Borno State governor, Kassim Shettima, has said that there was every tendency that the female students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, abducted by members of the Boko Haram sect, in April 2014, were being held in bunkers, inside Sambisa Forest.
To this end, he has asked the military, which is currently combing the forest not only to fish out members of the sect but to also liberate the over 200 girls.
Shettima, spoke in Abuja, while presenting a paper at a two-day post election conference on security and governance, organized by the Savanna Centre, a Non Governmental Organisation, NGO, established by former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari.
The governor, who was represented at the occasion by the Secretary, Borno Elders Forum, Dr Bulama Mala Gubio, said the sect, having operated in the large expanse of the forest for so many years unchallenged, were able to build a bunker, large enough to accommodate many people in the area.
He said, “We are suspecting that Chibok girls are living with the insurgents in bunkers, I think the military must carry out their operations beyond the surface earth.
“They (Boko Haram) were also known to have dug tunnels to enable them move from house to house. So, having been left unchallenged for such a long time, such possibility cannot be ruled out which poses serious obstacles within the forest, “the governor added.
Speaking further, Shettima said: “The insurgents used their bases in the Sambisa Forest to launch deadly attacks and make quick retreat to their base which enabled them capture and take over control of all the local government areas bordering Nigeria with Cameroon, Chad and Niger, thus effectively cutting off the three neighbouring countries thereby declaring what they assumed was their independent territory (caliphate).”
The governor also said unless Sambisa Forest was completely and effectively rid of the terrorists by the military, any reconstruction and rehabilitation carried out in the North East region would turn out to be an exercise in futility.
“Unless and only if the Sambisa Forest is effectively recovered from the terrorists shall we think of defeating the Boko Haram and begin to embark on a holistic approach for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the North East.
“In fact, at several stages the Borno State Government had intervened to reconstruct destroyed schools, health centres, homes, markets and so on, only for the insurgents to attack and destroy them again, “he noted.
The governor also disclosed that Boko Haram killed over 300,000 persons in the region, contrary to the 13,000 dead figure he said, was being bandied by the media.He disclosed that Borno State alone, has so far lost over 70,000 people in the six-year old insurgency.
He attributed the success of the Boko Haram activities in the North East to what he called “the underfunding of the military”.
Governor Shettima accused President Goodluck of abandoning the region to its fate, and instead, preferred to spend the money he would have spent on the maintenance of security in the area to frivolities, especially the entertainment industry.
Governor Shettima specifically said in spite of the insurgency that ravaged the North East for six years, all the president could do was to send a meager N200 million to Borno State for security, disclosing that the state government, on its own, spent N600 million out of its lean resources and allocations to maintain the same security.
“As a government, we have spent over N600 million but all we have received from the Federal Government is N200 million. The same Federal Government has spent over N2 billion as loan to dancers (entertainers)”, he said.
Shettima added that contrary to the claims of the military of successfully liberating the major parts of the North East, a large portion of the area was still being controlled by the insurgents.