APART from a few who escaped on their own, none of the over 200 school girls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents at Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, has been rescued by our security agencies, exactly 54 days after. And this is in spite of assistance from a coalition of UK, US and other forces.
The little or no dividend arising from the rescue efforts is giving way to a groundswell of apprehension over whether or not the innocent girls would ever be re-united with their families. It is also generating a battery of questions regarding the government and military’s approach to combatting the insurgency and rescuing the girls.
Since the school girls were abducted on April 14, efforts to rescue them have been uncoordinated. Comments from government officials are not only discordant but also contradictory. While a section of the government initially believed that the abduction was a ruse, another section believed it was real. To get the insurgents to lay down their arms, a minister would say that the government has an offer of amnesty; he would be disowned the following day by a presidential aide.
High-level military operational strategies are publicised before a foot is lifted to implement them. And battle-winning intelligence obtained against the sect appeared to be ignored. For instance, Senator Ahmed Zanna (Borno North, PDP), doubted, last month, if the girls would ever be rescued. According to him, the military was not acting on vital intelligence.
He told the Senate, during a sitting: “I have been constantly in touch with the security agencies, telling them the developments, the movement of the girls from one place to the other and then the splitting of the girls and eventually the marriage of these girls by the insurgents. What bothered me the most is that whenever I informed the military where these girls were, after two to three days, they were moved from that place to another; still, I would go back and inform them on new developments.”
Mentioning the various locations the abducted girls had been camped like Sambisa forest, Kolofata in Camroon, Mate and Mungonu, Chikungudua and islands on Lake Chad, the senator said: “I informed the security agents about the developments. And from that place, they (insurgents) can just go to either Chad or Cameroon because it is very open; there are no weeds in the lake and so they can go to anywhere. They have snatched all the boats around that area including the one for NNPC and so they are free to go anywhere without being chased by anybody.
“There are about 40 islands there and they have ejected most of the occupants of the islands and occupied the islands. What is most disturbing is that hitherto, Sambisa was their base and it was well known to the military and the Nigerian security services. After the abduction of those girls, they started moving out of Sambisa and even before then, I had been discussing with the military and they said they were going to attack that place… I don’t know what delayed them.But eventually when they launched the attack, all the insurgents had already gone out of the place.
“These are the facts. So unless there is seriousness on the part of our military, we have no hope of getting those girls. Even if we are going to get them, we are going to get them in trickles, maybe getting two, three, four and five.They are now scattered, so it is not possible for us to get 50, 60,100 in one particular position.”
Advertised attack on Sambisa
On May 2, 17 days after the abduction, a major military operation being mobilised to attack Sambisa forest was reported. According to reports, four battalions comprising all formations of the Army, including those from Signals Corps, Armoured Corps, Ordinance Corps, Intelligence Corps, Infantry Corps, Artillery Corps, Military Police Corps and Medical Corps had been mobilised.
The battalions were said to have been positioned in the North, South, East and West of the Sambisa forest so that when the troops moved in from all angles, there would be no escape route for the terrorists. Since the forest shares borders with towns in Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and Cameroon, the different battalions would each launch their offensive from these locations.
Even before the abduction, there were reports that the military planned to comb the Sambisa forest to smoke out the insurgents.
Given the way the military’s planned attack on Sambisa forest was reported, the insurgents would have been fools to be caught off guard.
This is arguably the first time a strategy for a major military offensive against a deadly enemy would be so exposed. The development adds flesh to President Goodluck Jonathan’s comments that the government had been infiltrated by members of Boko Haram, their sponsors or supporters.
However, those close to the military said they take time to scrutinise every information before acting to ensure that the intellignece was not meant to lure them into an enemy’s trap or ambush.
Indeed, one of such purported intelligence, on May 6, led to the killing of about 300 people in Gamborou Ngala town, Borno State. Gamborou, situated along Nigeria-Cameroon border, is the administrative headquarters of Ngala Local Council, about 200kilometres from Maiduguri, the capital city.
According to reports, security forces deployed to the area moved to the Lake Chad axis when they received intelligence report that some gunmen were sighted with abducted schoolgirls moving to the area.
The insurgents targeted a local market and fired sporadic shots into the crowd before proceeding into the town to wreak more havoc.
Confirming the killings, Senator Zannah, said the invaders spent 12 hours wreaking havoc on defenceless civilians.
“Initially there were many security operatives in the town to secure it from possible attacks. However, upon receiving information over the movements of insurgents with kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls towards Lake Chad area, they withdrew and moved further to confront the gunmen. It was just an hour after their withdrawal that the terrorists invaded the town, shooting everyone at sight and setting buildings on fire. About 200 vehicles and thousands of houses, shops and an outfit of the Nigerian Customs Service, (NCS) were all burnt.”
