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Published On: Tue, Jan 13th, 2015

Baga: The sad tale of a deserted town

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BagaBy Evelyn Okakwu

A recent report by stakeholders in Nigeria’s security sector debunked the claim that the Baga attack may have indeed resulted in the loss of 200 lives.

Caught between the web of such possibility and the almost graver reality that another excuse of negligence is about to emerge; I sought to re-emphasise some points about the attack from this equally recent report about the ordeal of a victim of the Baga attack; as reported by an online media.

“His ordeal, Yahaya Takakumi, a 55-year-old farmer who lived in Doro-Baga for over 25 years, said he escaped with one of his wives when the insurgents attacked.

“I and one of my wives, who was able to escape with me, spent four days in the bush running for dear life and safety,” the farmer said.

“I thank God I have arrived here safely but I still have not seen four of my children, my second wife and my elder brother who is a blacksmith in Baga.”

“Some people said they saw my brother near Daban-Shata some days ago but everyone from that area said the Boko Haram gunmen had carried out a massive massacre of people in Daban-Shata and I fear for his life because only God can say the number of persons that got killed in that part of Baga district.

This is the account of en eye witness, yet stakeholders in a country that reportedly did its best to protect the African territory have said the figures were exaggerated. The eye witness continues: “We ran for days and we saw dead bodies especially on the Islands of Lake Chad where fishermen had settled; several persons were killed there like insects,” he said.

The survivor said the insurgents “would lay in ambush on the water path and once a boat or canoe comes with fleeing residents, they attack and shoot them all”.

This part of the young man’s story as accounted for by this report, may be of interest to those who say the figures are less then indicated.

“The killings were not done in a day, but that of the first day was massive, both soldiers and our local people were killed; even after they had taken over Baga they kept on attacking other neighbouring villages in the following days.”

Another survivor, Ibrahim Gambo, also speaking to an online medium said that he was still searching for his wife and daughter at the camp.

According to him, he was part of the vigilante, called Civilian-JTF, in Baga that initially confronted the Boko Haram gunmen before they were over powered.

“In Baga, almost every able-bodied male who is grown up and matured is a member of the vigilante; and most of us have charms that defy guns and bullet”, the 25-year-old truck driver said.

“That was why when the fighting started we were able to arrest many Boko Haram gunmen who we disarmed and even killed some that tried to resist us violently.”

Mr. Gambo said it was the intervention of the soldiers that made them withdraw their onslaught on the insurgents.

“We were actually making great inroad in dealing with the insurgents when the soldiers of the Multi-National Joint Task Force asked us to withdraw that an Air Force fighter jet would soon come,” he said.

“Shortly after that, the Boko Haram stormed into Baga almost from all directions; shooting, killing at will. We had no choice than to join others to run.” The survivor also narrated what he witnessed while escaping.

“We came across many dead bodies, some in groups and others by themselves in the bush; I saw dead children and women – and even a pregnant woman with her stomach slit open.

“We saw a large boat carrying over 25 persons and all of them shot dead; those whose bodies defy guns or bullets, would be tied up and dipped into the Lake water until they die”.

While speaking on the death toll, Mr. Gambo said he could not ascertain the casualty figure.

“All I know is that the death toll is well over 500 because I have seen several groups of killed villagers and the least of such group were five persons,” he said. “The number could be more because it was not all that fled from Baga that was able to make it to Maiduguri.”

Also speaking on the massacre, the District Head of Baga, Baba Abba Hassan, said the casualty was much but not up to 2000. This remark by the Baga community leader may have given some credence to the recent stand of the story, but he clearly sates that hundreds, have been killed not just one hundred; and a couple of more figures:

“Killing 2000 people is not a small number…2000 it is a very large number,” he said from the displaced persons camp.

“All I know as the District Head of Baga to whom most of my people report, hundreds of our people have killed by the Boko Haram and most of our communities on the island of the Lake (Chad) have been attacked and completely destroyed.

“But I cannot tell you the actual number of people killed because many were pursued to the bushes and killed…I can say hundreds have been killed so far. They include women and children,” he said.

He added that the terrorists, who have since taken over Baga and other nearby communities, were well prepared when they came attacking.

“They came with dozens of vehicles and first attacked the Multi-National Joint Task Force location,” he said. “There was resistance initially, especially by the Civilian-JTF but later, the insurgents had upper hand, especially when the armed soldiers had to start fleeing when there was no reinforcement.”

Meanwhile, the Nigerian military yesterday debunked reports that put the death rate from last attack on Baga at 2000 deaths, saying that from all available evidences, the number of people who lost their lives during that attack has so far not exceeded about 150 in the interim.

“This figure includes many of the terrorists who were bearing arms and got killed in the course of their attack and battle with troops.” The military said.

The Director Defence Information, Chris Olukolade at a press briefing on the true situation in Baga in Abuja Monday said,”Without any doubt, terrible atrocities have been committed against innocent Nigerians in Baga by the rampaging terrorists who attacked and have been operating in the town since January 3 2015. Necessary actions are being taken to put an end to the activities of the terrorists and restore law and order to the community.

“To this end, a lot of covert operations including surveillance activities which recorded series aerial photographs are ongoing in that vicinity.”

He said it was necessary to inform Nigerians in the interim that the exercise so far has not corroborated the report on the casualty rate which was put at 2000 deaths.

“It should be noted that Baga and the neighbouring towns have been under series of attacks and harassment by terrorists. In the course of this, many residents have left, leaving the population in the town almost seriously depleted. Many were also able to escape while the terrorists’ battle with troops lasted. The figure given by sources who claim to be eye witnesses must be an extremely exaggerated estimate.

“It is pertinent to once again urge the media to be circumspect in adopting casualty figures especially the ones given to them by the so-called eye witness, who in most cases, are influenced by their own perspectives.”

Olukolade reiterated its earlier assurance that the military has not given up on Baga or any part of the country where terrorists are marauding. “Appropriate plans, men and resources are presently being mobilized to address the situation. We want to reassure Nigerians that no portion of Nigeria’s territory has been or will be conceded to terrorists.” He said.

And while it’s necessary to calm the anxiety caused by this recent report, it is even more necessary to remember the comments of our very own leader, President Goodluck Jonathan that no political ambition

should result in the taking of even one single Nigerians’ life.

 

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