by Kolapo Olapoju
Amnesty International (AI) has alleged that the Nigerian military was repeatedly warned about impending attacks by Boko Haram on Baga and Monguno.
The global rights group said on Wednesday, January 28, that the Army failed to protect civilians, noting that evidence gathered by commanders at the military base in Baga frequently informed the Defence Headquarters in November and December 2014, of a serious threat by Boko Haram and repeatedly requested reinforcements.
In a statement by its Director in Africa, Netsanet Belay, AI claimed that witnesses confirmed that the military in Monguno had an advance warning of the January 25 attack.
The AI statement said: “It is clear from these evidences that Nigeria’s military leadership woefully and repeatedly failed in their duty to protect civilians of Baga and Monguno despite repeated warnings.”
“These attacks are an urgent wake-up call for the Nigerian leadership, the African Union and the international community. It is essential to protect hundreds of thousands of civilians in North-Eeast Nigeria from Boko Haram’s continued onslaught.”
AI quoted a top security source, as saying that long before the attack on Baga, the Multinational Joint Task Force stationed in the town had informed the DHQ in Abuja about sighting Boko Haram patrols and build-ups.
The military headquarters were also reportedly informed that civilians in surrounding towns and villages were fleeing in large numbers.
Furthermore, the statement by AI said: “Nigerian authorities have a responsibility to take all feasible measures to protect the civilian population, including by assisting with an evacuation of those who wished to flee and transporting them to safer areas. They also have a responsibility to inform civilians of risks and dangers. According to witnesses, the local military did not make an effort to do this.”
“On 29 January, the AU Peace and Security Council is expected to discuss the deployment of a possible regional force against Boko Haram. 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.”
Meanwhile, the Director Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, rejected the claims of Amnesty International, stressing that the military always maintained a high level of alertness in its operational areas.
He responded to the report through an e-mail sent to Punch, stating that the military had taken conscious steps to ensure that effective utilisation of intelligence report was enhanced in the area of troops deployment, movement and protection.
Olukolade said the allegations of Amnesty International was wrong and unfair, adding that the claims “can only constitute a distractive and misleading commentary or interpretation of the terrorists’ activities, the efforts to curb them and the actual situation on the ground in Nigeria.”
He said: “Being an area of operation where terrorists are known to be ever looking for the slightest opportunity to attack and perpetrate heinous atrocities, Nigerian troops are conversant with the need to maintain the highest form of alertness always.”
“Every available information is factored into the intelligence that drives every engagement or encounter in any part of the mission area. This standard has not only been sustained but has been incrementally enhanced in terms of capacity, troop deployment, coordination, troop mobility and protection as well as logistics.
“Regular patrols, surveillance, pursuit and actual combat engagement to curtail or forestall terrorists’ activities and threats are also conducted. This has substantially succeeded in preventing, frustrating or minimising the effect of terrorists’ dastardly intentions and actions. This also accounts for why the main intention of terrorists attack on Maiduguri and other places could not succeed.”
“The effort of AI to use these unfortunate activities of terrorists to find fault with the counter-terrorism operations as usual, is inaccurate and unfair. The misleading conclusions by AI could have been avoided if they had made meaningful efforts to verify the inciting allegations. Whatever be the intention, the allegations, at best can only constitute a distractive and misleading commentary or interpretation of the terrorists’ activities, the efforts to curb them and the actual situation on the ground in Nigeria.”
“The Nigerian security forces remain willing and capable of discharging the responsibility of defending the country’s territory and people. Every intrigue aimed at undermining the nation’s capacity to handle its security challenges will surely fail.”