IT took the international media, last weekend to alert Nigerians to the massacre of innocent people that took place in Baga, the border town on the Lake Chad, in Borno State. It was in fact one of the most horrible events of the counter-insurgency activities of the Nigerian security forces, since the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency.
As we now know, the security forces informed a shocked Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima, who visited, that one soldier had been killed by insurgents. It seemed that the military returned in force and launched a massive attack on the town. No fewer than 185 people were killed and 2000 houses were destroyed.
The Director of Defence Information, Brig-Gen. Chris Olukade told correspondents that one soldier died and 25 insurgents were killed. If that was the case, how did 185 civilians: men, women and children lose their lives? Why are people in the community accusing the military of having been responsible for the savagery visited upon the community?
The argument of the security forces was so disingenuous and I am amazed that they expect any intelligent person to accept it. Brig-Gen. Austin Edokpaye said: “extremists used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in the assault, which began after soldiers surrounded a mosque they believed housed members of the radical Islamic extremist network Boko Haram.
Extremists had earlier killed a military officer”. Edokpaye then added that: “extremists used civilians as human shields during the fighting (apparently to justify the mass killing of civilians by soldiers!)”.
His ‘tale-by-moonlight’ continued thus: When we reinforced and returned to the scene the terrorists came out with heavy firepower, including rocket-propelled grenades, which usually has a conflagration effect (thus passing the buck of the near-complete destruction of the town to the insurgents!)”.
I will be the first to agree that the security forces are doing a very difficult job in the counter-insurgency war in Borno. Most of these soldiers cannot often differentiate who the enemy might be and there is also the absence of a nuanced understanding of the cultural sensitivities of the community.
However, having been back in Maiduguri in the past one year, it is clear that the military’s tactics have been more akin to the collective punishment of the people in many places where they have confronted the Boko Haram insurgents.