As the controversy surrounding the military action, which claimed many lives in Baga, a border town in Borno State still rages, fresh facts have emerged. It was initially alleged that no fewer than 185 lives were lost, while about 2, 000 houses were destroyed.
Saturday Sun gathered from the report of Defence Headquarters fact’s finding team, which visited Baga as well a satellite imagery analysis of Baga environs, that the casualty figure and the number of houses razed by the joint task force of Nigeria, Chadian and Niger Republic soldiers, who carried out the operation, as earlier reported by international and local media, were over bloated and grossly inflated.
The fact finding team of the Defence Headquarters confirmed that 37 persons died in the clash. The victims include 25 Boko Haram members, six civilians drowned in Doro fish dam and six wounded members of Boko Haram. Five of the wounded people later died.
It stated that contrary to media reports, the houses burnt were not up to 2, 000, as claimed.
Saturday Sun gathered that following the Human Rights Watch report of April 30, 2013 on the Baga killing, satellite imagery analysis of the community and environs was done. The analysis, presented by the Director General, National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), Dr. S. O. Mohammed, gave a different picture of what happened.
It was gathered that the satellite imagery assessment, carried out on April 6, was aimed at carrying out validation of the earlier assessment of HRW using multi-stage satellite imageries; identify some critical technical assumptions in the damage assessment report; contrast the most probable damage assessment of Baga town and advise on the best-practice for handling similar issues in the future.
From the satellite imagery report, some areas in Baga that HWR counted as destroyed are intact. However, the HRW did state thus: “These results are preliminary and are subject to revision or correction pending additional imagery review, new testimony and/or ground verification.”
According to NASRDA, the review of Baga assessment showed that some burnt cars and building were mainly in the southern fringe of Baga town, pointing out that the estimation of the number of damaged building were about 80 percent exaggerated, as the process of generating the information was “purely a desktop approach and without any true ground exercise to validate the time, extent, trend and land use activities; leading to huge misinterpretation of features (buildings, trees, fences, open court yards, uninhabited plots, etc were counted as same features – building).”
The report added: “It is worthy of note that the effective damaged areas (11,000sq.m) can’t logically house 2, 400 damaged buildings (2, 275 destroyed and 125 severely damaged) claimed to be identified in the study area by Human Right Watch.”
Dr. Mohmmed concluded his presentation by stating: “It is very true that images don’t lie, but the interpretation of features that occur in an area, and captured with scientific satellites must be interpreted with the effective ground knowledge, history and land use activities for accurate results.
“Therefore, due to the sensitive nature and the security implication of the violence in Baga and environs, and Nigeria at large, satellite image must be carefully validated to authenticate the time, pattern, extent, and land use activities of a disaster area before publications.”
In the same vein, the Defence Headquarters Fact Finding Team, led by the Chief of Training and Operations in the Defence Headquarters, report faulted the HRW. The team, which was in Baga for two days, during which it interacted with the commander, officers and soldiers of the multinational joint task force; aid workers of NEMA and the Red Cross as well as local government chairman and officials, the Shehu of Borno, district head of Bama, prominent chiefs, the police, some locals and the governor, among others, stated that it visited grave yards/cemeteries, Baga General Hospital, NEMA posts, various scenes of the encounter, head quarters of the task force and the market.
The report stated that the team was briefed on the situation leading to the encounter between the task force and Boko Haram in Baga. It stated: “It was informed that on April 16, 2013, at about 1730pm, troops of MNJTF on patrol along Road Baga – Mallam Karati – were ambushed by Boko Haram terrorists using Rocket Propelled Guns (RPG) machine guns and rifles. The patrol was able to extricate itself. However, one soldier, 96NA/41/3371 LCpl Aramaja Ololaja, sustained gunshot wound on the head and died at the MNJTF medical centre later.
“Subsequently, reinforcement was dispatched to the area to locate and apprehend the terrorists. On sighting the troops, the terrorists opened fire and a firefight ensued, which lasted for four hours (from 8:00pm-1:00am of the following day). The IED canisters and RPG fired by the terrorists engulfed the thatched houses, which later developed into conflagration.”
The report stated.
