This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: DHQ Insists We Have Girls in Sight, UK May Deploy Troops

Photo: Tami Hultman/AllAfrica
A speaker at a Bring Back Our Girls demonstration in Abuja.

The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) Wednesday stood by the claim made by the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, that it had located the 200 plus girls who were abducted from their secondary school in Chibok over a month ago.

Badeh on Monday had said the military had located the missing teenagers, but would not want to resort to force to rescue them in order to avoid collateral damage.

The DHQ was reacting to the sceptism expressed by the US State Department the next day over Badeh's claim, stating that it had no "independent information" on the matter. The State Department also issued a statement yesterday to correct erroneous assertions that the longtime human rights tool commonly known as the "Leahy Law" in some way could hinder US partnership efforts with the Nigerian government to rescue the kidnapped schoolgirls from Boko Haram. This is just as the British tabloid, Daily Mail, reported that Britain will be joining the United States to send soldiers to Nigeria, but the troops would not be involved directly in the hunt for the girls or take an active role in any military action against the terrorist group, Boko Haram.

They will be deployed to provide specialist training for Nigerian forces as part of a package of assistance provided by the British government to tackle the threat posed by the increasingly bold Islamic sect. Speaking on the military's stance that it was aware of the location of the girls, the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Major-Gen Chris Olukolade, while speaking at the National Briefing Centre on Terrorism, in Abuja, said: "Let everyone believe what the Chief of Defence Staff said and if you don't believe, wait for developments. But our interest is in the safety of these children and every effort will be put towards that and we expect cooperation from everyone. "We remain with the position taken by the CDS. When we have any further comments or developments, the nation will be told." Also speaking on Monday's attack on a military installation in Buni-Yadi in Yobe State by Boko Haram, Olukolade said 12 soldiers and 13 policemen were killed during the fighting. He also denied the speculation that the troops in Buni-Yadi were left high and dry by the military command during the incident.

"The logistics will have to be understood and it will not be proper just to conclude that there was no help or response. However, we will continue to respond based on logistics that is available and information that is made available as quickly as possible," he said.

Olukolade also expressed ignorance over media reports that members of Boko Haram had on Monday hoisted their flag in Ashigashiya community in Gwazo Local Government Area of Borno State. He said the military was not aware of the incident, adding that the military would not allow such a campaign to succeed.

"I am reading it from you people as well, but all I can tell you at the moment is that the Nigerian military and security agencies will not allow any group to hoist strange flags in any portion of this country. It is our duty to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria, we will not allow any strange flag to fly anywhere and you can be sure that such campaigns will not succeed," he said.

Olukolade disclosed that based on intelligence reports and information provided by Nigerians, a number of arrests had been made in different parts of Kaduna and Zamfara States and thus reducing terror activities tremendously in those states.

"Troops have continued to raid different locations. A number of arrests have been made in Kachia and Zamfara," he said, adding that in the course of the raids, some suspects died during the exchange of gunfire with troops while arms and ammunition were recovered in the process.

He also gave an update on the recent bomb explosions in Jos, Plateau State, saying one suspect had been arrested and was cooperating with security forces which would lead to further arrests. In another event yesterday, the CDS declared that the ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency war had grown beyond Boko Haram, to a broader war against the Al Qaeda terror network in North and West Africa. Badeh stated this when the Social Welfare Network Initiative (SWNI), a coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) and community-based non-governmental organisation paid him a visit in DHQ. The CDS said the military and federal government are caught up in a serious war that is now far bigger than Boko Haram, adding that Al Qaeda was now fully in charge of terrorist activities in the country.

He however pledged that despite the "formidable nature of the global terror network", Nigeria would defeat them, while reiterating the military's resolve to rescue the missing schoolgirls.

US Sceptical about Military's Claim

But despite the insistence by the military that it has the girls in its sight, the US expressed scepticism over the claim by Badeh. US State Department Spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, was quoted by the AFP as stating that there was no "independent information from the US to support these reports."

Asked whether she found it "smart" of Nigerian officials to announce they had found the girls -- in the event that they had been located -- Psaki responded that "for the girls' safety and wellbeing, we certainly would not discuss publicly this sort of information". The tone of Psaki's statement was seen as a subtle protest at the way Nigerian officials handle sensitive information. US authorities had previously expressed doubt that the Nigerian military has the capacity to conduct the rescue mission.

