 19. Hours later, Abdullahi Bego, spokesman for Yobe state governor Ibrahim Gaidam, said 'some of the girls' had been rescued by troops 'from the terrorists who abducted them'. But on a visit to Dapchi on Thursday, Gaidam appeared to question whether there had been any abduction. AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty Images

Several questions on the kidnapping remain unanswered. Details on the exact number and identity of the missing girls and those eventually rescued by the army remain unclear.

The mass abduction contradicts the government and army's repeated claims that Boko Haram had been defeated.

Buhari, who took office in 2015, vowed his administration would end terrorism. The leader has often stirred criticism for claiming victory over the group, only to have Boko Haram refute his claims by carrying out attacks or issuing statements.

"Mass kidnappings of this nature do not happen by accident, they require months of precision planning and preparation, huge resources in man power and adequate logistics to ensure success but also a background resources to keep the captives for as long as it is required even if it means years," counter-terrorism expert David Otto told Newsweek.

"Either the army is incompetent and inadequate to deal with Boko Haram or Boko Haram is a master of their game. The outcome is not good for a government that focused its campaign and won the election in 2015 on promises that it had a better strategy to eliminate Boko Haram completely within months."

The February mass abduction took place weeks before Nigeria is set to mark the fourth anniversary since Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from the Chibok village, in Borno state.

Militants seized nearly 300 schoolgirls in April 2014. Some of them managed to escape, others were released following negotiations with the government and third parties, and around 100 are still believed to be held captive.

Although the Chibok mass abduction was not the first one carried out by Boko Haram, it attracted international attention and cast light on the extent of the insurgency in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring states.

"After what happened in Chibok in 2014, it is shocking and extremely careless if not incompetent for the Nigerian government to have allowed Boko Haram to still have the courage and the ability to plan and successfully execute another mass copy-cat kidnap mission in broad daylight in Yobe," Otto said.

"Events such as these should be a reminder to government stakeholders in the region that trust and timely information sharing needed in the actual defeat of insurgency groups like Boko Haram will not be achieved if the fear of imminent attacks leading to mass kidnapping and casualties remain critical."

On Monday, February 26, presidential spokesperson Femi Adesina said the fight against Boko Haram was not over yet. However, he added that the abduction in Yobe might have taken place after terrorists were rooted out from Borno, the epicenter of Boko Haram's insurgency.

"If the operating word is 'totally', the answer is no obviously, but has Boko Haram been degraded? I will say yes, terribly so," Adesina was quoted by local media as saying.

"You can compare then and now, they have been terribly, terribly degraded but is the war over? No, it is not completely over.

"The terrorists must have found their way back to Yobe after they had been displaced from their stronghold in Borno (Sambisa), which could have led to the abduction of the girls", he continued.

Yobe is among the Nigerian states, along with Borno and Adamawa, that mostly bear the brunt of Boko Haram's deadly insurgency. The militants have been blamed for the death of at least 20,000 people and the displacement of up to 2.1 million people in the area, known as the Lake Chad region.

Boko Haram, allied with the Islamic State militant group, is today divided. The fraction occurred after ISIS replaced Shekau as leader with Abu Musab Al Barnawi, a former Boko Haram spokesperson.

Although split into at least two factions today, the group has continued its violent war to establish an Islamic state in occupied territories.