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Saturday 23 August 2014

Nigerian army failed to act over tip-off on girls' kidnap

Harriet Alexander

Published 10/05/2014 | 02:30

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A protestor demonstrates against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London
Demonstrators hold banners as they protest about the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria, near the Nigerian High Commission in London
Demonstrators hold banners as they protest about the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria, near the Nigerian High Commission in London
Protestors demonstrate against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London
Protestors demonstrate against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London

Military officials in northern Nigeria were warned that terrorists from Boko Haram were preparing to storm an isolated town – but despite the tip-off, were incapable of stopping the attack, and preventing 300 schoolgirls from being snatched from their school.

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Amnesty International claims that four hours before the militants arrived in Chibok, military commanders 80 miles away in the regional capital, Maiduguri, were alerted.

Two senior military officers told Amnesty that the commander was unable to muster enough troops to head to the town to stave off the attack.

"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," said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International's Africa research and advocacy director.

"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."

Local soldiers were also warned about the assault on the town of 67,000 people, but were unable to prevent it.

Bana Lawal, a local government official, said he received a warning via his mobile phone at 11pm on the night of April 14.

He was told that about 200 heavily armed militants in 20 pickup trucks and more than 30 motorcycles were headed toward his town.

Mr Lawal said he alerted the 15 soldiers guarding Chibok, then work sleeping residents and told them to flee into the bush and the nearby hills.

The soldiers sent an SOS to the nearest barracks, about 30 miles away – but help did not arrive.

In the weeks since the disappearance of the girls, pressure has been mounting on the Nigerian government over its seemingly slow response to the crisis.

It took the president, Goodluck Jonathan, three weeks until he even spoke about the abductions publicly, and repeated offers for help from the UK and US were only taken up this week.

But Mr Jonathan has dismissed criticism of his handling of the crisis, and Chris Olukolade, spokesman for the Nigerian ministry of defence, said that Amnesty's "allegation is unfounded as usual".

"The report is just a collation of rumours," he said.

Yet the fact remains that last night, over three weeks since the 300 schoolgirls were abducted, 276 were still being held.

Several British and American experts have arrived in the capital, Abuja, to assist in efforts to free the schoolgirls, promising to work alongside their Nigerian colleagues.

"The team is drawn from across government, including DfID, FCO and the Ministry of Defence, and will work with the Nigerian authorities leading on the abductions and terrorism in Nigeria.

"The team will be considering not just the recent incidents but also longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram," the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.

Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is forbidden", has been waging a battle for control over the north east of Nigeria since 2009.

Their ongoing campaign of violence particularly targets students – especially young girls.

On Tuesday, up to a dozen other girls were taken by the militants.

A day previously, the town of Gamboru was attacked by Boko Haram, leaving many dead – estimates of the death toll from that attack ranged from 100 to as many as 300.

The Islamist militants have killed more than 1,500 people this year already.

And yesterday, Chibok residents staged a street protest to press the regional government to do more to find the missing girls.

Mr Jonathan said he thought they were still being held inside Nigeria.

"There are stories that they have moved them outside of the country," added Mr Jonathan.

"But if they move that number of girls to Cameroon, people will see, so I believe they are still in Nigeria." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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