Flash: Chadian, Nigerien Military Involved In Baga Operation – Nigerian Army; Casualty Figures Still Disputed

The Nigerian Army has stated that Nigerien and Chadian officials were involved in the Friday gun battle at Nigeria’s border town, Baga in Maiduguri, Borno State, where 187 people were said to have been killed.

Nigerian defence spokesman, Brigadier General Chris Olukolade said that “the force that hit them (Boko Haram) was a multinational force” involving Chadian and Nigerien troops who have been cooperating on the border for about a decade.

Officials at the neighbouring countries also confirmed the involvement of forces from Niger and Chad to Reuters on Tuesday, saying that they were surprised by the firepower they faced at the scene of the attack.

Two other Nigerian military sources were quoted to have said that a joint force of more than 100 was assembled after intelligence reports said that Boko Haram militants had moved into Baga, a fishing town in northeast Nigeria on the shores of Lake Chad.

The sources said “the militants, armed with machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs, put up fierce resistance from positions around local people and their homes.”

Several Boko Haram fighters were killed and weapons were seized, but civilians also died in a fight the sources said was neither a significant strategic victory nor an escalation.

There was still no confirmation of the death toll from Friday’s fighting, but a Nigerian military source said dozens may have died, many of them civilians.

The Nigerian Red Cross said they checked reports from locals that 187 people had been killed, but had not yet gained security clearance to go into Baga.

Meanwhile, rescue workers were said to be struggling to reach the remote Baga town where the military had restricted access after the governor had ordered a massive relief effort.
Baga residents have accused the military of firing indiscriminately on civilians and setting fire to much of the fishing town.

Red Cross national coordinator, Umar Mariaga told AFP that his staff members were still struggling to reach Baga, where the security situation remains uncertain.

“We are making efforts to get clearance from the security agents to get in and assist the victims of the violence,” he said.

Report said much of the town remains deserted after the Friday fighting which forced thousands of people to flee, a resident told AFP.

“Baga is still under military siege. The town is at a standstill with little food and water, which has forced even those of us that stayed behind to start leaving,” he told AFP.

United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has said in a statement that he was “shocked and saddened at the reports of high numbers of civilians killed.”

The United States had also condemned the violence and the deaths of many civilians.

According to AFP, details of the alleged military atrocities in Baga are still emerging, but it could mark a major setback in Nigeria’s effort to end the insurgency.

“Baga’s location near Chad and Niger is problematic for Nigeria’s security forces as people from all three countries move freely through porous borders,” an expert on religious violence in Nigeria, Shehu Sani told AFP.

The Commander Multi National Joint Task Force, Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye has given an update on the encounter of the Task Force with Boko Haram.

According to the Commander, “Multi National Joint Task Force troops on routine patrol at Baga – Mallam Garati Road had an encounter with Boko Haram Terrorists at about 7.30pm on Tuesday, 16 April, 2013.

He said that during the encounter, one soldier was killed and 5 other soldiers were injured. While 30 Boko Haram terrorists lost their lives, five were arrested and many escaped with bullet wounds but unfortunately, six civilians lost their lives and 10 other civilians were injured in the crossfire.

The Commander disclosed that the following items were recovered;
Three Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers, two Rocket Propelled Grenade Bombs, Four AK 47 Rifles, four hundred and thirty Five Assorted Ammunition, Several quantities of IED Materials and Three Land Cruiser Vehicles of the Terrorists were damaged.

He said that contrary to media speculation that hundreds of houses were burnt, instead, it was the explosion from Boko Haram Trocket propelled grenade bombs, Anti-Aircraft guns and sophisticated IED materials that triggered fire to about 30 thatched houses in the predominantly fishing community”.

On the allegation that the military were not allowing aid workers into the area to salvage the remaining situation, the Defence Spokesman, Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade, said it was not true.

The Senate has mandated its committees on Defence, Police and National Intelligence to immediately commence investigation into the killing of about 190 people in Baga, Borno State, last Friday.

The joint committees were expected to report its findings back to the Senate in 14 days.

The move followed a point of order raised on the floor of the Senate by Senator Ma’ji Lawan (Borno North). Lawan who described the massacre as outrageous, condemnable and unacceptable in a civilised society that was not in a state of war.

Contrary to media report, he said the attack was not perpetrated by members of the Joint Task Force (JTF) but rather by JMTF, a group of military men on patrol of the borders of four countries namely, Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroun.

He said members of the insurgent provoked the massacre by shooting one  of the JMTF members who he said had all the while been peaceful in their patrol of the area until the unfortunate incident of last Friday.

Noting that he was sufficiently informed of the details of what happened by his constituents, Senator Lawan said the insurgents started the trouble by firing at one of the soldiers.

He said the soldiers went for reinforcement and came back to level half Baga community, killing between 180 and 200 people and destroying 2000 homes, 62 cars, 284 motorcycles and tons of food stuff.

Lawan, who hails from the affected community, described the scene as pathetic as the community played host to people from various tribal backgrounds who were engaged in varieties of thriving economic activities.

He said the military had taken over 10 local goverment areas in the wake of the violence, adding that the military downplayed the casuality figure and that several people had been dislocated and the number of the casualities were increasing.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday also called on the Federal Government to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances leading to the reported death of 185 people and a soldier in Baga Kukawa Local Government Area of Borno State.

The House resolution was sequel to a matter of urgent national importance raised by Honourable Mohammed Mongunu who regretted that the action of the soldiers has dented the image of the military that was trying to win the hearts and minds of Nigerians.

It will be recalled that 185 persons and a soldier were reportedly killed with over 200 houses burnt in a conflict between insurgents of Boko-Haram sect and soldiers of the multinational joint task force in Baga Kukawa local government area of Bornu state.

The House equally resolved to set up a special committee to visit Baga and commiserate with the families of the soldier and innocent civilians who lost their lives.

It then called on the National Emergency Management Agency,NEMA, to provide relief materials to the  affected victims.

Courtesy Nigeria Tribune

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