The Nigerian military, fighting a losing battle against Boko Haram’s rampant insurgency, says 150 people were massacred at the north-eastern fishing settlement of Baga. Those forced into exile by the attacks claim up to 2,000 may have been killed.
Authorities in Nigeria have often been accused of underestimating casualty figures to downplay the threat of Boko Haram. Today, the thousands of men, women and children were forced from their homes in and around Baga were fleeing the murderous jihadists. Rights groups said there remains an “immense human tragedy” still to be investigated at Baga.
As the army continued its bid to reclaim areas surrounding Baga, near Lake Chad and the Chad border, Nigerian Defence spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade gave a rare official death toll for the events of 10 days ago. He said “terrible atrocities have been committed against innocent Nigerians in Baga by the rampaging terrorists… operating” in the town. “From all available evidence, the number of people who lost their lives during that attack has so far not exceeded about 150,” he said.
Today, the UN called on Abuja to restore order in Borno and neighbouring Yobe states, where Boko Haram has taken its first steps towards creating its Islamic “caliphate”.
“What appears fairly certain is that mass killings and mass forced displacement have occurred,” said the UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani in Geneva. “We urge the government to act swiftly to restore law and order while ensuring that security operations are conducted in line with international law.”
President Goodluck Jonathan has so far remained quiet about the Baga attacks. Some critics say his silence is directly related to next month’s elections against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. “By acknowledging the scale of the violence, he’s acknowledging a certain degree of his failure as a president, so he’s not going to talk about security with less than six weeks to go before the election,” said Manji Cheto, vice-president of corporate advisory company Teneo Intelligence.
Neighbouring Cameroon, which has been dragged into the fight against the Islamists, said that at least 143 Boko Haram fighters were killed in an attack on a military camp in Cameroon on Monday.
More than 11,000 Nigerian refugees have crossed into neighbouring Chad since the beginning of January. Others arrived in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
Isabelle Mouniaman, head of Médecins Sans Frontières in Nigeria, said doctors were expecting even more refugees. “There are people in the area trying to reach us still. They are mainly women and children who have been on the road for a few days. They are tired [and] in shock. We know that they are under attack. We expect more and more people to come. The attacks will not stop just like this today. There will be more.”
Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said satellite imagery of Baga and neighbouring settlements “clearly show the large-scale destruction of civilian properties in the area”. She said: “We are still working on precise numbers, but initial findings suggest several thousand homes were destroyed or severely damaged.”Reuse content