Editorial: Dapchi girls: Boko Haram strikes again
For the second time since it began its terror campaign, Boko Haram has scored another odious landmark mass abduction of schoolgirls. In an uncanny replication of the April 2014 kidnap of 276 Chibok schoolgirls, the Islamists raided the Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State last week Monday night. To the country’s dismay, the terrorists abducted 110 girls out of the 906 on the school’s roster, according to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed. The repeat escapade in Dapchi, in spite of the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s cheap propaganda that it has “technically defeated” the Islamist sect, provides irrefutable proof that the terror group is still a force to be reckoned with. For the government to really decimate the murderous group, the time has come for stronger, decisive political leadership, a tougher and more effective anti-terror strategy and greater collaboration between Nigeria and other countries, particularly on intelligence gathering and sharing.
As usual, the latest abduction has clearly shown that many things are still awfully wrong with the Buhari government’s war on terror. Initially, the Yobe State Government, the police and the military denied the incident, claiming that the girls, who fled into the bush when the terrorists attacked the school, had returned in batches. This turned out to be false, much in keeping with the earlier mishandling of the Chibok girls’ abduction. It took the alarm raised by the girls’ parents for the government to own up to yet another strategic blunder. Reports said that the terrorists, during the invasion, fired gunshots and made straight for the food store, while some insurgents, dressed in military camouflage, waited outside the school’s perimeter fencing in their get-away trucks.
This turn of evidence compelled the Yobe State Government to apologise and admit that the girls were indeed kidnapped. Not only was precious time lost in the rigmarole, it has been practically impossible to trace the whereabouts of the girls since the attack, though the residents stated that they were loaded into trucks and ferried into captivity.
The incident has once more made Nigeria a laughing stock: an unstable country where insecurity and impunity are the order of the day. Since then, the global focus has rightly been on Governor Ibrahim Geidam’s insensitivity, Buhari’s cluelessness and the security agencies’ incompetence. Geidam exonerated himself, lamenting, “I blame the whole attack on Dapchi on the military and the Defence Headquarters, who withdrew troops from Dapchi. The attack occurred barely a week after the military withdrew the soldiers from there.” This is the fallout of government living in denial of Boko Haram’s dangerous reach.
What is most striking in this unfortunate incident is the total failure of the authorities to learn from history. Nearly four years ago, precisely on April 14, 2014, Boko Haram terrorists took advantage of the porous security in the rustic town of Chibok in Borno State to take into custody 276 schoolgirls. In one of the most tragic and heinous fates that could befall schoolchildren, the terrorists invaded the premises of the Government Girls Secondary School, in the dead of the night, just as the girls were preparing for their final examinations, and carted away truckloads of them.
Even more surprising is that the Dapchi schoolgirls were taken away in trucks that plied major roads that had no military or police roadblocks to prevent easy escape. Instructively, Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states are currently under the military’s redeeming Operation Lafiya Dole, just as they were under a state of emergency when the Chibok infamy occurred. Apparently, the security agencies have learnt no lesson in their nine years of counter-insurgency. Soldiers’ withdrawal from Buni-Yadi town in 2013 saw its secondary school attacked by the insurgents a week after, and 29 students killed.
These tumbles in military operational strategies deserve critical evaluation and remedial action. A former Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh, in his valedictory speech, confirmed that fifth columnists in the military and other security agencies were making the war against the insurgency difficult. Operational plans and schedules have often been leaked to the terrorists, leading to soldiers being ambushed, killed and armouries looted since the Islamic jihadists seized the North-East landscape.
All diplomatic efforts should be made to secure vigorous military cooperation from Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon. More crucially, it is essential to secure the assistance of friendly countries, especially the United States, France and Britain in liberating the girls. For Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, the states in the vortex of this terrorism, henceforth, every school should be provided with heavy security. Where schools are located close to external borders with no strong military fortifications, they should be closed and the students merged temporarily with others in safer zones and the extra expense should be fully borne by the state. Boarding schools in contested areas should be made day schools for now. Geidam bears responsibility for not protesting when the military withdrew from Dapchi.
Buhari should for once be shaken; he should critically review the performance of his security chiefs and the officers whose lapses, misjudgements and incompetence led to this debacle. US authorities fired two admirals and several captains after four ship collisions in the Pacific Ocean last year. Investigations should be launched to find out why Dapchi was undefended, why the military could not launch a swift response to recapture the girls, to verify the claims and counter-claims of troop withdrawals in Dapchi and Buni Yadi only for Boko Haram to strike, and ascertain who is responsible for the misinformation that fostered inertia in the critical first few hours and days after the attack. The 12-man committee set up to investigate the security lapse must get to the root of the abduction.
The police, State Security Service and paramilitary agencies that should have some presence in the area must explain their roles. The intelligence services – the SSS and National Intelligence Agency – need to be shaken up urgently. Nine years after the insurgency began, intelligence gathering appears to be still very weak and unable to adapt to the challenges. Defeating Islamist terrorism is not restricted to the battlefield as the world’s most powerful militaries have found out. The game-changer is intelligence and it is a long-drawn operation as Islamist terrorism is ever mutating. The use of technology is essential: drones, electronic surveillance applications and human intelligence, using locals and undercover agents will help neutralise these depraved Islamist terrorists from our midst.
Punch Editorial Board