Hours before Boko Haram insurgents arrived in Dapchi where they seized 110 schoolgirls on February 19, both the Nigerian Army and the police were alerted to the impending operation but took no serious action to repel it, a new report by Amnesty International states.
The revelation marked the strongest indication yet that the Nigerian security agencies, despite their denials, may have had a fore-knowledge of the attack within an actionable time-frame but failed to act for reasons that critics say could range from a lack of sufficient capacity to outright negligence.
This is especially because the security agencies appear to have learnt little from a similar debacle barely four years ago when 276 schoolgirls were seized by Boko Haram in Chibok, a community in the nearby Borno State.
In its report, published Tuesday, Amnesty International said its investigations revealed that the military failed to respond when it was alerted to a convoy of Boko Haram that was coasting towards Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, in the afternoon of February 19.
Amnesty International said testimonies gathered from credible sources indicated that the army and the police received multiple emergency calls up to four hours before the attackers reached Dapchi, but did not respond until the girls had already been ushered into waiting Boko Haram trucks and driven off.
The rights group said between 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the day of the abduction, security forces received calls about Boko Haram movements between Borno and Yobe.
“Evidence available to Amnesty International suggests that there are insufficient troops deployed in the area, and that an absence of patrols and the failure to respond to warnings and engage with Boko Haram contributed to this tragedy.
”The Nigerian authorities have failed in their duty to protect civilians, just as they did in Chibok four years ago. Despite being repeatedly told that Boko Haram fighters were heading to Dapchi, it appears that the police and military did nothing to avert the abduction,” said Osai Ojigho, head of Amnesty International in Nigeria.
The Defence Headquarters quickly responded to the report on Tuesday morning, dismissing it as “outright falsehood” from an organisation that has long worked to undermine Nigeria’s national security.
The police commissioner in Yobe also responded to the allegation, describing it as false because they received no such warning while noting that an officer was wounded when police responded to the attack. The response was the first time the police will publicly disclose the specific action they took when the insurgents arrived in Dapchi.
Previously, the Nigerian Army and the police had publicly sparred over who should take the blame for the troubling security flaw. The military admitted that troops were pulled out of Dapchi in January, about six weeks before the attack, but said the security of the environment was handed over to the police. The police, however, debunked this, saying no such handover took place.
How it unfolded
In its report, Amnesty International chronicled a string of events in the hours leading to the attack at the girls’ school and concluded that the Nigerian Army and the police must be thoroughly investigated for allowing the critical information they got from residents fall through:
- At noon on February 19, residents who sighted an armed convoy in Futchimiram, about 100 kilometres east of Dapchi, immediately sparked several phone calls to alert authorities, Amnesty said.
- By 2:00 p.m., the military commander in Geidam, less than 60 kilometres from Dapchi, (was alerted) that Boko Haram were advancing well into Yobe. He responded to them by saying he was aware of the situation and was monitoring it.
- At around 3:00 p.m., the convoy arrived in Gumsa, where the insurgents remained until 5:00 p.m.
People in Gumsa called Dapchi villagers to warn them that Boko Haram fighters were on their way. One villager who received such a call said he informed a police sergeant who promised to notify the Dapchi Divisional Police Officer (DPO).
- At around 6:30 p.m., when residents were heading to the mosque for evening prayers, Boko Haram entered Dapchi.
Witnesses said Boko Haram fighters asked for directions to the military post, the local government office and the girls’ school. A police source in Dapchi told Amnesty International that officers fled because they feared that the Boko Haram fighters would overpower them.
Amnesty estimated that 50 Boko Haram fighters arrived in Dapchi in a convoy of nine vehicles with Arabic inscriptions on them, seven Land Cruiser trucks, one Hilux and a Canter truck.
“All the military needed to do was send troops towards Gumsa from Geidam or Babban Gida, while telling its troops in Damasak, Kareto, Gubio and Magumeri to be on the lookout or be on patrol,” a security source told Amnesty.
The rights group said its crisis adviser for military operations also concluded that the military’s response was woefully inadequate.
