Two thousand men, women and children may have died in Boko Haram’s latest blood-letting in Nigeria’s north-east. Those, at least, are the claims.
But in the restive regions where the Islamists passage is barely opposed by government forces, few facts – as human rights groups told The Independent yesterday – are verifiable. Even as President Goodluck Jonathan launched his campaign for re-election this week, evidence appeared to emerge indicating that his government’s attempt to prevent Boko Haram forming an Islamic “caliphate” in the northern regions is failing.
As the militants swept through, over-running government forces, one town populated by thousands, Baga, had until last weekend held out against the insurgency.
Protected by a multinational military base manned by troops from Niger to Chad, it was the last place in Borno State under the national government’s control. Over the weekend, that changed. “They came through the north, the west and from the south of the town because the eastern part is only water,” one resident told the BBC. “So, when we [went] toward the western part, we saw heavily armed Boko Haram men coming toward us.”
At the sight of the insurgents, the soldiers put up scant resistance before abandoning their base and leaving residents defenceless. Politician Maina Maaji Lawan said Baga had been “burnt down” and estimated that 2,000 may have been killed. But other estimates placed the number dead at closer to 200. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the past year and more than a million displaced within Nigeria as a result of the five-year insurgency.
And Baga, local government officials now say, is no more, described as “virtually non-existent”. One man who escaped with his family told Agence France-Presse he had to navigate through “many dead bodies on the ground” and that the “whole town was on fire”. Another told Reuters: “I escaped with my family in the car after seeing how Boko Haram was killing people… I saw bodies in the street. Children and women, some were crying for help”. He added that bodies were “littered on the streets and in bushes”.
Television footage showed scores of civilians waiting on the outskirts of Baga to catch buses. Many carried the possessions they had salvaged, such as bags of clothes and rolled-up mattresses.
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
A total of 276 girls were abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok, in Borno state, which has a sizeable Christian community. Some 223 are still missing
One of the kidnapped girls looks into a camera
One of the missing girls talking to the camera
The missing Nigerian schoolgirls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. Boko Haram alleging they had converted them to Islam
Girls wearing the full-length hijab holding a flag reading "There is no god, but Allah" and "Mohammed is Allah's prophet"
A man claiming to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Shekau speaks on the video
Girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying are filmed by an unidentified man (R) in an undisclosed rural location
People carry signs as they attend a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok in Lagos
A protester demonstrates against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London
Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Prime Minister David Cameron appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme
People participate in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
Girls holding heart shaped banners in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
14/19 South Africa
South Africans protest in solidarity against the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram and what protesters said was the failure of the Nigerian government and international community to rescue them, during a march to the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg
Karilyn Coates (10) joins others in a candlelight vigil for the more than 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, at All Souls Unitarian Church in Colorado Springs
Mothers of the missing Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists gather to receive informations from officials. Nigeria's president said that Boko Haram's mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls would mark a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, as world powers joined the search to rescue the hostages
Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank's Africa division (3rd L) Obiageli Ezekwesilieze speaks as she leads a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja
18/19 Bring Back Our Girls
Kelly Hoppen tweeted: 'Please make sure you do this, we must stand together and not forget them'
19/19 Bring Back Our Girls
E.L. Rock Star tweeted: 'Join The Movement'
In the past week, around 2,000 Nigerians and 500 Chadians have fled Boko Haram attacks in Chad’s Lake region, the Chadian Prime Minister, Kalzeubet Pahimi Deubet, said on Wednesday. According to AFP, Boko Haram’s recent attack means the group controls all of Borno’s borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
The Cameroon President, Paul Biya, yesterday appealed for international assistance to fight Boko Haram. The group is part of a movement that has attacked Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia in its drive to establish its authority from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, he said. “A global threat calls for a global response. Such should be the response of the international community, including the African Union and our regional organisations.”