We need to manage information properly –Jemibewon
Speaking on the issues, former Police Affairs Minister and Military Governor of defunct Western State, General David Jemibewon (rtd), said there was need for the military and government to control and manage vital information.
“I think there ought to be a central point where information must go to and where decision as to what goes out or diseminated is taken. But I know that there are competent people there that probably know better. However, what we need to do now is to encourage the military and wish them well.”
On comments that poor intelligence gathering is hurting the anti-terror war, he said: “What is intelligence gathering? Intelligence gathering is simply information gathering before and during events and then you project into the future to see what is likely to happen. For example, I will expect that some people ought to be assembled somewhere to be thinking what would happen if this Boko Haram crisis comes to an end because it will still have some after effects. It is just like what we are doing in this workshop, trying to promote peace before, during and after the election.
“Perhaps, our problem as a nation is that we did not anticipate what is happening so as to get prepared for it. But now that it has happened, how do we get information, analyse the information and also anticipate; when this will come to an end what should we do? This is important because even when it ends, something will come out. We ought to learn some lessons. For example, how are we going to rehabilitate those who are bereaved and what actions are we going to put in place to prevent recurrence of such attacks?
Intelligence comprises of many things. For example, those giving us headache today, it must have taken them some time to acquire the strength and weapons they have acquired. They live within human communities. Soldiers were not based in those areas. If these people had come to the appropriate authorities to say we are seeing some strange faces in these areas, etc, that is intelligence.”
# Bring back our girls timeline
April 14 –Over 200 Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents
April 17 –Defence headquarters said only 8 girls were missing and that most of the abducted girls had been rescued following pursuit by Special Forces.
April 18 – Military admits error. Defence headquarters retracted its statement over the rescue of the students.
April 19— Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar ordered special security operations across the country for Easter Celebration
April 21 –Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon said Nigeria is in the middle of another civil war with the activities of Boko Haram in the country.
April 22— 187 School Girls still missing;Soldiers, vigilante groups continue hunt for kidnapped girls
April 25—The Security council which consists of all service chiefs vowed to rescue the girls.
April 28—The Military said its troops were close to the abductors’ den
May 2—Military mobilize 4 battalions to attack Sambisa Forest, offensive strategy reported.
May 5 –President Jonathan said he does not know location of the abducted girls
May 6 –Boko Haram release on-line video saying they would sell girls into slavery. Defence headquarters said they were studying the new video.
May 7— Boko Haram misleads Army with purported intelligence and kills 300 in fresh Borno attack
May 8 – Police offer N50million reward for credible information.
May 15 – Angry soldiers open fire on GOC’s vehicle. Protest killing of colleagues by Boko Haram. Defence headquarters said it was an internal affair which has been resolved. A panel of inquiry has been set up over the incident.
May 16 – GOC redeployed after soldiers mutiny in Borno
May 19— Military warns against visit to operation areas
May 22 –Bomb blast in Jos,poor funding affecting military operations, said Chief Accountant of the Nigerians Army, Major General Abdullah Muraina in Kaduna
May 25— We are closing-in on Chibok girls abductor – FG
Co-ordinator National Information Centre, Mike Omeri said the efforts of officers and men of Nigeria’s defence forces as well as the police and DSS were paying off. “Already, our troops are smoking the terorists out of their hiding places. For instance, one of their hideouts in Darazo, Bauchi State, has been bombed repeatedly and they are now on the run. We are closing-in on them,” he said.
May 27— The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Alex Badeh, said that the military knew the location of the school girls but would not disclose it. Badeh’s claim reportedly incurred the wrath of the Presidency.
May 29 – Presidency, United States slam Defence Chief Badeh over comment on location of Chibok Girls. United States government said it does not have information to support claims by the Nigerian Military that it knows the whereabouts of more than 200 kidnapped school girls. Mbu said he banned the proests because the trend was now posing a serious security threat to those living around and those who drive through.
May 29— Jonathan said a full-scale against terror was on. He said FG was ready for dialogue and reconciliation with repentant insurgents.
May 30— Minister of Youth Development, Boni Haruna said the Federal Government has amnesty proposal for Boko Haram members, who renounce violence and lay down their arms.
May 31—Presudential Spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, faults Boni Haruna, says no amnesty for Boko Haram
June 2: The Commissioner of Police, FCT, Mbu Joseph Mbu banned all protests in Abuja over the kidnap of the school girls.
June 3—Police IG overrules Mbu