Nigerian leader cancels town visit
Published 16/05/2014 | 11:27
Amid apparent security concerns, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has cancelled a trip to the traumatised town from which Islamic extremists abducted more than 300 schoolgirls a month ago.
It would have been the first reported visited by Nigeria's leader to Chibok, in the north-eastern region that has suffered deadly assaults by Boko Haram for the last five years.
A Chibok community leader had said that though residents had been angry at the government's slow response to the girls' plight, they did not hold it against the president and considered the visit "better late than never".
President Jonathan had been expected to fly on one of his presidential jets from Abuja, the capital in central Nigeria, to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital in the north east, and then be transported by military helicopter to the town of Chibok, 130 kilometres (80 miles) to the south.
The road from Maiduguri to Chibok passes by the Sambisa Forest to which the girls first were taken that is a known hideout of the insurgents and has been attacked many times.
Soldiers say 12 troops were killed in an ambush on that road on Monday night. The Defence Ministry said four soldiers were killed in a firefight on the outskirts of Chibok that night.
There have been signs that some Nigerian troops are near mutiny, complaining that they are outnumbered and outgunned by the insurgents, are not properly paid and have to scavenge for food in the bush.
The weakness of the Nigerian military was described on Thursday by Alice Friend, the US Department for Defence director for African affairs at a hearing about the kidnapped girls and the threat posed by Boko Haram.
"And so we're now looking at a military force that's, quite frankly, becoming afraid to even engage" the enemy, she told the US Senate subcommittee on African Affairs in Washington.
She also said "much of the funding" for Nigeria's military is "skimmed off the top" by corrupt officers in a country where corruption is endemic.
Soldiers in Nigeria have said that some in their ranks actually fight alongside Boko Haram, and President Jonathan last year said he suspected the Boko Haram members and sympathisers had infiltrated every level of his government and military, including the Cabinet.
In Chibok, community leader Pogu Bitrus had said earlier that that though residents had been angry at Jonathan's slow response to the girls' plight, they did not hold it against the president and considered his visit "better late than never".
The presidency said Jonathan is travelling later to Paris for a French-organised summit including leaders of Nigeria's four neighbours to discuss how to address the regional threat posed by Boko Haram.
Boko Haram insurgents on April 15 abducted more than 300 students from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School. Police say 53 managed to escape and 276 remain in captivity.