Kidnapped Schoolgirls: Army Ignored Advance Warning –Amnesty International

Amnesty International on Friday said the Nigerian military ignored advanced warnings on plan by the Boko Haram Islamic sect to carry out armed raid on Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State.

The group spoke as one of the victims’ father told CNN that the insurgents were usually supplied by helicopters.

Speaking with CNN correspondent, Isha Sesay, in Abuja on Friday, he said the matter was reported to the soldiers but nothing came out of it.

AI called on the Federal Government to provide adequate information to families of the abducted girls on its current efforts to ensure their safe release.

It also suggested that “the families – and the abducted girls, once they are freed – must be provided with adequate medical and psychological support.”

A statement issued by AI’s Africa Director (Research and Advocacy), Netsanet Belay, obtained by Saturday PUNCH in Abuja said after independently verifying information based on multiple interviews with credible sources, “the Nigerian security forces had more than four hours of advance warning about the attack but did not do enough to stop it.”

He said, “Damning testimonies gathered by Amnesty International reveal that 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 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 organisation said it had confirmed through various sources that Nigeria’s military headquarters in Maiduguri “was aware of the impending attack soon after 7pm on April 14, close to four hours before Boko Haram began their assault on the town.”

The statement 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.

“More than three weeks later, the majority of the girls remain in captivity in an unknown location. A climate of confusion and suspicion has so far scuppered efforts to secure their release.”

According to Belay, AI had called on Boko Haram to immediately and unconditionally release the hostages into safety and stop all attacks on civilians.

“The abduction and continued detention of these school girls are war crimes, and those responsible must be brought to justice. Attacks on schools also violate the right to education and must be halted immediately,” he said.

The statement reads, “Between 7pm pn April 14 and 2am on April 15, the military commands in Damboa, 36.5km away from Chibok, and Maiduguri, 130km away from Chibok, were repeatedly alerted to the threat by both security and local officials.

“According to sources interviewed by Amnesty International, 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 April 14 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, Kashim Shettima, and senior military commanders based in Maiduguri.

“One local official who was contacted by Gagilam residents told Amnesty International: “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.”

According to AI, local official was contacted by herdsmen who said that armed men had asked where the Government Girls Secondary School was located in Chibok.

AI added that 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.

Two senior officers in Nigeria’s armed forces, it said, 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 adding that he described to AI 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”, he reportedly said.

AI said its requests for a reaction from the military headquarters in Abuja have gone unanswered.

Belay said, “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.

“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.”

Belay said the information on the advance warnings of the impending Boko Haram attack in Chibok came from multiple sources, including local officials and two senior military officers, interviewed by AI.

“The sources independently verified a list of Nigerian officials who were alerted on 14-15 April, before and during the raid on the Government Girls Secondary School. They have been kept anonymous for their safety”, he stated.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram insurgents have planted landmines round Sambisa Forest to prevent Special Forces from rescuing over 200 schoolgirls abducted more than three weeks ago at the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.

Saturday PUNCH investigation during the week revealed that several hundreds of Special Forces stationed at the edge of Sambisa Forest had been prevented from accessing the forest because of landmines planted by the members of the Boko Haram sect.

The Sambisa Forest is widely believed to be the operational headquarters of the Boko Haram insurgents in the country.

It was learnt that the Special Forces had made repeated efforts to launch an attack  in the area, but were halted by repeated explosion of mines planted around the forest.

It was gathered that some of the troops unknowingly set off landmines, which inflicted various injuries on them.

Also, some of the Nigerian Army tanks used for the operation were damaged by the landmines.

The source said, “Several hundreds of soldiers are deployed at the edge of the Sambisa Forest. You should know that troops have made repeated attempts to enter the place but have run into landmines. Some tanks have also been destroyed by these mines.

“These people have taken their time to mine everywhere; they have used two kinds of mines, the anti-personnel mines.

“So what the troops need to carry out this operation are mine-resistant tanks. The Federal Government has made provision for them and they have been imported but we have been waiting for their arrival for long now.

“We are importing from China and India; the West will put all  kinds of hurdles on your part in such a way that it would take you 10 years to get one of the tanks you are looking for,” the source said.

Another source, however, said that the Defence ministry officials bought the tanks from Asian countries in order to save costs.

It was learnt that some of the military equipment earlier ordered by the Federal Government could not be used for the rescue operation because their accessories were not working.

Investigations further revealed that some of the tanks earlier imported into the country from the Asian countries were worthless and could add no value to the military arsenal in the country.

The source, who confided in one of our correspondents, said that some of the military hardware could not fire and were just kept in the store.

