The Nigerian military on Wednesday expressed its determination not to spare any effort, including deploying maximum force, in recovering over 300 schoolboys kidnapped last Friday from Government Science Secondary School, Kankara in Katsina State.
It also allayed fears over the safety of President Muhammadu Buhari, who arrived in Daura, his hometown in Katsina State, on a week-long private visit, when gunmen attacked the school.
Boko Haram had on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the abduction that triggered international outrage.
But the military dismissed the claim, describing it as propaganda.
Meanwhile, families of the kidnapped schoolboys have expressed concerns that the abducted children may be brainwashed or held for years as security forces continued the hunt for their armed captors.
The Coordinator of Defence Media Operations (DDMO), Maj. Gen. John Enenche, said at a media briefing in Abuja, that the armed forces were determined to rescue the schoolchildren by all means “whichever way head or tail.”
Eneche, who earlier in the day had featured on The Morning Show, the flagship breakfast programme of ARISE NEWS Channel, also said that contrary to reports that two of the pupils had died, all are safe.
He said: “I was in touch with them as at 8 am before entering the (ARISE TV) studio. I am yet to receive the 12-hourly report but as at today (Wednesday), it still remains that the 333 (missing pupils) I told you on Sunday and the 17 reported by the governor that came out that is the figure we are working with.
“Nobody is dead. We have not received any information that any of them is dead. From the information that we have, monitoring the situation and then the troops are on the ground, as it were, they started patrolling the whole of that area which I’m not giving you the specifics, to ensure the information we gathered from Government House security operatives other than military sources of information that they are intact.
“We will rescue them, whichever way; head or tail.”
According to him, the armed forces are working round-the-clock to ensure that the schoolboys are rescued alive.
“The truth is that there is no sleeping for anybody. No sleeping for all of us. We are all there with other security agencies working day and night to ensure that these children come out of these experience alive as soon as possible.”
However, responding to a question from ARISE on the safety of the president in view of the volatile situation in Katsina State, Enenche, said there was no cause to worry.
“One of the major tasks of the Armed Forces of Nigeria is to ensure that we protect the government and the state actors,” he said, emphasising: “In that regard, the commander-in-chief is very safe in Katsina and wherever he is and wherever he will be at all times.”
On whether the military will support the advocacy championed by Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, for Nigeria to engage military contractors to rout Boko Haram, he said that was the exclusive remit of the federal government to decide.
He said: “Efforts are in the highest speed to ensure that the children come out unhurt and that we don’t record any loss of life, particularly amongst them. All the security agencies in that location are all working assiduously and keeping tabs on the situation and tracking the criminals to ensure that the children are brought out alive.”
On the possibility that the Katsina abduction may end up like the Chibok girls kidnap, he said Boko Haram was engaging in propaganda to engineer its discreet followers to boost their ego and relevance in spite of the fact that they have lost territories.
He also explained that the military was not involved in negotiations to free the pupils as it was focused on its constitutional duties of providing security and defending the territorial integrity of the country from being violated by non-state actors.
Enenche, who dismissed claims by Boko Haram of being responsible for the attacks said: “Based on the characteristics of terrorists all over the world, from the time when we had Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and the likes, they have always liked to boost their ego and claim responsibility for what they did not do. Now, somebody is saying he is Shekau, and Shekau is a brand and somebody is using his voice. The total aim of terrorists is to instill fear in people even beyond their scope of influence. So on that ground, it’s just in their character to begin to show relevance of what they cannot even do.”
Talking about the exchange of gunfire in the Kankara area, he said other operations were on and are still on.
“We have as it is now and as it were, van patrols even up till yesterday morning before I went to ARISE studio for this interview.
“So, if you are hearing gunfire, it is a normal kinetic action going on in other areas and not directed at the location where the children are because what we have seen is that maximum caution is being exercised and professionally handled to ensure that the children come out alive. Gun firing hearing in any operational area is not news,” Enenche added.
He also reached out to the parents of the kidnapped schoolboys, saying: “I’m a father of four children and I have lost relations and some of my soldiers; so the experience is never the same. They are always fresh.
“So I know what it means and I can say that we feel it. We are concerned and putting everything on the ground, strategies and plans in place with other security agencies working with us to ensure that they come out alive.”
He urged them to exercise patience and to continue to pray until the pupils are rescued.
When asked to react to Tuesday’s decision by the Senate summoning the defence minister, service chiefs and others, Enenche said it was beyond the scope of his responsibility to talk about.
“Ethically, it is wrong for a military man to begin to discuss what is not in his purview, and by training to begin to discuss your seniors or what your superiors are in the purview. I think for such a question, you should channel it to the appropriate quarters. It is insubordination on my part. I have opinions, but I operate under the law of compact, bound by military laws, ethics and then the civil,” he stated.
Enenche, who denied allegations that the kidnappers may have been given adequate information before their operations said he was not aware of that.
He, however, said the military arrived at the scene as soon as it got information about the bandits’ operations but that they were careful not to hurt the students.
He said: “It was even right from the first responders, like the police, to have blocked them and taken them on before we now give them additional support and it has happened severally in that location whereby they will get information that they are coming, the police will go, even from the local police station, then, we will now give them support from other location and save the situation.”
He added that the police had beefed up security in all the boarding schools in the area and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, had directed that they should do that appropriately with the mobile police squad in that location in Katsina State.
“Military intelligence officers have engaged the boys that escaped right from day one. They were debriefed and the process is on to debrief those that got back to Kankara but what happened is that the 17 that came back, some of them directly reported back to their homes and we are making efforts to ensure that we contact them to ensure that they are debriefed to help us fine-tune our operations and information.
“We don’t have direct access to the parents and that is being coordinated and should be coordinated by the school and local authorities on the ground which is on. But our focus now is to ensure that we put tabs on the children wherever they are to ensure that they come out alive,” Enenche said.
Speaking on general security, he said the military remained fully prepared and battle-ready to address insecurity.
Chuks Okocha, Kingsley Nwezeh, Emma Okonji, Nosa Alekhuogie