Chi­bok ab­duc­tions: Nigeria’s Jonathan un­der pres­sure

With some 187 girls still miss­ing two weeks af­ter they were ab­ducted from a school in north-east­ern Nigeria, the govern­ment is un­der grow­ing pres­sure, re­ports BBC Nigeria cor­re­spon­dent

Daily Trust - - NEWS - Some moth­ers of the kid­napped school­girls, days af­ter the in­ci­dent in Chi­bok. The mil­i­tants torched the school in Chi­bok af­ter seiz­ing the girls.

The ag­o­nis­ing wait goes on. Al­most two weeks af­ter they were driven away from their board­ing school in the town in the mid­dle of the night, par­ents are des­per­ate for news of their daugh­ters.

A res­i­dent of the small town of Gwoza in the re­mote north-east said on 25 April she saw a con­voy of 11 ve­hi­cles painted in mil­i­tary colours car­ry­ing many girls.

This will be of lit­tle com­fort to the par­ents as it sug­gests at least some are now even fur­ther from home, close to the Cameroo­nian bor­der.

The fact that Is­lamist fighters from the Boko Haram group are still able to move across parts of Borno state in con­voys points to the se­vere lim­i­ta­tions of the cur­rent mil­i­tary strat­egy.

‘Eerie echo’

With thou­sands of ex­tra troops de­ployed in the main cities of the north and with the emer­gence of civil­ian de­fence forces or vig­i­lante groups es­pe­cially in Maiduguri, Boko Haram was un­der pres­sure and was forced to change tac­tics.

But this has in­stead brought the dead­li­est phase of the con­flict with in­ces­sant at­tacks on poorly de­fended ru­ral vil­lages and smaller towns.

About 1,500 people were killed in the first three months of 2014, ac­cord­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional. And the Maiduguri bar­racks at­tack last month, as well as the Abuja bomb blast on the same day the girls were ab­ducted, show that the in­sur­gents are not en­tirely con­fined to ru­ral ar­eas.

Even for those girls who man­aged to es­cape dur­ing the first few hours of the ab­duc­tion there is no peace of mind.

“I’m so sad now be­cause when I’m at home I think about all my school friends who are there in the bush,” one 18-year-old told me from her home in Chi­bok town, where the ab­duc­tions took place.

“I hope they are set free. We are all pray­ing for God to re­lease them so they come back home.”

‘Evil’

The at­tack is an eerie echo of a mass ab­duc­tion in north­ern Uganda back in 1996. A to­tal of 139 girls aged be­tween 11 and 16 were seized from dor­mi­to­ries at St Mary’s School in Aboke.

They were tied to­gether with rope and were taken away by the Lords Re­sis­tance Army (LRA), which says it is fight­ing for a state based on the Bi­b­li­cal 10 Com­mand­ments. So, same ter­ror tac­tics, dif­fer­ent re­li­gion.

In an ex­tra­or­di­nary act of brav­ery the head­mistress, Sis­ter Rachele Fassera, fol­lowed them into the bush and man­aged to res­cue 109 of them.

The rest were forced to be­come so-called wives of the rebel com­man­ders. Most of the “Aboke Girls” es­caped and re­turned years later as young moth­ers. But at least four of them never came home.

In Nigeria there was such ut­ter con­fu­sion and ter­ror af­ter the at­tack on Chi­bok School that sev­eral days later it was still not clear how many girls were miss­ing.

There can­not be many coun­tries where the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers stay as silent fol­low­ing such a tragedy. So far, UK For­eign Sec­re­tary Wil­liam Hague has said more about the Chi­bok at­tack than Nigeria’s Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan.

On Fri­day, a pres­i­den­tial ad­vi­sor told the BBC the in­ci­dent was “un­for­tu­nate, em­bar­rass­ing and evil”.

“The fact that some of them have been res­cued raises our hope that with more ef­fort, the ob­jec­tive of bring­ing them to safety and to their par­ents will be achieved,” said Reuben Abati.

But they were not res­cued by the mil­i­tary. They es­caped.

‘Pen­te­costal polemics’

Mr Abati said the se­cu­rity forces “de­serve con­tin­u­ous mo­ti­va­tion for them to do even more”.

Few would dis­agree with that thought but there are doubts over whether the soldiers tasked with fight­ing Boko Haram are get­ting the sup­port they need from their own bosses.

“We are in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. We are un­der­equipped we do not have the re­quired weapons,” a sol­dier de­ployed to Borno State told the BBC last month.

“This prob­lem is not from us at the front line but from our su­pe­ri­ors. We, the soldiers, have the courage to con­front Boko Haram but we do not have suf­fi­cient weapons.”

