Reports of fresh mass abductions in Borno State by the extremist Boko Haram sect last week predictably jolted a world still distraught by the kidnapping of more than 200 school girls by the same terrorist group from the same state.
While the girls remain in captivity four months later, widespread news reports said between Sunday and Friday about 100 young men were abducted from Doron Baga, near Lake Chad.
Subsequent reports claimed the kidnapped men were rescued by Chadian forces.
The news stories were largely untrue, extensive investigation by PREMIUM TIMES has shown.
News of the latest kidnappings originated mainly from major international news wires- Reuters, Associated Press and Bloomberg.
They three news organizations– all based in the United States– quoted unnamed security officials, residents and local vigilante groups in Doron Baga, the scene of a deadly clash between the Nigerian military and members of the Boko Haram sect.
Reuters said “dozens” of boys and men were driven away in trucks on the night of Friday, August 15, after their captors overpowered local vigilantes who had no military support.
The Associated Press said exactly 100 people were abducted but later freed by the Chadian forces, quoting a Nigerian security official and a local self-vigilante member.
The AP said the attacks occurred Sunday, August 10, five days earlier than Reuters reported.
A member of the local vigilante in Doron Baga was quoted as saying that 20 women and about 70 young men were forced to board speed boats in Lake Chad.
Another news agency, Bloomberg, also reported that 100 people were kidnapped from the same community; but said the event happened on Thursday, a day earlier.
The captives were boys and young men not women as AP reported.
The report said 10 people died amid fears the abducted men might be forced to join and fight for Boko Haram.
The three news stories, syndicated by hundreds of news organizations around the world, apparently reported what appears the same attack on the same community — Doro Baga. But the reports cited different dates, numbers and those involved.
Reuters’ version of the event was reported by organizations including the UK Guardian, Aljazeera, Fox among many others.
Buzzfeed and others quoted Bloomberg while AP was referenced by several others including Yahoo news and Israel’s Hareetz newspaper.
All quoted local vigilante members, residents and unnamed security officials. The military was quoted as having declined comments.
As of Sunday, the Nigerian military maintains that position- refusing to confirm any report of kidnappings officially.
“The Multinational Joint Task Force is operating around the Lake Chad Basin, Doron Baga inclusive. I cannot confirm any abductions,” defence spokesperson, Chris Olukolade tweeted August 17.
PREMIUM TIMS has spoken to three soldiers- very reliable contacts – stationed in Borno State, who were involved in the fight against Boko Haram that Wednesday night in Doron Baga.
Villagers in Doron Baga also told some of our sources they were not aware men were abducted from their community.
A senior military official in Abuja also spoke to PREMIUM TIMES about the events of that night.
They all denied that people were abducted.
One soldier, who is especially critical of the Nigerian military authorities, said the clash was one of the few the military wholly defeated the insurgents.
“That night we were able to fight Boko Haram off,” said the soldier on condition of anonymity since he is not authorised to speak to the media. “They started by opening fire on us. No soldier was shot because we fought them.”
Those interviewed admitted some civilians were killed by stray bullets and many of the militants too.
The soldiers said their performance was so impressive they were rewarded by the commanding officer. “We fought them this time that our commander gave us welfare for a job well-done,” he said.
The soldiers said they were notified by Boko Haram days ahead of the attack.
In a typical display of bravado against a military that has suffered repeated losses in their hands, Boko Haram had dispatched a letter intimating the troops they would be storming Doron Baga to retrieve their wives.
“What happened was that Boko Haram sent us a letter that they are coming to pick their wives. Some of the men here left their wives to go and join Boko Haram,” one soldier said.
The insurgents arrived as scheduled, but this time the soldiers were “alert”, one source said.
“We did not even allow them deep into where civilians were,” the source said when questioned about the likelihood some civilians were taken captives.