Nigeria Army Warned of Raids Killing Hundreds, Amnesty Says

Nigeria’s military failed to protect civilians despite being warned of impending Islamist attacks on two northeastern towns where hundreds died this month, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

Boko Haram militants warned residents of Baga “almost two months ago” that they would come there to attack troops and local militias before their Jan. 3 raid on the town, the London-based group said in a statement, citing an unidentified military official. Boko Haram told locals the next target would be Monguno and the military was informed, Amnesty said. Boko Haram captured Monguno, 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Baga, on Sunday, according to militia member Hassan Ibrahim.

“It is clear from this evidence that Nigeria’s military leadership woefully and repeatedly failed in their duty to protect civilians of Baga and Monguno despite repeated warnings about an impending threat posed by Boko Haram,” Netsanet Belay, Amnesty’s Africa director, said in the statement. “These attacks are an urgent wake-up call for the Nigerian leadership, the African Union and the international community.”

Boko Haram has escalated its violent campaign to impose Shariah, or Islamic rule, in Africa’s biggest oil-producing nation, killing more than 4,700 people last year, double the amount in 2013, risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft estimates. As it attacked Monguno on Sunday, it also made a failed attempt to take Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

About 5,000 people fled Monguno to seek refuge in Maiduguri, Abdulkadir Ibrahim, a spokesman for National Emergency Management Agency, said on Monday.

‘Hundreds of Lives’

Varying casualty figures have emerged since those attacks. Amnesty said the raids on Baga and Monguno alone “claimed hundreds of lives.” The military has said initial evidence shows no more than 150 people were killed in the violence around Baga.

Calls to the mobile phones of army spokesman Chris Olukolade and government spokesman Mike Omeri didn’t connect and they didn’t immediately reply to text messages requesting comment.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of more than 170 million people, will hold elections next month in the face of increasing violence by Boko Haram. The insurgents control an area the size of Belgium in the northeast, U.K. Foreign Office Minister of State Hugo Swire said this month.

At least 30 people were killed in Boko Haram assaults on two northeastern towns of Madagali and Michika in the state of Adamawa on Monday, according to Adamu Kamale, a member of the region’s legislature representing the area.

Joint Force

The African Union last week backed plans by a number of African states to form a joint force to fight Boko Haram after the group has expanded attacks to Nigeria’s neighbors. Chad has deployed troops to assist in fighting the insurgents in northern Cameroon.

Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama said on Jan. 16 that his country was willing to provide soldiers for a regional force, and that he had received similar commitments from the leaders of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

“If such a force were to be deployed it is vital that it has a clear mandate to protect civilians and that all parties engaging in military deployment comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” said Amnesty’s Belay.

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