“You can­not con­front some­one with more so­phis­ti­cated weapons than you. It is not our su­pe­ri­ors do­ing the fight­ing - we are the ones at the front line,” he said.

“So we have to con­sider our fam­i­lies our par­ents and when we go there and get killed, what be­comes of our fam­i­lies?”

As has been the case with the long war against the LRA in Uganda, some an­a­lysts in Nigeria ques­tion whether the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing vast amounts of money from the opaque se­cu­rity funds is a hin­drance to end­ing the blood­shed.

‘Goat pen’

Nigeria’s budget for se­cu­rity this year is more than $6bn (£3.5bn) - dou­ble the al­lo­ca­tion for ed­u­ca­tion.

“The budget for de­fence is in­creas­ing but we don’t see that trans­lat­ing into bet­ter kit and se­cu­rity per­son­nel…. so in a lot of ways the ques­tion is asked whether the re­sources that are bud­geted for se­cu­rity are ac­tu­ally go­ing into equip­ping the mil­i­tary to be pre­pared for this,” said Cle­ment Nwankwo, a pol­icy an­a­lyst.

The po­lice are also sup­posed to play a key role in pro­tect­ing civil­ians. If they were well re­sourced, the streets might not be plagued at night by po­lice­men wav­ing torches and beg­ging for hand­outs from mo­torists.

Nigeria’s Pre­mium Times news­pa­per has just done an ex­pose on how poorly looked af­ter the po­lice are.

“Only through black magic could any­body feed his wife and four chil­dren for 30 days with the kind of salary the Nigeria Po­lice pays me,” the on­line pub­li­ca­tion quoted a po­lice­man as say­ing.

The same ar­ti­cle says the Po­lice Train­ing School in the north-east­ern state of Bauchi quotes of­fi­cers say­ing they no longer get is­sued with a uni­form but have to buy them from the lo­cal mar­ket.

The vi­o­lence in the north-east has been re­lent­less this year but the kid­nap­ping of the girls from Chi­bok and the fo­cus on their plight has def­i­nitely caused more Nige­ri­ans, wher­ever they live, to ques­tion their own safety.

“If they can’t pro­tect them up there in the north-east, why would they be able to pro­tect us here,” is how one La­gos res­i­dent put it.

This is a re­li­gious coun­try but for some the in­se­cu­rity is now be­yond prayers.

“Nige­rian cit­i­zens have been wait­ing in vain for an ef­fec­tive de­ci­sive ac­tion from the pres­i­dency be­side the usual: ‘We con­demn this act…’ But the pres­i­dent is wax­ing strong in his Pen­te­costal polemics and to­tal re­liance on prayers to solve the coun­try’s se­cu­rity fail­ings,” says Nige­rian writer Vic­tor Ehikhamenor.

“Nigeria is a highly spir­i­tual coun­try and its past and present lead­ers know this and have ma­nip­u­lated it to their ben­e­fit,” he says.

“How­ever, the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken it to a new height where God is ex­pected to ac­tu­ally phys­i­cally solve all the coun­try’s de­bil­i­tat­ing prob­lems from ter­ror­ism to cor­rup­tion to fix­ing di­lap­i­dated in­fra­struc­tures.”

Many of the politi­cians are more fo­cused on the blame game than com­ing up with so­lu­tions and with elec­tions due early next year, the vi­o­lence could have po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences.

The north-east is an op­po­si­tion strong­hold - the states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, where an emer­gency has been de­clared, are all un­der the con­trol of the All Pro­gres­sive Congress.

“Not hold­ing polls in the north-east, or re­duc­ing their scope, could cre­ate po­lit­i­cal chaos, with the op­po­si­tion re­ject­ing a close un­favourable na­tional tally. It is also feared that Boko Haram could es­ca­late at­tacks to un­der­mine the elec­tions,” says the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group (ICG) in its lat­est re­port on the in­se­cu­rity plagu­ing Nigeria.

“It over­stretches federal se­cu­rity ser­vices, with no end in sight, spills over to other parts of the north and risks reach­ing Niger and Cameroon, weak coun­tries poorly equipped to com­bat a rad­i­cal Is­lamist armed group tap­ping into real gov­er­nance, cor­rup­tion, im­punity and un­der­de­vel­op­ment grievances shared by most people in the re­gion,” says the ICG.

People are try­ing to en­sure that the tragedy of the ab­ducted school girls is not yet an­other at­tack that is swiftly for­got­ten hence the trend­ing of #BringBack­OurGirl­sand #WhereAreOurGirls on Twit­ter.

But given the cur­rent in­se­cu­rity in the north-east it is not a ques­tion of “if ” but “when” and “where” the in­sur­gents will strike next.

( BBC News)

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