Missing Chibok girls: Military alerted 4 hrs before abduction — Amnesty

By IAfrica
In Nigeria
May 10th, 2014
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The  human rights group,Amnesty International (AI), yesterday  returned a damning verdict on the  military for its handling of  last month’s  abduction of 276 students of the Government Girls Secondary School,Chibok by terrorists.

The group claimed in a lengthy report in Abuja that despite having been tipped off by residents four hours before insurgents of the Islamist sect,Boko Haram, struck at the school, security forces  deployed in Borno State  failed to live up to expectation.

It is the first   technical /operational insight into the abduction .

It said its  investigation revealed that only 17 soldiers and fewer policemen were on ground in Chibok.

They lacked  resources to  withstand the  rampaging Boko Haram insurgents and  were easily overpowered  while   attempting  to repel the invaders, it said.

 Amnesty International  said that had the military been pro-active,the Boko Haram attack could have been averted.

“The Nigerian security forces failed to act on advance warnings about Boko Haram’s armed raid on the state-run boarding school in Chibok which led to the abduction of more than 240 schoolgirls on 14-15 April,” the group said in the report which it explained was based on testimonies it gathered and which were independently verified..

The security forces,according to it, “ had more than four hours of advance warning about the attack but did not do enough to stop it,” adding  that the military headquarters in Maiduguri was “aware of the impending attack soon after 7pm on 14 April, close to four hours before Boko Haram began their assault on the town.”

It  said”but an inability to muster troops – due to poor resources and a reported fear of engaging with the often better-equipped armed groups – meant that reinforcements were not deployed to Chibok that night.

“The small contingent of security forces based in the town – 17 army personnel as well as local police –attempted to repel the Boko Haram assault but were overpowered and forced to retreat. One soldier reportedly died.”

Giving  graphic details of its findings on the distress signals raised by locals before the abduction,Amnesty International said:  “Between 7pm on 14 April and 2am on 15 April, the military commands in Damboa, 36.5 km away from Chibok, and Maiduguri, 130 km away from Chibok, were repeatedly alerted to the threat by both security and local officials.

“According to sources interviewed by Amnesty, local civilian patrols (known as “vigilantes”, set up by the military and local authorities) in Gagilam, a neighbouring village, were among the first to raise the alarm on the evening of 14 April after a large group of unidentified armed men entered their village on motorbikes and said they were headed to Chibok.

“This set off a rapid chain of phone calls to alert officials, including the Borno State Governor and senior military commanders based in Maiduguri.”

It quoted a local official who was contacted by Gagilam residents  as saying:”At around 10:00 PM on 14 April, I called [several] security officers to inform them about earlier information I had received from the vigilantes in Gagilam village. They had told us that strange people had arrived in their village that evening on motorbikes and they said they were heading to Chibok.I made several other calls, including to Maiduguri. I was promised by the security people that reinforcement were on their way.”

Continuing,the group said:”Another local official was contacted by herdsmen who said that armed men had asked where the Government Girls Secondary School was located in Chibok.

“At around 11:45 PM, a convoy reportedly numbering up to 200 armed Boko Haram fighters – on motorbikes and in trucks – arrived in Chibok town and engaged in a gunfight with a small number of police and soldiers based there.

“Outnumbered and outgunned, the security forces eventually fled in the small hours of 15 April. Some of the Boko Haram fighters proceeded to the Government Girls Secondary School and abducted more than 240 schoolgirls.”

The AI said it spoke with two military officers who admitted that the military knew of the pending attack.

“Two senior officers in Nigeria’s armed forces confirmed that the military was aware of the planned attack even prior to the calls received from local officials.

“One officer said the commander was unable to mobilize reinforcements. He described to Amnesty the difficulties faced by frontline soldiers in north-eastern Nigeria:

“There’s a lot of frustration, exhaustion and fatigue among officers and [troops] based in the hotspots…many soldiers are afraid to go to the battle fronts.

