MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Amid apparent security concerns, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan cancelled a trip Friday to the traumatized town from which Islamic extremists abducted more than 300 schoolgirls a month ago.
It would have been the first reported visit by the president to the scene of an attack in the northeastern region that has suffered for five years the increasingly deadly assaults by Nigeria’s homegrown Boko Haram terrorist network. Jonathan, a Christian from the south, has been accused of insensitivity to the plight of the mainly Muslim northerners. Thousands have been killed over the years and more than 1,500 civilians have died in the insurgency this year alone.
Two officials in the presidency confirmed the cancellation saying there were apparent concerns about security after news of the planned trip was leaked to the media and published on front pages of newspapers Friday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not supposed to give information to reporters.
Jonathan had been expected to fly on one of his presidential jets from Abuja, the capital in central Nigeria, to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital in the northeast, and then be transported by military helicopter to the town of Chibok, 130 kilometres (80 miles) to the south.
The road from Maiduguri to Chibok passes by the Sambisa Forest to which the girls first were taken that is a known hideout of the insurgents and has been attacked many times. Soldiers say 12 troops were killed in an ambush on that road on Monday night. The Defence Ministry said four soldiers were killed in a firefight on the outskirts of Chibok that night.
Soldiers revolted and opened fire on the car of a commanding officer who came to pay respects to the bodies brought to a Maiduguri barracks on Tuesday, said the soldiers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they want to keep their jobs. The Defence Ministry said the soldiers only fired into the air. The commander was unharmed.
There have been other signs that some Nigerian troops are near mutiny, complaining that they are outnumbered and outgunned by the insurgents, are not properly paid and have to scavenge for food in the bush.
The weakness of the Nigerian military was described Thursday by Alice Friend, the U.S. Department for Defence director for African affairs at a hearing about the kidnapped girls and the threat posed by Boko Haram.
“And so we’re now looking at a military force that’s, quite frankly, becoming afraid to even engage” the enemy, she told the U.S. Senate subcommittee on African Affairs in Washington.
She also said “much of the funding” for Nigeria’s military is “skimmed off the top” by corrupt officers in a country where corruption is endemic.
Soldiers in Nigeria have told The Associated Press that some in their ranks actually fight alongside Boko Haram, and Jonathan last year said he suspected the Boko Haram members and sympathizers had infiltrated every level of his government and military, including the Cabinet.
In Chibok, community leader Pogu Bitrus had said earlier Friday that that though residents had been angry at Jonathan’s slow response to the girls’ plight, they did not hold it against the president and considered his visit “better late than never.”
The presidency said Jonathan is travelling later Friday to Paris for a French-organized summit including leaders of Nigeria’s four neighbours to discuss how to address the regional threat posed by Boko Haram.
Boko Haram insurgents on April 15 abducted more than 300 students from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School. Police say 53 managed to escape and 276 remain in captivity.
© The Associated Press, 2014