Human Rights Threshold Set Around Leahy Law

The State Department also provided clarification yesterday on erroneous assertions that the longtime human rights tool commonly known as the "Leahy Law" in some way could hinder U.S. partnership efforts with the Nigerian Government to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls from Boko Haram.

In a press release from the State Department, it said the Leahy Laws have not prevented the US from supporting Nigeria's efforts to respond to Boko Haram's kidnapping of schoolgirls, adding that the US is providing Nigeria with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) specifically related to the kidnapping crisis, and the inter-agency US team now in Nigeria is working with Nigerian counterparts on medical, intelligence, counter-terrorism, and communications concerns.

The Leahy Law or Leahy amendment is a US human right law that prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defence from providing foreign assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. It is named after its principal sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. The State Department further pointed out that its Abuja embassy's Military Information Support Team (MIST) "is developing examples of the types of influencing programmes that could be employed in northern Nigeria with increased cooperation from Nigerian counterparts, and the MIST and the State Department Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) are exploring ways of using the Rewards for Justice programme to help counter Boko Haram's efforts."

It noted that the main impediment to the US' efforts to support Nigeria's broader response to Boko Haram was not the Leahy Laws, but gross violations of human rights perpetrated by Nigerian forces, the Nigerian government's resistance to adopting a more comprehensive approach to Boko Haram, and the continued lack of political will within the Nigerian government to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable. "The US has not granted Nigeria's long-standing request for broad-based ISR not because of Leahy but due to concerns about Nigeria's human rights track record and ability to use this information appropriately. "Even with these challenges, however, the US continues to provide substantial amounts of security assistance to the Nigerian government. The US supported the creation of an intelligence fusion cell without triggering Leahy ineligibilities," the statement pointed out.

The Leahy Laws, the Department of State said, are central to the US' efforts to convince Nigeria to alter its counter-productive approach to Boko Haram.

It said: "President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and many other senior State and DoD (Department of Defence) officials have urged Nigeria to improve its human rights record, investigate abuse allegations, and eliminate abusive practices. "We have seen some progress in this regard, with Nigerian leaders pledging to embed human rights advisors within combat units in the north (although no advisors have actually been embedded), announcing a new approach to Boko Haram, and allowing greater NGO access to prison facilities where abuses are occurring. "The Leahy Laws also directs the US to assist foreign governments, to the maximum extent practicable, in taking effective steps to bring responsible members of the security forces to justice. "The US has an inter-agency approved Leahy 'corrective action' plan for Nigeria, which specifies the steps Nigeria must take to address Leahy concerns, and the ways in which the US is prepared to help Nigeria achieve this outcome. The plan notes the need for Nigeria to (1) investigate abuse allegations and prosecutor perpetrators; and (2) provide greater sub-unit information so that the US can better differentiate tarnished units from clean ones.

"The plan also identifies several ways in which the US can help Nigeria reach the effective steps threshold. This includes providing training for Nigerian human rights advisors embedded within Nigerian forces, working with Nigeria to draft a more comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency plan, providing training on detainee management, and increasing the Nigerian Human Rights Commission's ability to coordinate with the Nigerian military, investigate abuse allegations, and train Nigerian forces."

UK to Deploy Troops to Nigeria

The British government, nonetheless, may give the green light for hundreds of British troops to be sent to Nigeria to help local forces in their war with the Al Qaeda-linked terrorists holding the girls.

According to the Daily Mail, "With Nigeria's military said to be demoralised and outgunned in the face of Boko Haram, plans have been drawn-up for UK soldiers to provide specialist training to Nigerian forces as part of a package of assistance provided by the British government to tackle the threat posed by the increasingly bold militia." However, the tabloid said that both British ministers and military chiefs in London have yet to sanction the plans being put forward by senior officers attached to the specialist UK team sent to Abuja following the kidnap of the schoolgirls.

