Amnesty International on Wednesday claimed the military failed to protect civilians in Baga and Monguno, Borno State, despite repeated warnings about impending attacks on the two towns by Boko Haram.
The AI, a global rights group, said that evidence gathered by commanders at the military base in Baga “regularly informed” the Defence Headquarters in November and December, 2014 of a threat by Boko Haram “and repeatedly requested reinforcements.”
The group , in a statement by its Director in Africa, Netsanet Belay, added that witnesses had said that the military in Monguno had an advance warning of the January 25 attack.
“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,” AI said in the statement.
It added, “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.”
Quoting a senior security source, AI said long before the attack on Baga, the Multinational Joint Task Force based in the town had informed the DHQ in Abuja about sighting Boko Haram patrols and build-ups.
They had also told the military headquarters ahead of the attacks that civilians in surrounding towns and villages were fleeing in large numbers.
One of them, who spoke on the attacks on Baga, Dogon Baga and surrounding towns and villages, said, “They (attacks) were expected because Boko Haram warned the inhabitants almost two months ago that they would be coming to fight the troops and the civilian JTF.”
Another claimed that after the Baga attack on January 3, the Boko Haram members informed the residents that their “next target is Monguno. ”
“There was a warning. Everyone was aware. Boko Haram came on Wednesday last week (21 January) and asked the villagers (in nearby Ngurno) to leave because they are coming to attack the barracks. The villagers told the soldiers,” he said.
The AI said in its statement, “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.”
AI’s claims misleading, says DHQ
But the Director Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, faulted the AI claim, saying the military always maintained a high level of alertness in its operational areas.
Olukolade, in an electronic mail on Wednesday, stated that the military authorities had always ensured effective use of every available information on intelligence in carrying out their duties.
He said 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.
The DHQ spokesman said that the action of the international human rights group to use the activities of the insurgents to fault the ongoing military operation in the North-East was wrong and unfair.
He added that the terrorists’ attack on Konduga and Maiduguri did not succeed because of the prompt response and measures adopted by the military.
Olukolade 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.”
He argued that the focus of the counter- terrorism operation was the protection of the civil populace, stressing that the troops engaged the insurgents in all the instances referred to by the AI.
He added, “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.”