International human rights advocacy group Amnesty International on Friday accused the Nigerian government of knowing hours beforehand of the threat to hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls still missing but not taking action to protect them ahead of their abduction.
“Amnesty International has confirmed through various sources that Nigeria’s military headquarters in Maiduguri [130 km from the kidnapping] was aware of the impending attack soon after 7:00 p.m. on April 14, close to four hours before Boko Haram began their assault on the town,” the group said in a release. But the military was unable to muster enough troops to take on the militants with the Boko Haram terrorist group who were closing in on the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok. “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,” Amnesty says, adding that one soldier was reportedly killed in the fight.
Amnesty came to this conclusion through multiple interviews with sources on the ground in Nigeria, including military officials, local officials in Borno state in Nigeria’s northeast where the kidnapping took place, and others. “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,” Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director, Research and Advocacy, said in a statement.
“At around 10:00 p.m. on April 14, I called [several] security officers to inform them about earlier information I had received from the vigilantes in Gagilam village [which neighbors Chibok],” a local official told Amnesty. “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.” Those reinforcements never arrived. The estimated 200 armed gunmen were able to leave Chibok with more than 200 schoolgirls in tow.
The military didn’t redeem themselves in the hours and days after the kidnapping. As previously reported, once they realized that the students were missing, family members went searching in the Sambisa Forest, one of the hideouts of Boko Haram. When told that they were near where the abductors had set up camp, the searchers returned to Chibok, according to the Associated Press, and appealed to the soldiers present to join them into the forest. The soldiers present refused. The next day, Nigerian media reported that the military had managed to free the majority of the girls taken. Nigeria’s defense ministry was forced to withdraw that claim only a day later.
The report of the Nigerian military being unable — or at times unwilling — to confront Boko Haram tracks with outside analysis of the state of the armed services, which have been referred to as ill-equipped, under resourced, and demoralized. “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,” one senior officer told Amnesty. Likewise the Associated Press recently reported similar feelings among the Nigerian rank and file: “Many soldiers have told the AP they are demoralized, because Boko Haram is more heavily armed and better equipped, while they get little more than a meal a day.”
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s government has been under increased scrutiny in the weeks after the kidnapping, both in terms of the current crisis and his previously handling of the grievances in the North of the country that Boko Haram has exploited. Most of the resources that have allowed Nigeria to grow into a regional power are in the South, which is majority Christian, leaving the mostly Muslim north under-resourced, spawning the rise of other terror organisations such as the MEND. Boko Haram originally spun out of these same concerns, but has become increasingly radical as the years have gone on, to the point that even fellow jihadis haven’t been supportive of their latest kidnapping.
“I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria,” Jonathan said on Thursday, pledging to bring Boko Haram to an end. But corruption still remains endemic within Nigeria, to the point that one Nigerian commenter on a locally run news article lamented, “”Everyone is corrupt in Kenya, even grandmothers.” And in recent months, his government has been accused of violating human rights in its pursuit of Boko Haram, including allegedly killing 600 detainees without trial following a Boko Haram assault on a Nigerian army barracks.
These concerns haven’t prevented the international community from finally stepping up, however, to aid in the search for the schoolgirls. CNN reported that six US military advisers from U.S. Africa Command has arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, part of a team of experts set to provide expertise on intelligence gathering, hostage negotiation, and counterterrorism tactics. A British team of diplomats, aid workers, and defence officials likewise landed in Nigeria on Friday.
Meanwhile, the location of where the girls have been taken still remains unknown. The U.S. now believes that the girls have been split up, tracking with earlier reports that some had been taken across the border into neighboring Chad and Cameroon. “We do think they have been broken up into smaller groups,” U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said.