WASHINGTON (AFP) – US officials on Thursday slammed Nigeria’s “slow” response to the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by Islamic militants and renewed criticism of its military over its human rights record.
Democratic senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said Nigeria had been “tragically and unacceptably slow” to deal with the crisis, despite offers of assistance from the United States and other countries.
“I have called on President (Goodluck) Jonathan to demonstrate the leadership his nation is demanding,” Menendez said.
The militant Boko Haram group is currently holding more than 200 schoolgirls hostage after raiding the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok on April 14.
The Pentagon meanwhile criticized Nigeria for failing to react swiftly to the rise of Boko Haram, who have been blamed for thousands of deaths since 2009.
Nigeria has typically resisted security cooperation with the West over the group.
“We cannot ignore that Nigeria can be an extremely challenging partner to work with,” Department of Defense official Alice Friend said.
“In the face of this sophisticated threat, Nigeria’s security forces have been slow to adapt with new strategies and new tactics.”
US State Department official Robert Jackson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said Washington had been “urging Nigeria to reform its approach to Boko Haram.”
The United States has accused Nigeria’s military of widespread rights abuses in its fight against Boko Haram, which Jackson said had been counter-productive in dealing with the group.
“The State must demonstrate to its citizens that it can protect them and offer them opportunities,” he said.
“When soldiers destroy towns, kill civilians and detain innocent people with impunity mistrust takes root.”
Friend said Nigeria’s “record of atrocities perpetrated by some of its security forces during operations against Boko Haram have been widely documented.”
The United States would not provide assistance to any Nigerian military units who had been implicated in rights abuses, she added.
The United States has sent a team of around 30 civilian and military personnel to help Abuja in its hunt for the kidnapped schoolgirls.
The US military has also confirmed it is flying surveillance drones as well as manned reconnaissance planes over the country in an effort to locate the girls.
Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from their school in Chibok last month. Dozens managed to escape but 223 are thought to remain in the hands of the group.