While Canada was pledging assistance in the search for nearly 300 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014, Canadian officials were privately expressing grave doubts about Nigerian authorities’ ability to find the missing girls, newly released documents show.
Hundreds of heavily redacted pages from 2014 released under Access to Information show federal bureaucrats were fully aware of criticism being levelled against the Nigerian government as it tried unsuccessfully to track down the girls, who were seized in the village of Chibok by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.
“The military has been quiet on the issue and continues to be reactive,” reads one situation report from a Canadian diplomat in Nigeria dated April 30, about two weeks after the girls were taken.
Division VII of the Nigerian Army “remains largely confined to barracks while BH (Boko Haram) are travelling with the girls in large, well-armed convoys.”
“Outside of the cities, BH convoys usually outgun military patrols.”
Another dispatch from Nigeria dated May 7 argued there were “no good options” for the Nigerian military.
“Boko Haram has demonstrated a willingness to execute prisoners. As the girls have now been separated into groups, any rescue attempt on one group of girls would risk retribution on other girls.”
The memo bluntly predicted, “The kidnappings will continue.”
The Canadian High Commission in Abuja was not the only diplomatic outpost sending warnings back to Ottawa.
A note from Washington, D.C., dated May 15, detailed concerns voiced by U.S. officials at a Senate committee hearing about Nigeria’s response to the Boko Haram threat.
The memo pointed out the Nigerian military stood accused of corruption and “widely documented atrocities” and relayed some of the concerns voiced by U.S. officials about its ability to defeat Islamic militants.
“Units in north have shown signs of fear as they are undertrained and underequipped compared to Boko Haram. Boko Haram has been even more brutal than Nigerian armed forces.”
Despite these misgivings, the Canadian government joined other nations in offering to support efforts to retrieve the hostages. The government announced in early May 2014 it could help the Nigerian military with surveillance equipment and technical expertise.
Within days, a four-person team from the departments of National Defence and Foreign Affairs was deployed to Abuja to meet with Nigerian and U.S. officials. But even before the team could determine how Canada might help, there were warnings from Canadian officials in Nigeria about possible repercussions.
“At this stage, it is unclear how the announcements of foreign assistance will play out with the BH leadership,” reads one memo, dated May 9 and marked “Secret.”
Foreign interests threatened?
“It is a fair assumption that the announcements will be received with hostility and will reinforce BH’s most hardline inclinations. For the most part, BH to date has not targeted foreign interests. However, high-profile foreign support to Nigeria at this time may result in BH seeking ways to strike back at those countries that have been providing such support.”
Global Affairs Canada says Canada eventually provided strategic airlift transport to the U.K.’s airborne surveillance project in northern Nigeria. The RCMP also contributed through a counter-terrorism program designed to deliver training on intelligence analysis, post-blast investigation and interview techniques.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in a statement that Canada “continues to provide Nigeria with direct bilateral support as well as through international partners in order to counter Boko Haram and other terrorist threats.”
Experts say the Nigerian government has managed to clean up some of the problems alluded to in the Canadian diplomatic memos.
John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, says Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office in 2015, has introduced significant reforms to the military, stepped up the fight against Boko Haram and pushed the group out of territory it once held.
“I think we can say that the reforms the Buhari administration has introduced into the military has strengthened the Nigerian military considerably and that that accounts for its much better performance,” Campbell said in an interview with CBC News.
Campbell pointed out, however, that Boko Haram has not been defeated.
‘Basis for optimism’
“I think it’s going to be a long, drawn-out conflict,” he said, but added: “there is basis for optimism.”
“It’s going to take a long time … but the trajectory is more positive now than it has been in the past.”
Phil Gurski, a former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, agrees the Nigerian government is in a better position to fight Boko Haram now. But he too is cautious.
“President Buhari claimed late last year that Boko Haram would be history by Christmas,” Gurski said. “That clearly is not true.”
The Nigerian military has enjoyed some success. In 2015, about one year after the Canadian diplomats’ reports, the Nigerian army rescued 200 girls and 93 women kidnapped by Boko Haram.
But despite attracting worldwide attention and the Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls, the search for the missing Chibok schoolgirls has, for the most part, come up empty until this week.
The Nigerian government confirmed on Thursday 21 girls had been released in a deal brokered by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
But two years after they were captured, most of the 276 Chibok girls have not been found.
Article source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/boko-haram-nigeria-canada-1.3803100?cmp=rss