Two major security agencies have exchanged words over their roles in the kidnap of 110 girls from their secondary school in Dapchi, Yobe State.
The Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force expressed opposing views as each tried to absolve itself of any responsibility in the kidnap of the girls.
PREMIUM TIMES reported the kidnap of the girls last week Monday after Boko Haram invaded Dapchi.
The army fired the first salvo when it claimed it withdrew its officials from Dapchi only after it handed over the security of the community to the police; a claim the police denied in a statement by its Yobe police commissioner, Sumonu Abdulmaliki.
Onyema Nwachukwu, a spokesperson for the Nigerian Army in Maiduguri, said the soldiers were withdrawn from Dapchi on January 10 — exactly 40 days before the attack— and not a week before as stated by Yobe State governor, Ibrahim Geidam.
Mr. Geidam blamed the military over the weekend for the attack, which he said was reminiscent of the 2013 attack in Buni Yadi.
“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,” Mr. Geidam said while receiving Ibrahim Shettima, his counterpart from neighbouring Borno State, Saturday.
“Before then, Dapchi has been peaceful, there was never such incident. But just a week after they withdrew the troops, Boko Haram came to attack the town,” he said.
Mr. Geidam said a similar situation played out in 2013 when Boko Haram invaded a school in Buni Yadi, another town in the state, and killed scores of schoolboys.
He said the insurgents struck a few days after the soldiers pulled out of Buni Yadi.
Governor exaggerated timeline of attack — Military
The Defence Headquarters was the first to push back against the allegations on Sunday night, with its spokesperson telling PREMIUM TIMES that the governor was being mischievous with his comments.
Mr. Nwachukwu, a colonel and spokesperson for the Operation Lafiya Dole in the Northeast, said in a separate statement to PREMIUM TIMES Monday evening that a whole battalion —which included hundreds of troops stationed in Dapchi and two Forward Operating Bases— was redeployed to Kanama, in Yunusari Local Government Area.
Kanama lies about 125 kilometres northeast of Dapchi near the Yobe border with the Niger Republic.
“Contrary to the comments being circulated, troops earlier deployed in Dapchi were redeployed to reinforce troops in Kanama following attacks on troops’ location at the Nigerian–Nigerien border,” Mr. Nwachuku said.
In a follow-up interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the spokesperson said the troops were moved from 159 Task Force Battalion in Dapchi on January 10 when they realised that the battalion in Kanama needed a reinforcement.
The revelation that it took nearly six weeks after the soldiers were sent on reinforcement mission before the attack debunked the governor’s claim that the military withdrew “a week” before the attack on Dapchi.
Before the troops were moved out, Mr. Nwachukwu said, the military leadership ensured that there was no imminent threat against Dapchi and left the police in charge of security operations in the town.
Consequently, “security of Dapchi town was formally handed over to the Nigeria Police Division located in the town”
“Troops’ redeployment was, therefore, done in tandem with the exigencies of operation and not as misconstrued,” Mr. Nwachukwu added.
Army statement “untrue, unfounded and misleading” — Police
The police quickly responded to the military’s disclosure on Monday night, contradicting the military’s statement and absolving themselves of any wrongdoing.
“The statement by the military of formal handing over of Dapchi town to the Nigeria Police Division in Dapchi is not correct,” Yobe police commissioner, Sunmonu Abdulmaliki, said in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES. “There was no time that the military informed the police of their withdrawal, consulted or handed over their locations in Dapchi town to the Police.”
Mr. Abdulmaliki said the police have always cooperated with other sister agencies, including the military because Yobe State is still under security alert as part of the ongoing war against Boko Haram.
“The whole of Yobe State is still under Security Emergency which the police, the military and other security agencies are battling to ensure lasting peace,” the commissioner said. “Members of the public in Yobe State are implored to disregard and discountenance this claim that the military formally handed the security of Dapchi town to the Nigeria Police as untrue, unfounded and misleading.”
We handed over to the police, Army insists
When reached for reaction to the police denial, Mr. Nwachukwu emphasised that the military would not get involved in any blame game with the police, but stood his ground that the security in Dapchi was left for the police when soldiers were withdrawn.
“Our role is to defend the territorial integrity of the country. It’s the role of the sister security agencies to protect the civilian population whenever we have liberated a community from insurgents,” Mr. Nwachukwu told PREMIUM TIMES.
“If the commissioner says they were not told to take charge of the security, does that mean they abandoned all the checkpoints the soldiers had in place before they were moved to Kanama?
“What role did the police play when Boko Haram entered the community? How did the police respond to the terrorists?” he added.
The squabbles that the police have not been living up to their responsibilities whenever the military handed over control of liberated communities to them have been a regular feature in the war against Boko Haram, which has now entered its ninth year.
The military, which has led the war against Boko Haram since 2009, insists that it has no capacity to secure all parts of the country. Soldiers are said to be actively engaged in security operations in more than 30 of the 36 states, including combatting kidnapping and oil bunkering.
Mr. Nwachukwu said other security agencies should live up to their responsibility and relieve the military of its burden.
“We’ve been in Malamfatori, Lake Chad, Gashigar and Sambisa, but the police cannot enter all these places,” he said. “Again, we’re not interested in a blame game, but the police should know that they’re supposed to take charge of an area that has been liberated by the military.”
“Our roles should be complementary: After we’ve liberated a town, sister agencies should immediately take charge of security there.”
He said the police are in charge of security in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, where the insurgency started in July 2009.
“Although we have the 7 Division Headquarters in Maiduguri that could always intervene when necessary, the police are playing their daily roles in securing the town from minor threats,” Mr. Nwachukwu said.
Dapchi, an unfamiliar territory to Boko Haram
Prior to February 19 attack, Dapchi, which is located in Bursari Local Government Area, had never experienced Boko Haram,Mr. Nwachukwu said.
“This is the more reason why we had an all-clear there before we moved the battalion to Kanama,” he said. “You may go and check your record, but you’ll never find anywhere that the Boko Haram attacked Dapchi before Monday attack.”
Information Minister Lai Mohammed stated on Sunday that an estimated 110 girls are missing in the hours-long assault on Government Girls Science and Technical College.
But a forum of parents insisted that its figure of 105 missing girls was more accurate and queried where Mr. Mohammed got his figure from when he had not had any interface with them.
Mr. Mohammed was amongst the first three ministers that President Muhammadu Buhari sent to Yobe on a fact-finding mission in the wake of the attack. The admission that 110 girls were missing was the first confirmation from the government since the attack.