Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian military of ignoring warnings on imminent attacks by Boko Haram group on key northeastern towns, a claim flatly rebutted by the army. "New evidence shows that the Nigerian military were repeatedly warned of impending Boko Haram attacks on Baga and Monguno which claimed hundreds of lives, and failed to take adequate action to protect civilians," Amnesty's Senegal-based West and Central Africa office said in a statement. At least 150 people were killed when Boko Haram militants captured Baga, the headquarters of the Multinational Military Joint Task Force on January 3. The militant group also captured Monguno on January 25.
Amnesty claimed that evidence at its disposal suggested that the military high command obtained information about the impending attacks as far back as November. "It is clear from this evidence that Nigeria's military leadership woefully and repeatedly failed in their duty to protect civilians of Baga and Monguno despite repeated warnings about an impending threat posed by Boko Haram," Amnesty's Africa director Netsanet Belay said in the statement. "These attacks are an urgent wake-up call for the Nigerian leadership, the African Union and the international community," Belay said. "It is essential to protect hundreds of thousands of civilians in north east Nigeria from Boko Haram's continued onslaught," he added. Citing a military source, Amnesty said that the Multinational Joint Task Force in Baga had informed the military headquarters in Abuja about patrols and build-up by Boko Haram group. "They also told headquarters ahead of the attacks that civilians in surrounding towns and villages were fleeing the area in large numbers," the statement said, quoting the source. According to the source, militants had repeatedly warned residents of Baga and surrounding towns of their plans to attack the army base and civilian vigilantes in the area. "Sources told Amnesty International that after the Baga attack on 3 January, Boko Haram members informed locals that their 'next target is Monguno,' and that these civilians informed the local military," the rights group said. The Nigerian military termed claims by Amnesty International as "false". "The effort of Amnesty International to use these unfortunate activities of terrorists to find fault with the counterterrorism operations as usual is inaccurate and unfair," defense spokesman Chris Olukolade said in a statement. He said that any information that has been received from the public has been factored into surveillance activities by the military. "This standard has not only been sustained but has been incrementally enhanced in terms of capacity, troops' deployment, coordination, troops' mobility and protection as well as logistics," he said. "Being an area of operation where terrorists are known to be ever looking for the slightest opportunity to attack and perpetrate heinous atrocities, Nigerian troops are conversant with the need to maintain the highest form of alertness always," Olukolade said.
The defense spokesman went on to describe Amnesty claims as "baseless", saying that the international body failed to verify its information from appropriate authorities. "Whatever be the intention, the allegations, at best, can only constitute a distractive and misleading commentary or interpretation of the terrorists' activities, the efforts to curb them and the actual situation on the ground in Nigeria," he said. "The Nigerian security forces remain willing and capable of discharging the responsibility of defending the country's territory and people. Every intrigue aimed at undermining the nation's capacity to handle its security challenges will surely fail," he added.
For the last five years, Nigeria has battled a fierce Boko Haram insurgency that has ravaged the country's volatile northeast and claimed thousands of lives. The year 2014 proved to be the insurgency's bloodiest year yet, with increasingly frequent attacks, higher death tolls and a deluge of displaced persons. The attacks displaced well over 1.5 million people in 2014, according to a recent report by the Borno State government.