Nigerian security forces were warned about Boko Haram fighters near Dapchi, but failed to respond, allowing insurgents to kidnap 110 schoolgirls almost untouched, Amnesty International said.
The kidnapping on February 19 of the girls from Dapchi, aged between 11 and 19, had echoes of the Islamist insurgency’s abduction in 2014 of 276 students from Chibok, which shot Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram, now nine years old, into the global spotlight.
It threatens to be a thorn in the side of President Muhammadu Buhari, whose 2015 electoral victory was built on criticism of his predecessor’s failure to protect Nigerians, particularly in the wake of Chibok and promises to defeat Boko Haram.
“The Nigerian authorities failed in their duty to protect civilians, just as they did in Chibok four years ago,” said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty’s Nigeria director, in Tuesday’s report.
“Despite being repeatedly told Boko Haram fighters were heading to Dapchi, it appears police and military did nothing to avert the abduction,” she said.
A military spokesman denied they were warned of a Boko Haram presence, saying: “There was nothing like that.” He said if Amnesty had information, the watchdog should notify a presidential panel set up in the wake of Dapchi to investigate the incident.
Amnesty alleges the Nigerian army and police received at least five phone calls warning Boko Haram was on the way to Dapchi as early as four hours before the attack, but did not take “effective measures” to halt the militants or rescue the girls once they were taken.
“The military withdrew troops from the area in January, meaning the closest personnel were based an hour’s drive from Dapchi,” the report said.
A month after the abductions, there has been little sign of the 110 schoolgirls.
Neither their parents nor Nigerian authorities publicly acknowledge receiving any proof of life. The students have not appeared in any media issued by the kidnappers, nor has there been a public ransom demand.
“Nigerian authorities must investigate the inexcusable security lapses that allowed this abduction to take place without any tangible attempt to prevent it,” said Ojigho in the report.
Nigeria’s Buhari said last week he ordered all military and security agencies to search for them, vowing government would not rest until the last girl kidnapped by insurgents was released.
Buhari also said he plans to negotiate for their release – a sign the military may not be able to rescue them.