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Borno: Reactions Trail Killing Of 185 Persons In JTF, Boko Haram Clash

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SAN FRANCISCO, April 22, (THEWILL) - Reactions and condemnations have continued to trail weekend’s bloody clash between soldiers of the Multinational Task Force in Borno State and suspected members of the Boko Haram in the border town of Baga which left no fewer than 185 persons, including women and children, dead while 10,000 persons were rendered homeless as over 2,000 houses were completely destroyed.

On Monday, six corpses were said to have been picked up from the bush surrounding the town thus bringing the death toll to 191. Residents said the death toll may further rise as the people of the town are still combing the entire town and its surrounding for corpses.

They complained of stench oozing out from the nearby bush, indicating that many corpses may still be lying around the surrounding bushes..

The clash in the Nigerian border town with Niger, Chad and Cameroon, had also resulted in a humanitarian crisis as thousands of residents of the town are said to have fled into the neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad as well as other parts of Borno State. Many are said to be hiding in the bush.

Some residents fleeing to Maiduguri, the state capital, said they had to run for safety as they were afraid that the hostility may resume any time soon.

The State governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, who visited the town to assess the level of destruction was told by Local Government officials that 185 persons died and at least 2,000 houses, 64 motorcycles and 40 cars burnt in the attack.

The residents alleged that the soldiers torched their houses , leading to the death of many with many others hospitalised, stressing that most casualties, especially the aged ones and children died as a result of the inferno that engulfed the entire town.

But briefing the governor during the visit, the Commander of the Multinational Force, Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye, blamed the fire that consumed the town and resultant deaths on the Boko Haram gunmen, who according to him, opened fire on soldiers while hiding in the midst of civilians.

A resident of the town, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the attack started at about 8pm on Friday and continued on Saturday.

“Only God understand what we have done to deserve this. But the soldiers were mindless that night in their approach; they killed and burnt our houses, chased everyone into the bush, including women and children. So far we have buried 185 corpses. - some were burnt beyond recognition; others are hospitalised with various degrees of burns,” the resident said.

But Brigadier General Edokpaye denied the allegations that the shoot-out was unprovoked. "We lost an officer during the attack on our men on patrol. We've received an intelligence report that some suspected Boko Haram members usually pray and hide arms at a particular mosque in the town. It was around that mosque that our men were attacked with several of them injured and an officer died.

“When we reinforced and return to the scene, the terrorists came out with heavy firepower, including Rocket Propelled Grenades, which usually has a conflagration effect,” he said.

The governor after assessing the situation pleaded with the fleeing residents to return back to their homes, saying a committee had been set up to provide a palliative compensation for the loss they suffered.

He also called on the Commander to 'take full charge' of his operation and ensure he personally supervise his field officers from time to time “in order to avert such nasty incidents in the future.”

This came as a former governor of the State and Senator representing Borno North, Alhaji Maina Ma'aji Lawan, lamented that the killing was a minus to the amnesty plan of the Federal Government.

He said the killing must be treated as matter of urgent national importance so that the perpetrators can be brought to book in the shortest possible time.

" It is rather unfortunate and regrettable that this huge number of people were killed. I was informed by my constituent that 172 people, mostly innocent civilians, were killed during the clash.

"This is highly disturbing and definitely a sour grape especially when the Federal Government has shown some level of commitment to resolve the crisis with the setting up of an amnesty committee," he said.

He said the Federal Government should put up measures to reassure the affected people of the town and also pay compensation to them.

He said though the soldiers claimed they were provoked, he said as professional ,they should have reacted in a way that would not have caused such loss of lives and property. He lamented that if nothing is done to appease the sensitivity of the people of the area, the Baga killings were capable of drawing back the Federal Government’s search for peace.

Another lawmaker, Hon. Amuna Khadi, representing Jere Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, said the Federal Government must as a matter of urgent national importance reconstitute the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North to include some known insurgents.

Khadi also stated that the Federal Government should consider more people from Borno State and the North East region which is worst affected other than dominating the committee with people from other region of the country.

Speaking to reporters in Maiduguri, Khadi said the inclusion of one or two insurgents in the committee will ease the proposed amnesty talks and go a long way in giving the insurgents a sense of belonging and bring the crisis to an immediate end .

According to Khadi, if the Federal government had taken the right step, there would not have been rejection by members of the Committee "especially if they were consulted before going on air."

" People like Shehu Sani and Dr. Datti Ahmed would not have turned down the offer to serve as members of the committee if they had been consulted. I think the Federal Government should show more sincerity in the amnesty deal so that it can be fully accepted by the insurgents," the lawmaker said.

The legislator lamented that women and children are always the worst hit during any crises situation and as such " any initiative to bring back peace to Borno and other parts of the country must be supported."

" As a legislator, I am not happy with the current insecurity challenges across the country but we must collectively come up with appropriate measures to arrest the situation so that Nigeria can be safe for all," Khadi said.