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Mass kidnap: Never again!

The expression “never again!’ resonates among the Israelis like their national anthem, which underscores Zionism at all times. After millions of them were massacred in the Holocaust of 1945 in various countries, especially Germany, they resolved that never again will the Jewish people stand defenseless, or scattered out of their homeland.

 

Hence, January 27 was picked as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations to draw attention to this Semitic spirit and indeed global unity against the mass killings of Jews at that period. That was germane for a nation and indeed a world that learns from its history.

 

But the February 19 kidnap of 110 students of the Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi in Yobe State by Boko Haram was an indication that ‘never again’ is not in the lexicon of the nation’s security agencies.

 

Before their release after spending over a month in custody of Boko Haram, reports had it that approximately 50 Boko Haram fighters arrived in Dapchi in a convoy of nine vehicles with Arabic inscriptions on them, seven Land cruiser trucks, one Hilux and a Canter truck.

 

The manner of the Dapchi abduction was reminiscent of the April 14, 2014 dawn assault on Government Girls Secondary Schol, Chibok, where over 271 students were abducted. Till date over 110 of the children are still in captivity.

 

The similitude is also magnified looking at the fact that the targets were school girls; the military withdrew from the area shortly before the attack; attackers wore military camouflage and herded the girls into trucks in a dawn raid. And, as one report had it, the military were informed before the incident, but they were rather carefree or lacked rapid response capability.

 

A Security Expert and former Director of State Services, (DSS), Chief Mike Ejiofor, who spoke to Sunday Telegraph a fortnight ago said that the kidnap of 110 students in Dapchi in Yobe State by Boko Haram was an indication that security agencies have learnt nothing from the Chibok School attack of 2014.

 

Ejiofor said that what was even more worrisome and embarrassing was the buck-passing embarked upon by the Police and the Armed Forces, who should have ensured inter-agency collaboration instead of rivalry.

 

It was not therefore, surprising that Amnesty International said Nigerian security agencies failed “to learn from the unfortunate abduction of over 271 students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, in Bornu State in 2014 and be propelled to provide security in schools in the North-East, especially because the manner of the last attack was the same with the previous one.”

 

It said the security forces “failed to act on advance warnings that a convoy of Boko Haram fighters were heading towards a town where they abducted 110 schoolgirls last month, an investigation by Amnesty International has revealed.

 

“The military failed to respond while Boko Haram conducted an armed raid on the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State on February in an assault with chilling echoes 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,” said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director.

 

“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.”

 

Pre-Attack at Dapchi

Prior to the attack, the security agencies were said to have been duly informed and that the military commander in the area was ‘aware of Boko Haram movement’ four hours before abduction.

 

“The first call was made to the army command in Geidam, 54km from Dapchi, informing them that Boko Haram fighters had been seen at Futchimiram heading to Gumsa, a village about 30km from Dapchi. However, the evidence documented by Amnesty International shows that the military did nothing to engage the Boko Haram fighters and ensure the protection of civilians.

 

“Amnesty International gathered testimonies from multiple credible sources showing that the Nigerian Army and police received multiple calls up to four hours before the raid on Dapchi, but did not take effective measures to stop the abduction or rescue the girls after they were taken by Boko Haram fighters,” the Rights’ group said.

 

AI said the sighting of an armed convoy at Futchimiram immediately sparked several phone calls to alert authorities. Sources who informed the military commander in Geidam at 2pm report that he responded to them by saying he was aware of the situation and was monitoring it.

 

“At around 3pm, the convoy arrived in Gumsa, where they remained till 5pm. People in Gumsa called Dapchi villagers to warn them that Boko Haram fighters were on their way. One villager who received such a call said he informed a police sergeant who promised to notify the Dapchi Division Police Officer (DPO).

 

“At about 6:30pm, when residents were heading to the mosque for evening prayers, Boko Haram members entered Dapchi. Witnesses said Boko Haram fighters asked for directions to the military post, the local government office and the girls’ school,” AI said.

 

Amnesty International added that the military withdrew troops from the area in January, meaning the closest personnel were based one hour’s drive from Dapchi. Conversely, a police source in Dapchi said that the officers at a nearby station fled because they feared that the Boko Haram fighters would overpower them.

 

Victims and eyewitnesses interviewed by Amnesty International said Boko Haram left Gumsa for Dapchi at around 5:00pm, arriving at around 6:30pm. They left Dapchi at around 7:30pm in the direction of Gumsa, where villagers say they arrived at around 9:00pm.

 

During the attack, army officials both in Geidam and Damaturu were again alerted. The military only arrived in Dapchi shortly after Boko Haram left. Villagers in Dapchi and Gumsa said a military jet arrived about one hour after Boko Haram left Dapchi.

 

A source told Amnesty International: “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.”

 

Post mortem

From all indications, that particular operation, like others before it, was poorly and unprofessionally managed. A review of the Nigerian army’s actions by Amnesty International’s crisis advisor for military operations also concluded that the military’s response was woefully inadequate. The review took into consideration the locations of the soldiers and the time it would take to get to Dapchi, as well as the route taken by Boko Haram.

 

The international body and indeed many Nigerians have deplored government’s failure and called for thorough investigation. It said the investigation is absolutely crucial and must focus f on the root causes and display of crass unprofessionalism on the part of the security agencies.

 

“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?”

 

For the same reason, Ejiofor said he was worried by the buck-passing embarked upon by the Police and the Armed Forces, instead of rising to the situation. He said if they were ignorant of the attack, the troops should have condoned off all entry and exit points in the area soon after it came to their knowledge.

 

Apart from the glaring deficiency, Ejiofor, who was at different times DSS Director in Akwa Ibom and Ogun states, wondered what happened to the country’s Safe School Initiative, a programme set up to help protect hundreds of schools in North-East in 2015, and was heavily funded by international bodies and countries like the United Kingdom, America and other countries and Nigerian businessmen provided strategies for protecting schools in that region- a point also raised by the AI.

 

Putting it more succinctly, AI said: “In response to the Chibok abduction, the Safe Schools Initiative – which is currently coordinated by the Presidential Committee on the North-East Initiative – was launched to improve security around schools. However, no framework seems to be in place to prevent further abductions and it appears that 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,” said Osai Ojigho.

 

AI concluded that the Nigerian authorities have failed in their duty to protect civilians, just as they did in Chibok four years ago. Before the last attack 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.

 

But the nation’s security agencies, observers said, must learn the lessons of history to increase their operational incapacity, capability. The deployment by the Nigeria Police of fewer than 2,000 armed police men to schools as part of the measures to enhanced protection in public schools in the North-East and movement of equal number by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), were laudable, but almost too late.

 

These deployments said to be in compliance with presidential directive, through the Minister of Interior, following the abduction of some school girls by insurgents in Dapchi village of Yobe. The officers and men will step up security in schools in Borno, Adamawa, Gombe, Taraba, to mitigate activities of the Boko Haram insurgents in the area.

 

To security experts, the action is not only belated, but an indication that security agencies have learnt nothing from history. Since the commencement of the war on insurgents over five years ago, it was expected that the military’s expertise in handling the unconventional war would increase after every attack.

 

Summing it up, Hajia Aisha Yusuf, co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls lamented that the Dapchi incident, still mired in some controversy, indicated that “We have learnt nothing from the tragic history of Chibok. Up till now, five of the children are dead, an indication that five families are mourning, besides the over 100 still in Boko Haram custody. It is distressing”

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