On April 14 this year, dozens of heavily armed Boko Haram insurgents stormed a government-run boarding secondary school in the town of Chibok in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria, abducting scores of schoolgirls from their dormitories.
The following day, a spokesman for Borno state government – speaking on the basis of information passed to it by school principal Asabe Kwambura – declared that 129 girls had been staying at the school that night and abducted. Of these, 14 escaped as they were driven into the bush, leaving 115 still being held by their captors, the state government said.
Four days later, on April 19, Enoch Mark, a Christian priest whose daughter and two nieces were among the kidnapped schoolgirls, spoke to reporters insisting that over 300 girls had been abducted.
“From the school records, a total of 530 students registered for the WAEC (West Africa Examination Council) exams,” which the girls were sitting at the time of the kidnapping, he said. “Out of this figure, 70 were external students (i.e. from other schools and not staying in Chibok), 70 are boys while 30 are girls staying off school dormitory. That leaves 360 students staying in the hostels,” Enoch said. “As parents we know the Boko Haram is holding over 300 girls after the escape of 30 of the girls,” he said.
So how many girls were at the school on night of April 14? Officials are still unclear, but Mark’s figure that around 360 were present at the school when the attack happened appears the most accurate.
How many were abducted? Police say 276
Borno Police Commissioner Lawan Tanko told reporters on May 2 the police believe 276 girls were abducted from the school in Chibok on April 14, of whom 53 had escaped from their captors.
“So far, we have a comprehensive list of 276 girls abducted from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on April 14 and out of this figure 53 were able to escape and return,” Tanko said.
“The number of girls being held by their abductors stands at 223 but this figure is not exhaustive and may change,” he said.
The identity of all the 53 girls who had escaped had been documented, the police commissioner added.
Why the confusion?
Part of the reason for the confusion is the result of the Boko Haram insurgency itself.
Borno Police Commissioner Lawan Tanko told reporters on May 2 the students present at the school on the night of April 14 were drawn from various schools in the area, having been transferred there due to Boko Haram violence in the area.
In addition to the 129 students registered for the exam from Chibok itself, other students came from schools in Izge, Lassa, Ashigashiya and Warabe, he said, referring to nearby communities.
“This was why the 129 was initially declared as the number of girls abducted,” he added. And in addition, “the school records were burnt in the fire that destroyed a large part of the school after the attackers set fire to the school buildings” Tanko said.
Military falsely claimed to rescue all but eight
However it also appears that some in the military and state government were also keen to downplay the success of Boko Haram’s attack on Chibok and to play up the success of their own efforts in rescuing the girls.
Two days after the abduction, Nigeria Defence spokesman Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade issued a statement claiming the military had rescued 107 of the 115 schoolgirls reported by the state government as kidnapped, leaving only eight still being held.
The military’s statement was immediately dismissed by the school principal and retracted two days later on April 18.
“In the light of the denial by the principal of the school, the Defence Headquarters wishes to defer to the school principal and Governor’s statement … and retract,” said the statement signed by Olukoade. The spokesman said the original statement had been issued “in good faith and not intended to deceive the public”.
How many are still missing? Officials say 219
On May 28, the Director of Personnel and Management in Chibok local government, Musa Kolo, told a meeting in the capital, Abuja, that the total number of girls who had escaped was 57.
Borno State Education Commissioner Inuwa Kubo, making a presentation to a Presidential Fact Finding Committee on the Chibok abduction in Borno state capital of Maiduguri on May 23 said that, with the latest discovery of the escape of the four girls, authorities believe the number of the schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram today stands at 219.
Hundreds more – male and female – abducted, killed in other raids
In addition to the 219 abducted and still held from the raid in Chibok on April 14, it is important to note that many hundreds of other Nigerians – primarily boys and young men but also including young girls and young women – have been abducted over the past five years by the group, some co-opted as members, others whose fates are simply not known.
In addition to those abducted, many have been killed in fighting and attacks. A report in early June by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Norwegian Refugee Council claimed more than 3,300 people have been killed by Boko Haram this year alone, though this has yet to be verified.