“Amnesty’s requests for a reaction from the military headquarters in Abuja have gone unanswered.

“Since the 14 April raid, a climate of confusion and suspicion appears to have slowed down the Nigerian authorities’ efforts to locate and free the abducted schoolgirls.

“On 16 April, a senior Defence Ministry spokesperson said that almost all of the abducted girls had been rescued and only eight were still missing. The next day he had to retract that statement.

AI’s Africa Director  of  Research and Advocacy, Netsanet Belay who released the report  asked the Federal Government to bring back the girls safely.

Belay also called for effective collaboration by all agencies to rescue the abducted girls.

His words: “The fact that Nigerian security forces knew about Boko Haram’s impending raid, but failed to take the immediate action needed to stop it, will only amplify the national and international outcry at this horrific crime.

“It amounts to a gross dereliction of Nigeria’s duty to protect civilians, who remain sitting ducks for such attacks. The Nigerian leadership must now use all lawful means at their disposal to secure the girls’ safe release and ensure nothing like this can happen again.

“The climate of suspicion and lack of transparency about the rescue effort has been unhelpful – all authorities must work together to ensure the girls are brought home safely and more must be done to protect civilians in future.”

It asked the federal government  to provide adequate information to families of  the abducted girls on the authorities’ current efforts to ensure their safe release.

“The families – and the abducted girls, once they are freed – must be provided with adequate medical and psychological support,” it said.

The National Security Adviser, Mr. Sambo Dasuki, the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, the Service Chiefs and the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar had on Thursday visited Chibok on a fact-finding mission.

But no member of the delegation spoke on what happened on the night of April 14 before Boko Haram invaded Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok.

The Defence Headquarters yesterday denied that the military had  advance warning on the invasion of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok where 276 girls were abducted.

It said patrolling troops only received information of an ongoing attack on Chibok and calked for reinforcement from Maiduguri , about 120kilometres away.

It described the findings of Amnesty International as false and unfounded.

The Director Defence Information/Coordinator, Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade,  who made the clarifications in a statement in Abuja warned against campaigns which could  portray the military in bad light and cause disaffection.

Dismissing the AI allegation as  very unfortunate and untrue,Olukolade said:“Much as the Nigerian military appreciates the global concern and show of solidarity with the country at this trying moments, falsehood should not be introduced as a means of assessing the situation. 

“It has to be categorically stated that the claims by Amnesty International in its report that security forces had advance warning about the abduction of students of Government Secondary School Chibok, Borno State by terrorists is unfounded.

“Contrary to the organization’s claims, troops in Maiduguri did not receive four hours forewarning about the attacks. 

“Rather, they received information of an ongoing attack on Chibok community from troops on patrol who on noting the attack engaged the terrorists and called for more reinforcement to contain them.”

The DHQ gave  an insight into efforts made to reinforce troops in Chibok.

 “As the troops on reinforcement traversed the over 120km rugged and tortuous road from Maiduguri to Chibok, they ran into an ambush by terrorists who engaged them in fierce firefight and a number of soldiers lost their lives.

“Another set of soldiers also mobilized for the mission arrived after the terrorists had escaped due to a series of misleading information that slowed down the pursuit.

“It must therefore be clearly stated that contrary to the claim by the Amnesty International, the information received by troops at the Division Headquarters in Maiduguri was not a forewarning but the call for reinforcement by troops on patrol.  “Considering the vastness of the mission area, deployment has been more of patrols than static.”

The DHQ said troops were never at any time afraid of confronting Boko Haram insurgents.

The statement said: “The imputation of cowardice on the part of troops is particularly confounding as the military has internal mechanism to deal with such tendencies. 

“These spurious allegations are obviously a continuation of the campaign intended to cause disaffection, portray the military in bad light and undermine the counter-terrorism efforts.

“Although the Chibok incident is still subject to more investigation, the Defence Headquarters appeals to individuals and organizations to refrain from circulating spurious allegations that could undermine both the operation and investigation of conduct of the mission generally.”

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