- - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

ABUJA, Nigeria — The release of more than 100 kidnapped schoolgirls on Wednesday has done little to quell the anger than many Nigerians feel toward their government, whose pronouncements, they say, ring hollow as resurgent Islamist Boko Haram militants run rampant in the country’s remote northeast.

Reviving grim memories of the seizure of 276 schoolgirls four years ago in the town of Chibok, Boko Haram militants kidnapped the students from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi last month. Nigerian authorities said the Islamic State-affiliated fighters brought the girls back to Dapchi after back-channel talks that did not involve ransom money.

The girls’ parents were elated.

“I can confirm to you that, together with the released girls, we are on our way to the general hospital,” said Bashir Manzo, chairman of the Dapchi Girls Parents Association.

Not everyone was celebrating, and many say the incident calls into serious question President Muhammadu Buhari’s claims that government forces have brought the Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram to heel.

“The issue of defeating Boko Haram flies in the face of this latest abduction,” said Alhaji Baba Shehu, 40, who is secretary of the Yobe State Civil Society Network, an activist group. “For us in Dapchi, the insurgency has just started.”

Boko Haram militants also have attacked Rann, a village in nearby Borno State. A United Nations staffer and two workers with the International Organization for Migration were killed.

Nata Sharibu said his daughter was one of the few Dapchi students still in captivity because she refused to convert to Islam.

“My daughter is alive, but they cannot release her because she is a Christian,” Ms. Sharibu said. “They gave her the option of converting in order to be released, but she said she will never become a Muslim. I am very sad, but I am also jubilant because my daughter did not denounce Christ.”

Many said the Dapchi abduction and partial releases raise much bigger issues of how the government is taking on Boko Haram.

“Lots of questions need to be answered by the Nigerian government,” said Jeff Okoroafor, a political analyst in Abuja and head of Opinion Nigeria, a citizens rights group. “We need to know the details of how Boko Haram returned the girls. Were there conditions attached? Why didn’t they return the Chibok girls alongside the Dapchi girls?”

About 110 of the teenage girls from Chibok, 170 miles away from Dapchi, remain missing or unaccounted for.

Dapchi parents accuse Mr. Buhari of lulling Nigerians into a false sense of security when he claimed Boko Haram was no longer a threat.

“We were misled into thinking we are safe,” said Aisha Bukar, 35, whose 14-year-old daughter, Aisa Kachalla Bukar, is among the missing girls. “They lied to us that Boko Haram has been defeated, and now we can’t find our daughters.”

Embarrassed president

The Boko Haram attacks are an embarrassment for Mr. Buhari, a former army general who won election in May 2015 after promising to defeat the terrorist group within a year. He has repeatedly claimed that Boko Haram was on the verge of total defeat.

Analysts say the claims were overblown and that the government is finally recalibrating.

The general heading the Boko Haram campaign has been replaced, and the government in December announced $1 billion more in spending for weapons and security equipment. Borno State officials have set up a string of fortified hamlets to allow residents safe refuge in case of more terrorist strikes.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International issued a damning report that said Nigerian forces failed to heed warnings of a Boko Haram convoy that was heading toward Dapchi before the kidnappings.

“The Nigerian authorities must investigate the inexcusable security lapses that allowed this abduction to take place without any tangible attempt to prevent it,” said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International’s Nigeria director. “The Nigerian authorities have failed in their duty to protect civilians, just as they did in Chibok four years ago. Despite being repeatedly told that Boko Haram fighters were heading to Dapchi, it appears that the police and military did nothing to avert the abduction.”

Security consultant Don Okereke said the Dapchi abduction could be a political game-changer for Mr. Buhari. He noted how the fallout from the Chibok raid hurt his predecessor’s re-election hopes.

“The Chibok schoolgirls’ abduction undermined Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid. I think Buhari is in tow if he eventually makes up his mind to run,” Mr. Okereke told the Agence France-Presse news service.

Amnesty International’s report said Boko Haram militants even asked directions to military facilities, local government offices and the girls’ school as they approached. Police fled, the report said. The Nigerian government has also failed to communicate developments in the investigation to parents and the public, the report added.

Parents of the missing girls say the government told them for days that the girls had been rescued, only to backtrack, and that the government has little presence on the ground.

“We haven’t seen anything,” said Kachalla Bukar, a member of the Dapchi Girls Parents Association. “We haven’t seen much of military presence.”

The Bring Back Our Girls group that attracted global recognition in the wake of the Chibok girls’ abduction expressed shock and disappointment over the government’s failures at Dapchi.

One of the group’s organizers, former Nigerian Education Minister Oby Ezekwesili, has threatened to sue Nigerian government officials unless they can secure the release of the Chibok girls who remain with the militants.

“It’s intolerable and unacceptable that the same manner of abduction took place,” said Mr. Ezekwesili. “Government has failed in its primary responsibility to protect the citizens.”

Former Nigerian Sen. Saidu Umar Kumo argued that Mr. Buhari is not to blame and that the president has acknowledged the danger of Boko Haram. Many Nigerians engaged in wishful thinking when the president said Nigerian troops had made progress against the militants, he said.

“President Buhari never said Boko Haram was defeated completely,” said Mr. Kumo, who is a member of Mr. Buhari’s All Nigeria People’s Party. “All Buhari said was that the insurgents have been weakened, but they can still pose a threat.”


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