Over the past few days, more than 100 people have been killed in two horrific attacks by militants in Nigeria – prompting the hashtag Borno Massacre on Twitter. It’s an attempt to alert Nigerians, and the world, to what is happening.
People are being killed like cattle and it’s as if nobody seems to care,” says Sam Hart, a journalist in Abuja, and one of the creators of the hashtag #BornoMassacre. “Human beings, Nigerians like us, have died”.
Hart and a few of his friends on Twitter, started the hashtag on Tuesday, in a deliberate attempt to get it trending – hoping that public pressure will encourage the federal government to take more action. It has been used about 2,800 times so far.
The most recent attacks were in the villages of Izghe and Bama in the state of Borno, in the north-east of Nigeria – both are blamed on Boko Haram, an Islamist group that wants to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.
At least 63 people were killed in a village called Izge in Gwoza Local government of Borno State after gunmen believed to be Boko Haram attacked residents on Saturday night, the police and witnesses said.In the village, the suspected Boko Haram gunmen went door-to-door, dragging residents outside before slaughtering them.
The attack came three days after gunmen attacked the same village and killed nine soldiers in a broad day shootout.
Boko Haram had carried out another attack on villagers in Doron-Baga in Kukawa local government area on the same night even though details of the incident is yet to be made public.
Hassan Ali, a resident of Izge said that the gunmen who attacked their village wore military fatigues.He recounted that the attackers invaded the quiet community at about midnight and killed at least 63 persons in cold blood. Many others who survived were left with serious injuries, while some fled into the bushes.
“We thought they were soldiers, because they were driving in military trucks, they told some of our villagers to gather at a spot as though they were trying to protect them, they suddenly opened fire on them,” said Malam Ali.
“They entered Izge driving in seven Hilux Pick -Up vans while others rode motorcycles, while chanting Allahu Akbar (God is great). Only those of us that were fortunate to hear the arrival of the gunmen were able to escape while several others who were already asleep were caught unawares and slaughtered.”
“They burnt houses and left with ten vehicles belonging to our people. Several women and children were found seriously injured. They also looted our stores and left with food items. We had to flee the village because we cannot risk being attacked again”.
A top politician and members of the Gwoza local government caretaker council on phone, but craved anonymity, said “the attacks were messy, I don’t want to celebrate the numbers of casualties because even one life is too precious to be killed in the manner the Boko Haram are killing us”.
The local council official, who was in Izge on Sunday, said “the town was also razed down, and virtually everyone has fled and those that were caught running for their dear lives were rounded up and slaughtered as well”.
The politician said the attack in Gwoza area and specifically Izge town became intense after the military had withdrawn its men from there.“Our convoy was shot at three times as we were trying to leave Gwoza for Maiduguri; but I thank God that we escaped them and arrived safely,” he said.
“Our state is fast becoming volatile, the attacks are coming from everywhere. We need more soldiers in Gwoza, because that is the area that borders Sambisa forest. The military withdrew its soldiers from Izge after Boko Haram had killed nine of their personnel during the last Wednesday’s attack.”
More than 2,000 people have been killed by the insurgency since 2009. Many of the tweets are angry. One says innocent people are being “killed like insects” – “to sit back and allow it is an international disgrace”.
Meanwhile, The House of Representatives has called on President Goodluck Jonathan to relocate the headquarters of the Nigerian Army to Borno state.
According to the House, the relocation of the Army Headquarters to Maiduguri will afford the Chief of Army Staff not only to have first-hand knowledge of the reality on ground, but also the opportunity to devise ways of properly tackling the matter.
The advice was contained in a resolution adopted by the House following a motion at plenary by Peter Biye Guntha (APC, Borno).
Among the prayers of the motion was the need for the Federal Government to liaise with the governments of Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon to discuss ways on how to tackle the activities of the insurgents around the border areas.
While commiserating with the people and government of Borno state over the killings, the House urged the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to urgently provide relief materials to the affected victims.
A survivor of the attack on Bama by Boko Haram militants said the Nigerian soldiers on guard duty fled upon sighting the rampaging militants, who invaded Bama in their dozens.
The survivor, who bore witness to the latest attack on the besieged town in north east Nigeria told the French news agency, AFP that the Boko Haram assailants invaded the town in their dozens and drove into the town around 4:am in heavy trucks through a secondary school.
“We realized that they were in hundreds carrying sophisticated weapons. So we had to run as the soldiers on guard also took to their heels,” he added.
The survivor who said that he escaped to Maiduguri on foot added that his other colleagues ran into a nearby Bama General (government) Hospital before fleeing into the bush.
“The attackers set everywhere ablaze using Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) as they moved. As we ran, we kept seeing burnt houses and dead bodies and others injured”, he said without giving details of death toll.
Some of the properties damaged included the Emir of Bama’s palace which was slightly touched by the attackers and scores of other houses owned by the residents, he said.
The mobile phone network in Borno is patchy and calls to Bama area residents were not going through on Wednesday.
It was a different story however by Nigeria’s defence spokesman, Chris Olukolade, who claimed the insurgents were engaged by Nigerian troops and that a large number of the militants were killed.
Bama is about 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, which is the stronghold of the Islamist rebels who have killed thousands during a four-and-half year insurgency.
“The attackers came from various locations,” Olukolade said. “We believe that there were suicide bombers among them. They used bombs during the operation (and) attacked one of our tanks.”
He said “many” of the attackers were killed when troops repelled the raid, but could not offer a specific figure or comment on casualties among civilians or the security forces.
Olukolade also said that a “cordon and search operation was ongoing in Bama with a view to apprehending fleeing attackers”.
More than 200 people have been killed in 2014 in Borno state alone, by the insurgents who claimed they want to impose an Islamic theocracy on northern Nigeria.
But much of the attention is focused on the Federal Government – and its perceived lack of focus on the violence. Ahmed Rufa’i, another of the people who first got the hashtag going, says the government in Abuja has a taken a “lackadaisical attitude”. He and many others want an official statement condemning the violence, and a promise of action. To date, the official government response to these attacks has been to say they are “winning the war”. A large slice of the national budget is spent on the military.
Little information is coming out on social media from the state of Borno itself.
For several months, all internet and mobile phone signals were cut in an attempt to stop Boko Haram from organising further attacks. That ban has been lifted now, but most people are too afraid to use social media, says Ahmadu, one of the few people who is tweeting from the state. “I hardly sleep at night, I expect to be attacked any moment. That’s how everyone feels here. No-one is safe.”