‘Military authorities warned of attacks on Baga, Monguno’
• Defence faults Amnesty’s claim on anti-terror approach
THE Amnesty International (AI) has alleged that the military authorities were repeatedly warned of impending Boko Haram attacks on Baga and Monguno, which claimed hundreds of lives, and failed to take adequate action to protect civilians.
Besides, AI has insisted that the regional force for deployment against Boko Haram by the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council must respect human rights.
The rights group said a senior military source and other evidence it gathered revealed that commanders at the military base in Baga regularly informed military headquarters in November and December 2014 of the threat of a Boko Haram attack and repeatedly requested reinforcement.
But a statement entitled “Amnesty International’s allegations misleading” by Director, Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Chris 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’s deployment, coordination, troop’s 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 Amnesty International to use these unfortunate activities of terrorists to find fault with the counter terrorism operations as usual, is inaccurate and unfair.”
It added: “In actual fact, the protection of civilian population is the essence the entire counter terrorism operation. It therefore remains the priority in all the indeed, the troops were prepared and duly engaged the terrorists in all the instances referred to by Amnesty International.
The misleading conclusions by Amnesty International 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.”
The AI’s Africa Director, Netsanet Belay, in a statement made available to The Guardian, explained that other military sources and witnesses have told the Amnesty International that the military in Monguno had an advanced warning of the Boko Haram attack on January 25.
He said: “It is clear from this evidence that Nigeria’s military leadership woefully and repeatedly failed in their duty to protect civilians of Baga and Monguno despite repeated warnings about an impending threat posed by the insurgents. These attacks are an urgent wake-up call for the Nigerian leadership, the African Union (AU) and the international community. It is essential to protect hundreds of thousands of civilians in North-East from Boko Haram’s continued onslaught.”
Belay alleged that a senior military source, long before the attack on Baga, said the multinational joint task force based in the town informed military headquarters in Abuja of sighting Boko Haram patrols and build-ups of the sect’s fighters. According to him, they also told the headquarters ahead of the attacks that civilians in the surrounding towns and villages were fleeing the area in large numbers.
He also said sources told AI that after the Baga attack on January 3, 2015, Boko Haram members informed locals that their “next target was Monguno,” and that these civilians informed the local military.
Zakari, representing Baruteen/Kiama Federal Constituency, cautioned against any attempt to postpone the forth-coming general elections.
According to him, the proposition, if granted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), would lead to anarchy as no reasonable game is played when the rule is shifted at the middle of the game.
He added: “It is an unpatriotic statement. What is difficult to achieve is getting 100 per cent readiness for any election. INEC had come out to say that over 60 per cent of those who registered had collected their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs). Attahiru Jega should not listen to the unpatriotic call. It is an invitation to civil unrest. No lover of true democracy will love it. But it could be the voice of a master but the hand of the servant.”
He said the APC-controlled government in Kwara would win all the elections in the state but urged the party’s supporters to work harder and be more vigilant.