Boko Haram members, according to the report, had killed people, set buildings and six shops ablaze on October 31, 2012, after killing the owners and their family members.
The report stated also: “Before now, the terrorists around Baga and environs used to hit their targets and escape before the arrival of MNJTF patrol troops or reinforcement. But on that fateful day (April 16, 2013), they waited for the reinforcement to arrive and as MNJTF troops alighted, the terrorists engaged them.
“This indicated that the group is becoming more daring with more sophisticated weapons. There are also threats of Boko Haram attack in their desperate effort to create a country or an area of influence for themselves, as is being currently done in New Marte, Ngala and Kalabarge local government areas of the state.”
The report said that the encounter between Boko Haram and the task force began on April 16 and ended with a mop up operation on April 17, 2013, when the Islamic sect members were effectively overpowered and their base destroyed.
The report stated that business and other activities had resumed before April 19 when the state governor and his entourage visited and made inflammatory statements.
It said; “The governor visited the town accompanied by some politicians and state government officials among whom were a member House of Representative, Alh. Lawan Isah Kangar and Secretary to the State Government. A crowd was addressed at the Baga General Hospital where members of the entourage made some inflammatory remarks.
“When the governor’s entourage visited, Secretary to the State Government again alleged that troops had killed innocent civilians estimated at 200 and destroyed their houses. The task force commander challenged him to prove the allegation and stop fabricating reports to tarnish the MNJTF. This could be the major source of reports published locally and internationally on Monday 22 April, 2013, and subsequently.”
The report further stated that some houses, especially the ones with thatched roof, were torched. The source of the fire, it noted, was believed to be mainly from the flying bullets, heavy weapons employed by Boko Haram as well as their deliberate action of kindling fire as they retreated.
It stated; “Vehicles and other properties were also burnt in the same process. Boko Haram has established a pattern of burning houses and properties whenever they are attacked or retreating, as they did in their attack on Duguri, Metele and Kangarwa etc.
“Some of the houses and properties had earlier been burnt in previous attacks on the town by Boko Haram terrorists to punish those suspected of not cooperating with their cause, as they try to establish a base near the east end of the town. In spite of all the burning, the total houses burnt were not up to 2, 000 as claimed in the media.”
The report further stated that some wounded civilians were treated in the military facilities and were discharged, even as local aid workers were later joined by counterparts from Red Cross and NEMA to attend to those who needed attention.
“There was no restraint to their access to the area, as reported in the media, although they were initially worried about safety route among Maiduguri, Monguno and Baga for fear of being attacked by Boko Haram terrorist,” it said.
The report also painted a poignant picture of Baga people, as Boko Haram terrorists have a stronghold on them and therefore, have become too terrified to say or do anything against the sect and their interests, for fear of reprisal.
The reported stated that the fact-finding team did not locate any mass grave in Baga after two days of desperate search. “The local government chairman, Alhaji Kone, who was one of those making the allegations, could not help out either, as he declared to the team that he was not in Baga when the incident happened. The District Head, Dr. Zanna, also stated that he had not been informed of any mass burial in the town. The total number of graves sighted by the team was 10, while other informants made mentioned of 16 others elsewhere. It could however, not be ascertained whether these were as a result of the incident or they were terrorists themselves,” it stated.
The report accused the international media of sensationalism apparently, orchestrated by some elite amongst the indigenes, in order to further press home their demand for the withdrawal of the military from the state.”
It however, observed that these actions were capable of strengthening Boko Haram sect and their resolve to pursue a poorly informed extremist ideology, as “their actions are meant to achieve political relevance, the fabrication of unsubstantiated figures being pursued by individuals and politicians do not reflect the true position of events of April 16 to 17in Baga, Borno State.”
The report also posited that the hostile and antaginistic perception of the task force, the demand for its withdrawal, the deliberate fabrication of stories are all calculated to soil the image of the military, noting: “This is really demoralising to the Nigerian military, which is a veritable pillar for the nation’s unity and security. What the nation needs at this time is national cohesion through guided comments by the elite and not the mischievous support for a terrorist organisation whose ideology is nothing more than seeking the destruction of the country.”