On the 6th of May, this year, Your Excellency, Mr President, inaugurated a Fact-finding Committee on the mass abduction that took place in the small hours of the 14th of April, 2014, at Government Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State. In defining the mandate of the Committee, Your Excellency’s directive was as clear as crystal. On that occasion, you stated unequivocally that the Committee was neither a judicial, nor an administrative panel of inquiry.
2. Your Excellency also stated that the Committee’s work was not a substitute for on-going efforts by the security and intelligence agencies to secure freedom for the schoolgirls, who were forcibly snatched from their hostels where they resided while writing their West African Senior School Certificate examinations.
3. After five weeks of work, the Fact-finding Committee is now ready to submit its report. The report, which the Committee is presenting today, covers the six terms of reference that guided the Committee’s work. These were to liaise with the Borno State Government and establish the circumstances leading to the school remaining open for boarding students when other schools were closed; to liaise with relevant authorities and parents of the missing girls to establish the actual number and identities of the girls abducted; and to ascertain how many of the abducted students have returned. The Committee was also mandated to mobilize the surrounding communities and general public on citizen support for a rescue strategy and support, as well as articulate a framework for a multi-stakeholder action for the rescue effort. The final term of reference allowed the Committee the latitude to advise Government on any matter incidental to the assignment.
4. Let me use this opportunity to express the Committee’s gratitude to the numerous sources and stakeholders with whom the Committee interfaced in the course of its fact-finding mission. The Committee’s interactions took place in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, as well as Chibok.
5. I wish to put on record that the Presidential Fact-finding Committee received the full co-operation of all the stakeholders. In addition to nominating three representatives who participated actively in the proceedings of the Committee, the state government also facilitated access to a number of stakeholders. Indeed, the Committee interacted with persons and groups considered relevant to the realisation of our fact-finding mandate. The singular exception was a Senator from Borno who, after agreeing to an appointment with the Committee, turned around to avoid the meeting, on the excuse that he had another appointment, and would thereafter be unavailable for another one month, or so. Not that his non-appearance has materially, or in any way, affected the outcome of the Committee’s findings. But the Senator’s avoidance of an interface with the Committee may well speak to a motive not too difficult to discern.
6. Your Excellency, in carrying out its assignment, the Committee was not unmindful of the circumstances that led to the Committee’s composition and inauguration. After Boko Haram struck at Chibok on the 14th of April, this year, there were varying and conflicting accounts of what happened, and even more so of the number of persons affected by the unspeakable atrocities on that night of April the 14th.
7. As most Nigerians already know, there were some persons who doubted whether, in fact, any student was abducted from Government Secondary School, Chibok. On the other hand, for those who believed that there was abduction, there were lingering doubts as to how such a number of kidnap victims were conveyed, considering also that information was sparse as to how the raiding insurgents evacuated the victims.
8. Mr President, the Committee here wishes to lay to rest any residual doubt whether or not any student was abducted at Chibok. There was mass abduction on the night of 14th April, 2014. During the siege on the school, 119 students escaped from the school premises, before the insurgents took away their classmates. A total number of 276 students were, thus, abducted. As of today, 57 of the abducted students have been reunited with their families after escaping along the zig-zag transport route taken by the insurgents, or by bolting to safety when the insurgents laid-by for a rest. Sadly, 219 students remain unaccounted for.
9. Details of the circumstances of Government Secondary School, Chibok, remaining open, in spite of the ravages of Boko Haram in the state, are contained in the report of the Committee. Also contained in the report is the detailed explanation of the pain-staking measures taken by the Committee in arriving at the number of students still to be accounted for.
10. Permit me, Mr President, to convey the burning hope, wishes, and fervent prayers of the parents and relatives of the abducted schoolgirls, who desire that their daughters and wards be rescued alive and reunited with their families.
11. But there is no mistaking the trauma and deep-seated fear of some of the schoolgirls, who escaped from the Boko Haram abductors. The parents and guardians of the schoolgirls are no less gripped by nagging worries over the incident. On May 29th, the Committee visited Chibok, where we interacted with community members and leaders, as well as parents and four of the girls who regained their freedom from the abductors. Tried as we could, the four girls were hesitant to discuss the full details of their experience, citing the fear of possible reprisals from Boko Haram elements. In fact, parents of other girls who escaped were hidden from the public glare, also because of the fear of reprisals.
12. Nevertheless, in the course of the Committee seeking to mobilize the surrounding communities and general citizenry, to support a rescue strategy and operation, the point was also made about the dicey nature of the kidnap situation. The schoolgirls are in the hands of insurgents whose record of wanton destruction of life and property in the North-East of the country is well known. The Committee has articulated options in the rescue strategy, and these are contained in our report.
13. The Committee’s report has also raised and addressed a number of issues that are incidental to the Committee’s terms of reference. These incidental matters deal with insurgency in general, as well as the military-political responses that are vital to overcoming the current security challenges.
14. However, although the Committee has already begun the process of mobilizing the communities, in tandem with term of reference number four, it is as yet unfinished business. Achieving more worthwhile outcomes in this regard will require more time and a more compact team than the current time-frame and composition of the Committee permit. Recommendations on the way forward are detailed in our report.
15. In conclusion, the Committee members and I would like to express our gratitude for the opportunity to have undertaken this assignment in a very trying moment in our country’s history. We are, nevertheless, pained that the schoolgirls remain in captivity. The hostage situation that this represents is obviously delicate.
16. Much as Nigerians and the rest of the world have been galvanized to drum up support for freedom for the Chibok schoolgirls, little will be achieved through finger-pointing. Getting the girls out, and safely, too, is by far more important than the publicity generated by the blame game that has tended to becloud the issue.
17. In view of the detailed security findings and recommendations contained in the report, we advise that in order not to jeopardise on-going rescue efforts and also the possibility of compromising National Security matters, we recommend that the report be treated with utmost confidentiality. This, however, does not preclude Government from releasing information that may be useful for better public understanding of issues surrounding the abduction saga.
18. On behalf of myself and members of the Committee, it is now my honour and privilege to present to you, Mr President, the Report of the Presidential Fact-finding Committee on the Abduction of the Chibok Schoolgirls.
Brigadier-Gen. Ibrahim A. Sabo (rtd)
20th June, 2014