Most Nigerians were incredulous on February 19, 2018, when it was confirmed that Boko Haram terrorists had herded a group of students of the Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State, into a waiting truck and driven off.
There were two reasons many Nigerians, at first, found it hard to believe that the Dapchi girls have been kidnapped. First was the time-honoured belief that lightning does not strike twice on the same spot. Secondly, after the nightmare of the 2014 Chibok abductions, the continuing trauma of more than 100 parents whose daughters are still in captivity after nearly four years, it was inconceivable that the country could leave the stable door ajar for a “technically defeated” Boko Haram to take the country for a ride again.
President Muhammadu Buhari has described the kidnappings as a national disaster. We think it is worse. Indeed, even otherwise sympathetic non-Nigerians think it is a national disgrace. The frenetic actions of the government in the last one week included two official visits to Yobe State by ministers.
The Interior Minister, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau ordered the relocation to Yobe State of the Inspector-General of Police, Idris Abubakar, and the Commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Abdullahi Mohammed Gana. They are to help secure the state and help locate the whereabouts of the kidnapped young ladies. The Nigeria Air Force is on a 24-hour air surveillance of the North East and by the middle of the week, has been credited with 100 sorties and 200 hours of activity. A 12-man panel headed by Rear Admiral Victor Adedipe is to investigate the circumstances and identify those who might be culpable. We hope these activities will help the return of the girls. Otherwise, the country is most unhappy and disappointed.
The similarities of the Dapchi kidnappings with that of Chibok are so uncanny – the timing, the political calendar, the doubts, initial confusion, and the irresolute responses. In the circumstance in which the Governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Gaidam, found himself, for instance, he could only depend on the military for accurate information in such a war situation. The Army let him down by first informing him that the girls had been recovered and, later, that they had not. Distraught parents reacted naturally to such confusion with anguish when the governor threw up his hands. But even more critical was the Nigerian Army’s withdrawal from Dapchi town, a week earlier, an action which undeniably offered Boko Haram the opening to attack the town and abduct the girls. The Army has explained its actions saying the town appeared safe and secure. Yet the decision to withdraw the entire battalion was clearly a miscalculation. Why was a platoon not left behind, ‘just in case?’ Indeed, as few as a dozen soldiers, properly, defensively emplaced round the school, would have decidedly prevented the disaster.
If Chibok abductions were unacceptable, the Dapchi kidnapping were much worse, for it demonstrated that we have not learnt from past experience. The Chibok case was unclear for days, but Dapchi was instantly recognized for what it was. Jonathan was ridiculed for not trying a hot pursuit. Why was no hot pursuit attempted last week? What happened to our international friends and collaborators? If the girls were driven into Niger Republic, what has become of our alliance and military cooperation with Niger?
The recovery of the Dapchi girls is the minimum Nigerians expect from the Federal Government, and the earlier the better. We cannot afford the same kind of anguish, the open wound, which we have endured as a country over the Chibok abductions. All the declarations about how successful we have been with Boko Haram stands or falls with the Dapchi incident which has demonstrated for the world to see the failure of our security, and the failure of our intelligence. The speculation that our forces are probably infiltrated by fifth columnists cannot be an excuse because it is to be expected and no military command should ignore such possibility and its risks and must provide counter-measures. After all, former President Goodluck Jonathan was ridiculed when he confessed that he had Boko Haram sympathizers in his government, in the National Assembly and elsewhere.
We urge the Federal Government to view the Dapchi incident as an opportunity to review its strategy and tactics in the war against Boko Haram. We think it is time for a major change of guards, and a change of strategy, and the replacement of the entire intelligence apparatus. After nine years, it is laughable to tell Nigerians every week as the government has done for three years that Boko Haram has now been “completely defeated.”