Dapchi village in Yobe State has been filled with excitement since some abducted pupils at the Government Girls Science and Technical College in the village regained their freedom.
They were released in the early hours of Wednesday.
One hundred and ten pupils were abducted from the school on February 19, 2018, by Boko Haram insurgents, while efforts to locate them by security agencies failed until they were released by their captors.
As of 8.50pm on Wednesday, the Federal Government had confirmed the release of 105 schoolgirls and a boy, making a total of 106 released persons.
Earlier, the Federal Government in a statement by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had said 76 of the girls had been freed.
Later in an interview with State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Mohammed said 91 girls and a boy were freed by the terrorists.
However, in another statement, the minister said the number had increased to 101 with the documentation of more freed girls by security agencies.
The Minister of Information and Culture, in a late afternoon interview with journalists at the Air Force Base in Maiduguri, Bornu State, said the number had increased to 105.
The minister attributed the earlier changing figures released by the government to the fact that the “the girls went to their homes after they were released in Dapchi. What we have now is 105 girls and a boy; that makes it 106 persons released today (Wednesday).”
One of our correspondents that visited Dapchi gathered that the insurgents brought their captives back to the village and set them free on Wednesday.
It was further gathered that five of the schoolgirls had died due to suffocation.
It was also learnt that a pupil, a Christian, was still being held by the insurgents because she refused to be converted to Islam.
Soldiers, who were deployed in the town, were said to have made “tactical withdrawal” to allow the terrorists to have access to the village.
The military, which was apparently aware that a deal for the release of the captives had been brokered, had reportedly stationed a large detachment of soldiers in another part of the village since Tuesday.
The PUNCH was told by some parents of the freed pupils that they had been told to be on standby to pick up their children on Wednesday.
It was, therefore, into the waiting hands of their overjoyed parents that the boy and the released schoolgirls reportedly fell as soon as the insurgents left.
One of our correspondents learnt that six of the freed pupils were allowed to disembark at Jumbam, a town not far from Dapchi.
Journalists that stormed the town as early as 7am were initially turned back by soldiers who allowed other motorists to have access to the village.
Some of the journalists had come into the town on Wednesday to cover the solidarity visit of Chibok schoolgirls’ parents to Dapchi.
They, however, met excited villagers who informed them about the release of the Dapchi schoolgirls.
After journalists were prevented from entering Dapchi, some went to Jumbam, a 15-minute drive from Dapchi.
It was gathered that five of the six freed girls were from the village, while the sixth, who was also a pupil at the Dapchi school, was from Damaturu, the state capital.
One of the six girls, Khadija Grema, told The PUNCH that her experience in the hands of the insurgents was a sad one.
Grema said she was lucky to be alive, but lamented that five of her fellow pupils died of suffocation.
“The five girls who died were buried in the bush. Two of them are from Jumbam,” she added.
The schoolgirl noted that one pupil was still being held by the insurgents.
Grema said, “One girl, Leah, is still with them because she is a Christian. About five are dead but it was not as if they killed them – it was because of the stress.
“We were at the school, about to break our Monday voluntary fast, when the gunmen arrived and started shooting. Everyone was screaming and one of the men said we should come.
“We ran towards the school gate and when we got there, they brought vehicles and they drove us away from Dapchi.
“On the way, they stopped and asked some of us that were fasting to come down from the vehicle. They gave us groundnut cake, meat and water and we had our prayers after breaking the fast.
“We continued with the journey and when it was dark, they stopped at a place with a big tree. We prepared our food and after eating, we continued the journey. They drove for a long time until we got to a river. We took canoes to cross that river.
“Then, they took us to a house in one village where we stayed for some time. One day, they came and asked us to come and we were taken to the river and continued the journey until we got to a thick forest. That was where they kept us until they brought us back.
“They fed us very well, they treated us very well. They did not beat us; they did not molest us.
“The people that took us away were all speaking Kanuri and Arabic. They told us today that we were Muslims and it was right for them to free us.”
A parent of another girl, Kundili Bukar, told the BBC that the terrorists drove into the town in a motorcade in the early hours of Wednesday.
The terrorists were said to have left the town with a warning that the parents must not send their daughters back to school.
A father of one of the girls that died, Abdullahi Hassan, said he was sad to lose her daughter to the insurgents.
Hassan, who gave the name of her daughter as Maimuna, said, “I feel sad because my daughter is one of the girls that died. Her name is Meimuna Hassan.”
It was a different story for Alhaji Aliyu Maina, whose daughter, Aisha Maina, got back alive.
He said, “We are happy for the release of those found, but still sad over the loss of some girls.”
Vehicles were later brought to transport the girls to Maiduguri under heavy security.
It was gathered that the girls were immediately airlifted to Abuja aboard a military transport plane.
They are expected to meet with Buhari in Aso Villa, Abuja. (Punch)