As It Happens

Nigerian officials were warned of Boko Haram attack, but failed to act: report

Amnesty International released a damning report criticizing the Nigerian security forces over their lack of action in preventing the abduction of 110 school girls.
Four schoolgirls from Government Girls Technical College, who managed to escape a Boko Haram attack last month, sit at the home of a schoolmate in the town of Dapchi in northern Nigeria on Feb. 28, 2018. (Aminu Abubakar/AFP/Getty Images)

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The abduction of 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Nigeria, last month could have been prevented, according to Amnesty International.

In a damning investigative report released on Tuesday, the watchdog group says it discovered security officials were alerted ahead of time to the Feb. 19 attack by Boko Haram militants — and failed to act.

The findings have already been denounced by the military, who say Amnesty is trying to undermine Nigerian official institutions.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Isa Sanusi, who co-authored the report for Amnesty International. Here is part of their conversation. 

Was the abduction of these girls in Dapchi preventable?

Yes. We can actually say it's preventable because, based on our investigation and our research, we discovered that the people of the area, and local authorities in the area, had informed security agencies that Boko Haram members were seen about 30 kilometres from Dapchi.

That advance warning was given at least more than four hours before the abduction.

That's why we are calling on the government of Nigeria to investigate this, and find out why it happened, and why nothing was done to stop Boko Haram from carrying out the abduction.

You spoke with some of the girls who had escaped. You spoke with their parents. You talked to the people who were there. What did they tell you about the hours and days leading up to that kidnapping? 

On Feb. 19, the people of Dapchi, almost all of them, were aware that Boko Haram were just kilometres away. The people became helpless. They became desperate, actually using every means within their power to reach out to the authorities and inform them.

But nothing was done.

They described to us how helpless they were, how disappointed they were, that the authorities that are responsible for protecting them cannot protect them.

That was why the kidnapping took place. And even immediately after the abduction, there was no information. There was so much confusion because it appears as if the authorities are not even sure of what to do. 

And what about the police? What were they doing? How did they react?

Our investigation shows that the police actually disappeared, immediately.

They disappeared?

They disappeared from the town, actually. Because they are helpless and their number is so small.

One of our sources within them told us that they believed that Boko Haram would overpower them. That's why they all flee into the bush and that is how they disappeared.

The people of Dapchi were left at the mercy of Boko Haram.

Hassana Mohammed, 13, scaled a fence to escape a Boko Haram attack on her Government Girls Science and Technical College. (Aminu Abubakar/AFP/Getty Images)

This is an enormous international story about the schoolgirls who have been abducted before. They know how Boko Haram operates. Why was there so little security for this community? Was there no training? Was there no instruction for what to do if Boko Haram arrived?

After the 2014 abduction of Chibok girls in Borno State, the government made a lot of pledges and promises of taking measures to protect schools and protect students.

Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.

In fact, there was even an international initiative, which is called Safe Schools Initiative, which is meant to ensure that there is security around all schools in the northeast. Hundreds of billions of naira was pumped into that project.

But, unfortunately, based on our discovery, there is nothing on the ground — not any structure, not any apparatus of that initiative to protect the schools.

That was why we were asking the government: where is the money set aside for Safe Schools Initiative? Where are the resources? Why wasn't it in place when Boko Haram came to Dapchi school? 

When you speak with the families and the girls who have escaped — and there's more than 100 who are still not found — how do they respond to this understanding that the abduction of these girls was completely preventable, if the money and security had been present?

They are disappointed. In fact, some of them are even saying that they would never ever go back to Western education. Some of them are even saying they would only go to Islamic school again because they were so let down.

And you know that part of Nigeria is very backward in terms of Western or modern education. So this actually is going to be a great setback because some of the girls are still frightened, are still traumatized.

They are saying that they will never ever go back to school again. They will stay at home. In fact, some of them say that they are just going to marry and just build a family and forget about education.  

Written by John McGill. Interview produced by Mary Newman. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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