ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Legislators called in Nigeria’s security chiefs Thursday to discuss extending a year-old military state of emergency in the country’s northeast aimed at curbing the Islamic uprising gripping the region.
Some northern politicians and all three governors in the northeastern states where the state of emergency holds say it has failed to stop the insurgents whose attacks are spreading as the states also see security force abuses. Armed with draconian powers under the emergency, Nigerian forces are accused of extrajudicial killings of thousands of civilians suspected of being members or of helping the Boko Haram terrorist network.
The state of emergency expires Thursday and President Goodluck Jonathan requested it be extended for another six months. It looked unlikely that the issue would be voted on Thursday.
Some politicians have suggested there is collusion between some in the military and the insurgents — one of the issues believed to be affecting the search for some 276 school girls and young women abducted from a remote northeastern school on April 15.
U.S. officials said Thursday freeing the girls is now one of its government’s top priorities, but they said there are limitations on U.S. cooperation and intelligence sharing with the Nigerian military due to human rights concerns and legal restrictions. They also expressed concern about the Nigerian government’s commitment and army’s ability to combat the group.
Robert Jackson, a State Department specialist on Africa, said the United States is boosting Nigeria’s intelligence and law enforcement capabilities, while seeking global sanctions on Boko Haram at the United Nations.
President Jonathan has ruled out the extremists’ demands that he swap the girls for detained Boko Haram suspects. Britain’s minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, said Jonathan made that clear in a meeting with him Wednesday in Abuja, the capital. Boko Haram has threatened to sell the girls into slavery if its militants are not freed.
Late Wednesday the government announced the arrest under an Interpol warrant of Abubakar Sadiq Ogwuche in the April 14 bombing in Abuja, that it said killed nearly 100 people.
Ogwuche is a British-born Nigerian who is an Arabic language student at Sudan’s International University of Africa. He served in an intelligence unit of the Nigerian army in Lagos from 2001 to 2006, when he deserted, a statement said.
Ogwuche was allegedly involved in terrorist activities that led to his arrest in 2011 when he arrived at Abuja’s international airport from London, but he was released on bail to his father, a retired army colonel, “following intense pressure from human rights activists, who alleged human rights violation,” the statement said.
Nigerian State Security agents earlier this week said they had also arrested five men, including confessed members of Boko Haram, on suspicion of being involved in the Abuja bombing.
The chief of Nigeria’s intelligence-gathering Department of State Services, Ekoenyong Ita, said Ogwuche’s arrest is proof that a lack of intelligence is not a factor in the failure to find the kidnapped students.
“If we can get the people who bombed Nyanya (in Abuja), we will get the girls,” he said in a government statement, urging Nigerians to be patient.
But the military’s apparent failures were addressed in Washington by Alice Friend, the U.S. Defense Department’s principal director for Africa, who said Thursday that “In general, Nigeria has failed to mount an effective campaign against Boko Haram” as the terrorist network becomes more dangerous by the day.
The town from which the schoolgirls were taken, Chibok, was again attacked by militants this week, Nigeria’s Defense Ministry said.
Four soldiers were killed in a firefight and angry soldiers subsequently protested by firing into the air when their commanding officer came to pay respects to the corpses at a barracks in Maiduguri, the state capital, the ministry said.
Soldiers who were there said they blamed the officer for the death of at least 12 soldiers killed in an ambush on a dangerous road from Chibok on Monday night. They said the mutinying troops fired directly at their commanding officers car but apparently did not mean to kill him, since he is unharmed.
International efforts to help rescue are underway, including overflights by U.S. aircraft and experts from Britain, France, Spain, Israel and the United States giving intelligence gathering, surveillance and hostage negotiation expertise. China also has promised help.
U.N. special representative on Nigeria, Said Djinnit, said the U.N. is preparing to offer help to the affected families, the population and the girls after their release including counseling, food and other emergency items
President Jonathan will meet with heads of state and representatives from Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroon this weekend in Paris to discuss the fight against Boko Haram.
French officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the topic is sensitive, said there was no question that Boko Haram was beginning to extend its reach, saying Westerners have been targeted as well. French experience securing the release of its own citizens held by Boko Haram, including a family of seven kidnapped and a priest seized in Cameroon late last year, played a part in the decision to take an active role in finding the girls.
Associated Press reporters Michelle Faul in Lagos, Nigeria, Lori Hinnant in Paris and Bradley Klapper and Matt Lee in Washington D.C. contributed to this report.
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