It was gathered that the equipment was either incompatible, faulty or without complete accessory.

The source expressed concern that officials of the Defence Ministry initiated moves to procure arms for the Armed Forces just to make money even when the military had not been contacted to give them a list of priority equipment.

The source said, “Some of the armaments have been  delivered but the  problem is that even among the ones that have come,  some are faulty or arrived with incomplete accessory in Nigeria.

“Some useless pieces of equipment in the store were procured by the Ministry of Defence; they procure items that, at times, are not asked for by the military. They do that a lot.

It was further gathered that as the military was expecting the delivery of the newly ordered weapons, the insurgents had intensified attacks thereby giving room for suspicion that intelligence reports were being leaked to them.

Investigations revealed that the insurgents planted both personnel and anti-tanks landmines to make it difficult for the Nigerian troops to attack  the forest.

It was gathered that the involvement of the Nigeria Air Force in the rescue operation had been ruled out because of the need to rescue the girls without casualties.

Britain, France and China have joined the battle to rescue the girls, promising to deploy their satellite imaging capabilities and other tracking technologies to assist the Nigerian government.

It was further learnt that the Federal Government was still expecting the delivery of mine-resistant armoured tanks and other weapons required to fight the insurgents and rescue the girls.

 This, our correspondents learnt, was one of the major reasons why the Nigerian troops have not been able to storm the Sambisa Forest where the Boko Haram insurgents are believed to be holding the girls.

Saturday PUNCH investigations also revealed that the Special Forces were still awaiting the arrival of some helicopter gunships, which would make the aerial offensive against the insurgents more effective.

A security source said that the Ministry of Defence had ordered for the landmine resistant armoured tanks for the crucial operation from Asia.

The source, who confided in our correspondents, said that more of the mine-resistant armoured tanks, bombs, Armoured Personnel Carriers and other weapons as well as their accessories were being expected from China and India.

It was gathered that the government had to look in the direction of China and India because of the difficulty of getting armament from the Western countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

The girls were abducted from their school in the night of April 14, 2014 by the members of the Boko Haram Islamic sect.

One of our correspondents made repeated efforts to get the Director of Defence Information, Maj.-Gen.Chris Olukolade, to comment on the issue without success as calls to his mobile telephone line did not connect.

However, the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig.-Gen Olajide Laleye, refused to comment when contacted on the telephone.

The Army spokesperson said that it was only the defence spokesperson that was authorised to speak on operational issues.

“What you are asking is an operational issue; you should direct this inquiry to Gen. Olukolade; he is the one that can give you what you want on that issue.

“Sambisa Forest and deployment of troops are all operational, and I cannot speak on them,’’ he said.

The Army spokesperson had addressed a news conference on Tuesday in which he said that the Chief of Army Staff,  Gen. Kenneth Minimah,  had directed an audit of the weapons of the service.

Laleye said that the audit would examine areas where weapons were  “in short supply, unserviceable or even obsolete.”

The audit was announced barely 24 hours after the leader of the Boko Haram, Imam Abubakar Shekau, released a video with some armoured personnel carriers in Nigerian Army colours at the background.

The civil society group at the forefront of rallies for the release of the abducted Chibok  girls, had on Wednesday said that the military authorities admitted that they lacked  equipment and weapons to rescue the schoolgirls.

The group said that the military authorities confided in its representatives during  a meeting  on Tuesday.

The Head, Mobilisation Committee of the “Bring back our girls” group, Jibrim Ibrahim, in an interview with journalists in Abuja on Wednesday said, “During our meeting with about eight generals at the Defence headquarters, they told us that the military did not engage in regular purchase of equipment and that they lacked  the necessary assets to undertake the rescue of the abducted girls.’’

But the Defence Headquarters on Thursday denied that  the leadership of the military admitted before the “Bring Back our Girls Campaigners” that it lacked the capacity to search for the schoolgirls.

The Director of Defence Information  in a statement described as unfortunate an alleged attempt by some people to use the meeting between the Defence authorities and the civil society campaigners to turn the public against the military.

Meanwhile, civil rights organisations are divided over the international assistance being offered  Nigeria by China, France, the United States and the United Kingdom.

While some saw it as a right development, others said the Federal Government should tread with caution.

The Executive Director of Anti-Corruption Network and former member of the House of Representatives, Dino Melaye, said the offer must be with conditions.

He said, “We must tread with caution. There must be clear conditions stipulated so  that we don’t end up creating a permanent presence of international troops in Nigeria.”

The Executive  Director of Women Advocates’ Research and Documentation Centre, Dr, Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said the development was long overdue.

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