What really happened in Baga?

3 mins read

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.

The government has been desperately attempting to spin the events of the past weekend in Baga, with the hogwash about ‘Rules of engagement for the military and security agencies’ allegedly being in place.

It is also true that President Jonathan has ordered “a full-scale investigation of high civilian casualties” as well as ordered NEMA and federal health agencies to give victims “immediate relief and medical support”. What is clear is that the town has been almost completely destroyed and the mobilisation of NEMA won’t have been necessary if the security forces had not employed scorched earth tactics in the first place.

Southern Media‘s bay for blood

I find it instructive that there are still very influential commentators, especially in the Southern media, who continue to bay for more blood as the best way out of the quagmire in Northern Nigeria. What is happening increasingly is the collective punishment of communities; the killing of innocents and the destruction of the little that very poor people in these communities have.

It is also remarkable that those who will threaten Nigeria, either with war or break up, if these tragic events had taken place in the Southern part of Nigeria, have suddenly lost their voices. The human rights and NGO constituency will not get imperialist dollars, by condemning the massacre in Baga.

Wole Soyinka has not said anything so far (and I am writing on Tuesday night); remember he had alleged that Chinua Achebe’s death had probably been hastened by the killing of “his people” in the North! Baga speaks to our humanity and it underlines the dangers of the impunity trailing the counter-insurgency activities of the Nigerian security forces in the fight against Boko Haram.

Those who do not feel bothered about the destruction of that community, only abet a tragedy that can easily spread to other parts of our country. We first had Odi; then Zaki Biam followed; the next chapter opened last weekend in Baga on the Lake Chad. So bad was the invasion of that community that dead bodies were still being picked from surrounding areas on Tuesday morning.

Those responsible for the massacre of so many people and the destruction of a whole community must be brought to book. The Jonathan administration’s counter-insurgency campaign has clearly reached a tragic dead end! More than ever before, it needs to move faster on the track of a peaceful end to the tragic insurgency that has ground many of our Northern communities to a halt. We cannot continue in the old way!

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