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Last Updated: 04/30/2013MASSACRE IN NIGERIA: More Than 200 Killed, 4000 Houses Burnt
Lawal Tsalha discusses the recent reports of massacre in Northern Nigeria involving the Multinational joint Task Force and Boko Haram, as well as the steps taken by President Goodluck Jonathan to respond.
At least 208 people have lost their lives and over 4,000 houses were burnt down in Baga town of Borno State in Northern Nigeria. Baga is a town in Kukawa Local Government Area of northern Borno State on the Nigerian border with Chad Republic famous for its trading in stock fishes, which are produced, processed and transported to places within and outside the country.
According to initial news reports, the killing of an army officer prompted a military operation in the town on Tuesday 16, March 2013 at about 7:30 pm. The Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) surrounded a mosque that housed Jamatu’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad (Boko Haram), who allegedly killed the officer, and started shooting indiscriminately.
Thousands of people have fled the town, which is about 180 kilometers north of the state capital Maiduguri, into neighbouring Chad and Niger. Sources have confirmed that the military used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in the assault from 7:30 pm to 4 am.
It was learnt that one of the reasons why the massacre took time before it was known to the public was that the town had been cut off from the rest of the country after telecommunication masts in the area were burnt down by suspected Boko Haram members.
According to the Nigerian Newspaper Daily Trust, the community has had problems communicating with other parts of the world through mobile phones since 2012, when the telecommunication masts began to be damaged in the town. Many traveled to a neighboring town called Bakaka Goni to make calls.
According to a survivor of the incident, when the violence started, soldiers opened fire on civilians, and chased people out of their homes before setting fire to their houses. People were scared, running into the bush as the soldiers opened fire. The eye witness survivor said he saw more bodies being recovered from the bush before he fled the town.
There are conflicting figures of the dead with some accounts saying as many as 300 people were killed. The figure quoted was dismissed by the Commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) established by Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger to maintain security at the border areas. Brig-Gen. Austin Edokpaye has said that insurgents used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades while attacking soldiers in the area.
The MJTF Commander added that Multinational Joint Task Force troops on routine patrol at Baga-Mallam Garati road had an encounter with Boko Haram terrorists at about 7:30 pm on Tuesday, 16 April, 2013. During the encounter, one soldier was killed and five soldiers were injured, while 30 Boko Haram terrorists lost their lives and five were arrested. Many of the alleged terrorists escaped with bullet wounds. Unfortunately, six civilians lost their lives and 10 other civilians were injured in the crossfire.
He stressed that, contrary to media speculation that hundreds of houses were burnt down, instead, it was the explosion from the Boko Haram terrorists’ rocket propelled grenade bombs, anti-aircraft guns and sophisticated IED materials that triggered a fire which spread to about 30 thatched houses in the predominately fishing community.
Meanwhile, a health worker in charge of the Baga clinic, Goni Bukar Usman, has confirmed that 193 people were brought to the clinic with various degrees of injuries. According to him, 10 victims with serious burns were referred to a hospital in Maiduguri, the state capital.
A military source in the Defence Headquarters in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, said it could confirm the death of only 26 people including the deceased soldier. The Defence spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade told journalists in Abuja that: “Distress people in Baga called the JTF informing it of attack on the town by gunmen. The military intervened immediately and the only casualty we had were 25 insurgents and then we lost a soldier. Actually it was the soldier who was in a team to go and rescue villagers that was killed.”
The Borno State Government has ordered immediate release of relief materials including food items and clothes, and asked the state Ministry of Works to immediately mobilize to Baga town and start the reconstruction of destroyed homes. The state Government has also set up a committee to investigate the cause of the violence.
When the Borno state governor Kashim Shettima, visited the place, the burned bodies of animals still filled the streets, while bullet holes marred burned buildings.
Meanwhile, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered a full-scale investigation into the violence. According to a statement issued by presidential spokesman Reuben Abati, preliminary briefings indicate that the casualty figures being reported by the foreign media may be grossly exaggerated. 
The Nigeria Senate President David Mark has also directed the Senate Committee on Defence, Police, National Security and Intelligence to investigate the alleged massacre.
Similarly, the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has disclosed that it has gained access to the victims and started distribution of relief materials to them.
Already, the officials of the agency and Nigeria Red Cross have arrived the town to set up camps for victims who have started trooping in for assistance. The camp was set up in the premises of the Local Government Council’s clinic at Baga town.
Materials distributed to victims include food items, mats, clothes, materials and toiletries, among others, while some victims who need medical attention are being attended to by medical officials in NEMA and the Red Cross’ team.
NEMA’s Director of Rescue and Search Operation, Air Commodore Charles Otebegde, who led a delegation of the agency’s officials from Abuja to the town, said they were following directives from President Jonathan to provide immediate reliefs to the affected victims.
In a related development President Goodluck Jonathan has inaugurated a presidential committee on the peaceful resolution of security challenges in the northern part of Nigeria. The committee was mandated to proffer solutions to the Boko Haram insurgence within three months.
The president instructed the committee to establish a link and open up dialogue with members of the Boko Haram and also to develop a framework for their disarmament.
He advised that the committee should also work out a sustainable option that would lead to the granting of amnesty to the group.
Goodluck Jornathan has reiterated the readiness of his administration to work with any organisation to make sure that the excesses of Boko Haram are brought to an end.
The president added that the committee should develop a comprehensive support programme for the victims of the excesses of the group.
He said the committee should suggest ways to address the underlining causes of the crisis to ensure that the country did not face similar trend in the future.
President Jonathan also charge security agencies to avoid civilian casualties in their operations.
He reiterated the fact that the reported mass killing in Baga, Borno, was being investigated, adding that the government would take appropriate steps to sanction any official found culpable.
In another development, in an effort to stem the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, the Nigerian President has inaugurated a committee on small arms and light weapons committee.
While commissioning the committee, President Goodluck said it is important at this particular time as the proliferation of small arms and light weapon was threatening security and stability in Nigeria and in other developing nations.
According to him, continental cross-border proliferation of arms is not only a threat to Nigerian security and stability it has also fuelled conflicts in different parts of Africa.
The president called on the UN to develop a comprehensive approach to the control of small arms and light weapons, noting that their effects in Africa have been worse than the effect of nuclear weapons.
Lawal Tsalha is a Nigerian journalist and an Intern with the Peace and Conflict Monitor.