"Officials stress the troops would not be involved directly in the hunt for the girls or take an active role in any military action against Boko Haram which has carried out a series of devastating bombings across Nigeria. "The UK government is said to be anxious to give the Nigerian administration of President Jonathan help in providing security against the terrorists without committing any UK troops to 'high risk' deployments such as the hunt for the girls or placing them in a position where they could be drawn in to fighting the well-armed Boko Haram gunmen," it stated.

The role of a British force would be to help restore morale and train elements of the Nigerian army on how to track and fight Boko Haram.

Until recently, Britain had a training facility in Ghana where UK military instructors trained West African countries in readiness for their deployments with the African Union (AU) on a project called Exercise African Winds. A Royal Marine Training team from 45 Commando was deployed earlier this year in Nigeria and Cameroun.

Four More Girls Escape

In the meantime, the number of girls believed to have been abducted by Boko Haram insurgents but are now reunited with their families has grown to 57, as the Borno State Commissioner for Education, Hon. Inuwa Kubo, was said to have disclosed that four more girls had recently escaped from their captors. Kubo passed this information to the Presidential Fact-finding Committee on the Chibok Attack when it rounded off its sitting in Maiduguri last weekend, sources from the Borno State Government revealed yesterday. Borno government sources said the education commission had at the weekend passed on the information about the four girls who had escaped when he appeared before the fact-finding committee set up by the presidency on the Chibok attack.

Kubo, he said, told the committee that the four girls were discovered after the Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima had directed the Ministry of Education to open data pages for families of all the girls which should include names and pictures of the girls, class, age, etc, as well the pictures of parents. "It was during the data capturing exercise and visits to parents that it was discovered that four girls who were among those declared missing had reunited with their parents but the parents failed to inform the school authority," the official disclosed.

He said the commissioner was said to have been furious with the parents for keeping the government in the dark. The four girls, the Borno official added, are believed to be amongst those that escaped to the bush and lost direction during the attack and abduction from Chibok by the Islamist sect.

He explained further: "The commissioner told the committee that with the discovery of the four girls, a total of 219 girls were still missing. He informed the committee that after the April 14 attack on the school, the state government had made series of announcements calling on parents whose daughters might have run home following the attack to bring them back so the government could take records to ascertain the number of missing girls.

Another 40 Killed in Fresh Attack

Notwithstanding the revelation that four more girls had escaped from Boko Haram, the sect continued its onslaught in the North-east yesterday, with its attack on a remote border town in Borno State where it killed another 40 persons.

Sources told reporters in Maiduguri that the sect attacked Gurmushi village in Marte Local Government Area, north of Borno on the Nigeria-Cameroun border after the early morning Muslim prayer (Subhi). The gunmen, according to sources, sneaked into the village unnoticed and opened fire on the villagers, some of whom had woken early to go for the Muslim prayer.

A source claimed that about 40 persons were killed in the siege. The claim, however, could not be verified from the military or police authorities in the state at the time of filing this report.

A military source, who was contacted, told journalists that the incident was yet to be reported to the security authorities in the state capital, Maiduguri, noting that the inaccessibility of the area via mobile phones might have been responsible. But the BBC Hausa Service monitored in Maiduguri yesterday quoted a woman as saying 40 people were killed. "I counted over 40 corpses littered on the ground, while the village was razed completely, most of us ran into the bush for our safety," the woman told BBC on the phone. She also claimed that 12 persons were injured in the siege, adding that she and some other residents of the village had to flee to a Cameroun settlement for fear of another attack by the insurgents.

Boko Haram Shuts Down Schools in Jigawa

Also, men suspected to be members of the terrorist group have shut down over 30 primary and secondary schools in Bolmo area of Gwaram Local Government Area of Jigawa State.

A source, who spoke with reporters on yesterday, revealed that the residents of the area had informed the security agencies of the latest development, adding that the suspected terrorists were in full control of the area. He also said they are recruiting youths at Gwani village of Gwaram, giving them the sum of N50,000 and brand new motorcycles. "They have captured villages around the area and even warned the villagers to stop going to western education schools, viewing centres and any other social event," the source said. "They took over the area since February this year; residents complied because they threatened to burn their houses if they did not obey their order," he added.

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A speaker at a Bring Back Our Girls demonstration in Abuja.

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