- In Reports
Two government bodies, the Defence Headquarters and the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), have exonerated the Joint Task Force of allegations of killing over 185 residents of Baga, a community in Borno State that was recently attacked by the government forces scouting for members of the Boko Haram sect.
The JTF had been under serious criticism after reports claimed that those killed in the attack were between 185 and 187 with a senator claiming that the figure was more than that.
The reports of the two bodies, which have been submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan and confirmed by presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, denied that there was mass killing of the residents of the community. The president had ordered full scale investigation into the alleged attack.
In its preliminary report to the president, the Defence Headquarters stated that the military team involved in the confrontation with Boko Haram elements was the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).
“The MNJTF’s initial mandate was to conduct military operations in the Lake Chad region and facilitate free movement of the member states of the Lake Chad Basin Commission across their common border. The mandate was expanded in April 2012 to include the fight against terrorists. The Task Force’s activities are therefore legal and need to be sustained.
“Whereas media reports averred that the incident of the alleged confrontation between the MNJTF and the Boko Haram terrorists occurred on 19th April 2013, the incident actually occurred on Tuesday, April 16.
“On April 17, MNJTF troops carried out mop up operations at the scene of the attack and recovered the following items abandoned by the fleeing Boko Haram terrorists: rocket-propelled grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenade bombs, AK 47 rifles, assorted ammunition, several improvised explosive devices and damaged Land Cruiser jeeps.
“Whereas it was alleged that 185 people were killed by the soldiers of the MNJTF in Baga, Borno State, the assessment team received a briefing from the Commander of the MNJTF on April 24, 2013, during which he stated that 30 terrorists were killed in action. However, six bodies were recovered in Lake Chad about 3 km away from the action spot.
“Furthermore, some locals were asked if they could take the assessment team to the mass graves where 185 people were allegedly buried, but the people denied knowledge of such graves. The Chairman of Kukawa LGA was approached on the same issue, he also did not know of such graves.”
The report also claimed that the council chairman had earlier informed the team that Muslims do not bury more than one body in a grave.
“The media also announced that about 3, 000 houses were burnt. However on-the-spot assessment revealed that though some houses were burnt, they were certainly not up to the number quoted. It is pertinent to note that the houses in question are mostly thatched roof houses that could easily catch fire. It is on record that the terrorists employ the tactics of arson wherever they attack.
“There was also the allegation that aid workers were denied access to Baga. This is incorrect as the Red Cross and NEMA officials were already in the town before the Defence Headquarters team arrived. The officials of the two organizations interviewed by the team confirmed that no one prevented them from moving into Baga,” the eight-point report stated.
On its part, NEMA said it sent a team to the community to pave way for immediate humanitarian relief in response to the president’s directive. It reported that the agency identified and set up an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Baga, where 642 persons were registered as at April 25, 2013.
“More people who had earlier fled the community are returning due to improved security and the establishment of various IDPs by the agency.
“To provide immediate succour to the affected persons, the agency distributed relief materials,” it said adding that the 185 deaths being speculated in the media cannot be substantiated.
Furthermore, NEMA said its team visited the two graveyards in the town, and could only identify in both places, a total of 32 fresh graves as against the speculated 185.
“A number of buildings and business premises were destroyed in the affected area but the total number of houses in the town is far less than 1,000. There is a lot of misinformation being peddled about the situation in Baga,” NEMA said.
Abati said the president has commended the military high command, the NEMA and the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development for their swift response to his order for immediate action to investigate the incident in Baga, Borno State, assist and rehabilitate the victims, and make all necessary findings available to the government.
He said President Jonathan had received the preliminary reports, adding that he also welcomed the plan by the National Human Rights Commission to carry out independent investigations.
He quoted the president as saying that investigations must continue and reiterating his earlier position that where any kind of misconduct is established, the Federal Government will not hesitate in ensuring that due sanctions are enforced and that justice is done.
“The president said that what happened in Baga was most regrettable and unfortunate. He reaffirmed his full commitment to doing all within the powers of the Federal Government to speedily end the intolerable threats to national security which have necessitated such confrontations,” Abati said.
“President Jonathan will continue to work with the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, whom he conferred with last week, to ensure that the people of Baga receive every possible relief and support to facilitate their speedy rehabilitation.”