Abduction: 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.
A statement issued by AI's Africa Director (Research and Advocacy), Netsanet Belay, 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.