Global human rights organization, Amnesty International (AI), has claimed that Nigerian security forces ignored advance warnings that a convoy of Boko Haram fighters was headed for Dapchi, Yobe State, where the sect abducted 110 schoolgirls on 19 February.
The claim was made in a statement released by AI on Monday. The organization said the claim was based on an investigation it conducted.
The military, said AI, failed to respond while Boko Haram raided Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, on 19 February, in an assault with reminiscent of the infamous Chibok girls’ abduction of 2014.
“The Nigerian authorities must investigate the inexcusable security lapses that allowed this abduction to take place without any tangible attempt to prevent it.
“As an even greater priority, the government must use all lawful means at its disposal to ensure that these girls are rescued.
“The authorities appear to have learned nothing from the abduction of 274 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state in 2014 and failed to ensure protection for civilians in Northeast Nigeria, specifically girls’ schools,” the statement quoted Mr. Osai Ojigho, AI’s Nigeria Director, as saying.
AI noted that the Safe Schools Initiative, a response to the Chibok abduction currently coordinated by the Presidential Committee on the North-East Initiative, was launched to improve security around schools. It, however, added that there appears to be no framework in place to prevent further abductions, as the Nigerian military is unable to protect schools from attack.
“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 Mr. Ojigho.
The organization said it gathered testimonies from multiple credible sources indicating that the Nigerian Army and Police received multiple calls up to four hours before the attack on Dapchi, but took no effective action to prevent the abduction or rescue the girls afterwards.
It stated that the closest military personnel were based an hour away from Dapchi, following withdrawal of troops from the area in January.
AI maintained that between 2pm and 6.30pm on 19 February, security forces received at least five calls warning them that Boko Haram members were headed to Dapchi.
The first call, said AI, was made to the Army Command in Geidam, 54kilometres from Dapchi, informing them that Boko Haram fighters had been sighted at Futchimiram on their way to Gumsa, a village about 30km from Dapchi. It stated that the evidence it gathered revealed that the military did nothing to engage the insurgents and ensure the protection of civilians.
“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,” AI quoted a military officer as saying.
AI said it equally gathered that when the the military commander in Geidam was informed at about 2pm, he responded by saying he was aware of the situation and was monitoring it.
The convoy, stated AI, arrived Gumsa at about 3pm, where Boko Haram fighters remained till 5pm, forcing people in Gumsa to call Dapchi residents that Boko Haram fighters were on their way. One of the villagers, who received such a call, said he informed a Police sergeant who promised to notify the Dapchi Division Police Officer (DPO).
At around 6:30pm, when residents were heading to the mosque for evening prayers, Boko Haram members entered Dapchi, with witnesses saying Boko Haram fighters asked for directions to the military post, the local government office and the girls’ school.
AI quoted a Police source in Dapchi as saying that officers fled because they feared that the Boko Haram fighters would overpower them. A review of the Nigerian Army’s actions by AI’s crisis advisor for military operations also concluded that the military’s response was woefully inadequate.
The review, said AI, considered the locations of the soldiers and the time it would take to get to Dapchi, as well as the route taken by Boko Haram.
Victims and eyewitnesses interviewed by AI also disclosed that Boko Haram fighters left Gumsa for Dapchi at around 5:00pm, arriving at around 6:30pm, and leaving at about 7:30pm for Gumsa, where they arrived at around 9:00pm.
Army officials in Geidam and Damaturu were again alerted. However, the military only arrived in Dapchi shortly after Boko Haram left. A military jet also arrived about one hour after Boko Haram left Dapchi.
AI noted that at a security meeting held on 25 February at the office of the Yobe State governor, nobody asked why the military did not respond appropriately. The meeting was attended by state and federal government officials, security chiefs, military officials operating in the area and representatives from the school and parents.
AI recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari subsequently ordered an investigation into the response to the abduction, the report of which it said must be made public.
“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
“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?” asked Mr. Ojigho.
The organization equally noted that the abduction was followed by as the authorities initially denied that any abduction took place. This was followed by the false claim by the Yobe State government that military had rescued the girls before being forced to confirm the abductions.
“That night we heard their voices when they were being taken, but there was nothing we could do. Everyone was scared. Boko Haram did not stay in the town for more than one hour,” AI quoted a parent as saying.
Another parent complained that the girls’ relatives were not given any information until the following day and had to wait outside the school to find out if their wards were safe.
“Many parents were hopeful that their daughters were inside. We stood there from morning till around 5pm in the evening, when they let the students out. It was at that point it dawned on me that my daughter was among those abducted,” he said.
Another parent whose daughter returned said: “Nobody told parents officially that their daughters were taken. While I was glad seeing my daughters, I felt bad for other parents whose daughters could not be found.”
The organization said the Federal Government learned no lesson from the Chibok saga for which the military also had four hours’ advance warning, but failed to take the immediate action needed to stop it. It also recalled that the abduction was followed by confusion and suspicion, which slowed government’s efforts to locate and free the abducted girls. In addition, AI recalled that the military initially said that almost all the abducted girls had been rescued, but had to retract that statement.
It noted that the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan investigated the Chibok abductions, but never made the report public. President Buhari, in January 2016, similarly ordered another investigation into the government’s response to the Chibok abduction. As before, the findings were not made public.
“Regrettably, no lessons appear to have been learned from the terrible events at Chibok four years ago. What happened in Dapchi is almost a carbon copy of what happened in Chibok, with the security forces failing to respond to warnings – and the same result for another hundred girls and their families
“All authorities must now work together to ensure the girls are brought home safely and this never happens again. This abduction is a war crime and those responsible must be brought to justice. As a first step, the two reports into the Chibok abductions should be made public,” said Mr. Ojigho.
AI called on Boko Haram to immediately release the girls and other captives.
Giving a background into its investigation, AI said it sent a team of researchers to Dapchi, where 23 people, including girls who escaped, parents of the abducted girls, local officials and eyewitnesses were interviewed. The team also interviewed three security officials. AI also said it independently verified a list of Nigerian security officials alerted on 19 February, before and during the raid on the school. These, it added, have been kept anonymous for their safety.
Sources and eyewitnesses in Dapchi, said AI, confirmed that approximately 50 Boko Haram fighters arrived the town in a convoy of nine vehicles with Arabic inscriptions on them, seven Landcruiser trucks, one Hilux and a Canter truck.