Nigerian security forces failed to act on an advance warning about a raid by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram on a school that led to the abduction of more than 200 girls last month, Amnesty International said. The Nigerian army rejected the allegation.
Nigeria’s military headquarters in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, became aware of the imminent attack by Boko Haram on the town of Chibok at just after 7 p.m. on April 14, Amnesty said today in a statement, citing “credible sources” it interviewed. By midnight, the attack was under way.
The army didn’t have prior knowledge of the raid, military spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade said in an e-mailed statement, calling the Amnesty version of events “very unfortunate and untrue.” Instead, soldiers received notice of an ongoing attack on Chibok, and sent reinforcements who were held up by an ambush while en route from Maiduguri, Olukolade said. Another group of soldiers sent to the scene arrived too late due to “misleading information that slowed down the pursuit.”
The abduction, which came on the same day as the worst-ever bomb attack on the capital, Abuja, has sparked international protests and criticism of President Goodluck Jonathan’s response.
“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,” Netsanet Belay, London-based Amnesty International’s Africa director for research and advocacy, said in the statement.
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, which means “western education is a sin” in the Hausa language, has claimed responsibility for the April 14 abduction of 276 girls from their dormitories in Chibok in the northeast.
His threat to sell the girls in “markets” and marry them off has galvanized a global campaign to free them joined by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.
British and U.S. teams arrived in Abuja today to help Nigerian authorities search for the girls.
The kidnapping, along with two bombings in Abuja in the past month and regular outbreaks of deadly violence in the northeast, has plunged Jonathan’s government into a credibility crisis among Nigerians.
“It amounts to a gross dereliction of Nigeria’s duty to protect civilians, who remain sitting ducks for such attacks,” Belay said in the statement. “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.”
International political and business leaders attending the World Economic Forum ending today in Abuja, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Bharti Airtel Ltd. Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, condemned Boko Haram and pledged continued investment in Africa’s biggest economy.
Jonathan has welcomed the support, describing it as “a major blow” to the militants.
“Barring a rescue of the abducted women, Jonathan’s standing will deteriorate,” Philippe de Pontet, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed note to clients yesterday. “The political implications are damaging for the Jonathan administration, which has been seen as ineffective in its response.”
In Nigeria there have been protest marches in major cities, including Abuja, the commercial capital Lagos, and the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt, urging the government and the security forces to do more to rescue the girls.
Critics have accused the government of being tentative and uncoordinated in its response after the military first said it had rescued most of the girls and then retracted the statement after the school principal disputed it.
The conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military has killed at least 2,000 people this year, Amnesty said today.
Boko Haram in the past few years has increasingly targeted teachers and students, and more than 50 schools were attacked, partially destroyed or burned down between July last year and January in Borno state, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. More than 300 people were killed in a May 5 attack by suspected insurgents on the town of Gamboru, near the border with Cameroon, according to local officials.