At the time Boko Haram kidnapped almost three hundred girls from a school in Chibok in 2014, reports surfaced that the Nigerian security forces had advance intelligence, but that they failed to take the necessary preventive action. In February 2018, Boko Haram kidnapped 110 girls from the Government Girls Science and Technical College at Dapchi in Yobe state. Amnesty International released a report of the February kidnapping, concluding that the Nigerian security forces again ignored advanced warnings of an impending Boko Haram kidnapping operation up to four hours before the attack. The nearest government forces, Amnesty says, were an hour away.
Amnesty is calling on the Nigerian government to investigate “the inexcusable security lapses” and “as an even greater priority, the government must use all lawful means at its disposal to ensure that these girls are rescued.” To that end, Boko Haram released most of the kidnap victims on March 21. Though the numbers vary between reports, it appears that at least 101 were returned and five died while the lone Christian remains in captivity. The girls were presumably returned for a quid pro quo from the Nigerian government that is not publicly known, though there are allegations of a payment and prisoner swap of up to five million euros and five senior Boko Haram militants.
Boko Haram is embedded in northeast Nigeria. It is therefore likely that local Boko Haram members or supporters alerted the kidnappers to the absence of security forces in Dapchi. The episode also illustrates an uncomfortable reality: Boko Haram is able to operate largely at will in northeast Nigeria, even if it no longer controls territory. Under those circumstances, the Nigerian security services do appear to be strapped for the resources necessary to protect Nigerian citizens. Dapchi is further evidence that Boko Haram is far from defeated, even if it appears unable or uninterested in carrying out operations outside of the Lake Chad basin.
Throughout the nine-year Boko Haram insurrection, government spokesmen lied about or greatly exaggerated their success. In a familiar pattern, the military is aggressively attacking the Amnesty report. A military spokesman has accused Amnesty of being “economical with the truth” and undermining “our military and our institutions.” Another spokesman has said, “Most of [Amnesty’s] narratives are outright falsehoods and a calculated attempt to whip up sentiments and mislead unsuspecting Nigerians.”
The Nigerian military fails to recognize that Amnesty International has immense credibility. Attacks on the organization, far from damaging Amnesty, undercut the credibility of military spokesmen. Indeed, a lack of candor and transparency on the part of government spokesmen is common across Africa and erodes trust between citizens and their governments.
The Wall Street Journal has identified the kidnappers as members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi. I see the ISWAP, despite its name, as more a faction of Boko Haram than an extension of the Islamic State. The relationship between these factions, the other ostensibly led by Abubakar Shekau, is obscure, as are their connections with outside groups. There is certainly evidence of ties between al-Barnawi and the Islamic State, but it is by no means clear how important they are, and it is unlikely that the Islamic State is dictating the strategy or tactics of al-Barnawi.