The review took into consideration the locations of the soldiers and the time it would take to get to Dapchi, as well as the route taken by Boko Haram.
According to victims and eyewitnesses interviewed by Amnesty International, Boko Haram left Gumsa for Dapchi at around 5:00 p.m., arriving at around 6:30pm.They left Dapchi at around 7:30 p.m. in the direction of Gumsa, where villagers say they arrived at around 9:00 p.m. During the attack, army officials both in Geidam and Damaturu were again alerted. The military only arrived in Dapchi shortly after Boko Haram left.
The organisation said it was regrettable that “no lessons appear to have been learned from the terrible events at Chibok four years ago.”
“All authorities must now work together to ensure the girls are brought home safely and this never happens again,” Amnesty said, describing the kidnap as a war crime and calling on Boko Haram to immediately release the girls.
“The government’s failure in this incident must be investigated and the findings made public – and it is absolutely crucial that any investigation focuses on the root causes,” Ms. Ojigho said. “Why were insufficient troops available? Why was it decided to withdraw troops? What measures has the government taken to protect schools in northeast Nigeria? And what procedures are supposed to be followed in response to an attempted abduction?”
Report inciting, misleading — Military
But John Agim, a spokesperson for the Defence Headquarters said the report was an attempt “to whip up sentiments and mislead unsuspecting Nigerians, demoralise friendly nations and people collaborating with security forces to end the forces of evil in the North-east.”
“The Nigerian public and the International Community should know that the Armed Forces of Nigeria is a professional military and has attained the highest form of professionalism in line with International best practices. And so, (it) could not have ignored warning of Boko Haram attack only to work tirelessly to get the girls back.
“It is not proper for an organisation like AI who do not meant well for Nigeria going by their previous reputation of denigrating the security forces anytime they make gains against the forces of evil to incite the Nigerian public and international community against the Military,” Mr. Agim, the acting director of Defence Information, claimed.
Mr. Agim, a brigadier general, added that the military had more incentives ”to even rush to the rescue of the girls had it been aware of the attack” as claimed by Amnesty International as some of its top brass are from the North-east region, which included Yobe State.
Mr. Agim also cited previous reports by Amnesty International stating that they have stood in the way of the military from procuring needed equipment to combat the Boko Haram insurgency.
“It is therefore very unfair for AI that does not care if the country survives as a united indivisible entity to come up every time to put doubts in the minds of the people about the military that has remained dedicated to keeping the country one.
“Amnesty International always brings out damming reports about the Nigerian Military at strategic points. They did that accurately in the previous administration and the United States invoked the Leahy law against Nigeria at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency. Within this year, Amnesty International issued reports against the Military in January 2018, February 2018 and now March 2018.
”The question is; what is the motive of the AI? The answer is simple; President Trump of the United States of America has agreed to collaborate with the current government of Nigeria to end insurgency in the North-east and AI wants to do everything within its powers to make sure that the US-Nigeria Anti-Terrorism cooperation does not succeed in accordance with their paymasters design.”
The military has consistently denied claims of extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses Amnesty International has accused it of perpetrating in the North-east and other parts of the country its personnel were deployed.
Mr. Agim also tried to pick holes in Amnesty International’s narrative of the event of the day of the abduction.
He demanded that the organisation should name the security forces and the unit informed that a convoy of Boko haram fighters were headed to Dapchi and the phone number used to inform the military or the police.
“Why has AI refused to communicate its findings with the Federal Government’s Committee set up to investigate what happened before, during and after Dapchi girls abduction? Is AI trying to undermine the outcome of this committee? The answer is simple, AI is not ready to contribute towards finding a solution to our problems, if anything, they are ready to complicate the problems.
“Within the military and amongst well-meaning Nigerians at home and in Diaspora, we know that AI is an organ established to embark on orchestrated campaign of calumny against the Nigerian Military and undermine its laudable achievements against Boko Harm.
“Unfounded and inaccurate reports such as this by AI is completely unacceptable, and only exit in the figment of AI imaginations and should be discountenanced by well-meaning Nigerians and Foreign friendly Nations,” he said.