What may rightly be considered the worst bloodshed since terrorism became real in Nigeria a few years ago has been recorded in Borno State where a clash between gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members and the military left 185 dead in a single day.
The Village Head of Baga, Kukawa Local Government Area, Mallam Ali, who gave the figure while briefing Governor Kashim Shettima on Monday, added that 2,000 houses, 62 vehicles and 486 motorcycles were either burnt or vandalised during the clash in the early hours of Saturday.
The Presidency which on Monday ordered investigation into the incident, however, said it believed the figures might have been “grossly exaggerated.” Authorities of the Defence Headquarters, Abuja had before the Presidency’s comment, put the casualty figure at 25.
Shettima, who was on an assessment tour of the village and other affected areas, announced a cash donation of N5m and relief materials to the victims. He said his government would also pay the medical bills of those injured.
He said, “We are going to convey those with serious injuries to Maiduguri for further medical attention at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital. Others will be taken to the Umaru Shehu Specialist Hospital for proper care.’’
He expressed sadness over the incident and urged the residents of the affected areas to take it as an act of Allah.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mallam Isa Gusau, later issued a statement in which the state Ministry of Works was directed by the governor to start the reconstruction of the burnt houses.
The statement added, “The number of persons killed as well as houses destroyed has not been accurately ascertained by any competent authority as government awaits the report of its committee or any reliable source of information to ascertain accurate figures.”
Commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force, Gen. Austin Edokpaye, who shed light on the clash denied that the military engaged in massive killing of civilians.
Edokpaye, whose troops are drawn from Nigeria, Chad and Niger, explained that the incident happened after a patrol van of the task force was attacked by some suspected terrorists in the evening.
“A patrol team of the task force was attacked by suspected terrorists on Friday evening killing one soldier and injuring two others. The incident led to sustained exchange of fire between the team and the terrorists,’’ he said.
Nigeria, Chad and Niger agreed to establish the force to counter banditry and other crimes in their common border communities.
The Director of Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, who also reacted to the clash, said the military killed 24 of the insurgents but lost a personnel whose nationality he did not disclose.
Olukolade said the soldier was killed while on a mission to rescue some residents in the besieged village. But he did not give the number of civilians caught in the crossfire.
When told that the head of Baga village put the casualty figure at 185, he replied , “Are you sure of that number?”
He added, “The information we have here is that the attack was from the Boko Haram insurgents and there was a distress call on the military that intervened immediately.
“The casualty we had yesterday (Sunday) was 25 insurgents and then, we lost a soldier. Actually, it was the soldier, who was in a team (sent) to rescue the villagers that turned out to be a victim.
“I don’t have the casualty figure of civilians. I don’t want to give a figure that is inaccurate or properly not given to me.”
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered a full scale investigation into the Baga clash, saying he was “deeply pained by the continuation of these needless deaths.”
Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, in a statement said the President gave the directive after receiving preliminary briefings from the Military High Command on the incident.
Abati said while the preliminary briefings indicated that the casualty figures being reported by the foreign media may be grossly exaggerated, Jonathan assured Nigerians and the global community that the Federal Government placed the highest possible value on the lives of Nigerians.
According to him the Jonathan administration will continue to do everything possible to avoid the killing or injuring of innocent persons during security operations against terrorists.
The statement reads, “Rules of engagement for the military and security agencies are already in place for this purpose and the investigation ordered by President Jonathan into the incident in Baga is to among other things, determine whether or not these rules were fully complied with.
“The President has also ordered the National Emergency Management Authority and federal health agencies to liaise with the Borno State Government and take urgent steps to provide immediate relief and medical support for all who suffered losses and injury in the fighting at Baga.
“He commiserates with all those who have regrettably lost their lives in the fighting, including the soldiers who gallantly made the supreme sacrifice in the operation against terrorism, insurgency and insecurity in Nigeria.
“The President is deeply pained by the continuation of these needless deaths and will continue to do all within his powers to achieve a lasting peace, security and stability in all parts of the country.”