By Ola’ Audu
More than 48 hours after Nigerian soldiers hunting for Boko Haram insurgents allegedly leveled Baga town in Borno State, killing 185 civilians and wounding several others, President Goodluck Jonathan is yet to comment on the tragedy.
The president’s silence is a sharp contrast with the way his United States counterpart, Barack Obama, acts whenever even a single American is killed.
Immediately news of the Boston bombing, which killed three and injured more than 170 reached him last Monday, President Obama spoke up, condoled with the victims and their families, described the incident as an act of terrorism and stressed the determination of the American authorities to bring perpetrators to book.
But there has been no word from the Nigerian government since news of the massacre broke in the local and international press.
Presidential spokespersons, Reuben Abati and Doyin Okupe did not answer or return calls seeking comments on why the president is still quiet about the killings. They also did not respond to text messages sent to them.
The president’s silence has however sparked outrage among some Nigerians.
“A competent and sensible president should have visited Borno immediately to see things for himself,” says Segun Onabanjo, a sociology lecturer at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye. “That he is still holed up there in Aso Rock, keeping mum when his troops are alleged to have extrajudicially killed 185 is an indication of how much this president values the lives of the people he governs.”
Olu Akerele, a chieftain of the opposition Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, said it is sad that Nigerians have no one to look up to for leadership in the face of this kind of tragedy.
“Our expectation is that the president would immediately review the intelligence he received from Borno and then take action to lessen the pains of the people of the town. This president has carried his ineptitude too far,” Mr. Akerele said. “It is an indication that even if all of us are killed, this president just might not care.”
At least 185 persons including women and children were reportedly killed by either gunshots or fire after soldiers of the Joint Task Force tried to hunt down Boko Haram insurgents in the commercial border town of Baga in Borno State, completely burning down the community in the process.
Local government officials who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said 185 persons died, at least 2000 houses, 64 motorcycles and 40 cars were burnt in the wake of the attack.
The Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, visited the town on Sunday and was told by residents that soldiers were responsible for the torching of houses that led to the death of many.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that scores of others are currently hospitalised with various shades of burnt injuries.
Residents said most casualties especially the aged ones and children died as a result of the conflagration that engulfed the entire town.
Governor Kashim Shettima who visited the town on Sunday became emotionally drenched at the sight of charred houses,vehicles and how homeless residents took refuge in the bushes.
The Commander of the Task Force, Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye, explained that the fire that consumed the town and resultant deaths should be blamed on the Boko Haram terrorists who opened fire on soldiers while hiding in the mix of civilians.
A local trader in Baga told PREMIUM TIMES that the attack started at about 8 p.m on Friday and was continued the next day.
“Only God can 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 burnt,” said the resident who begged to remain anonymous.
Governor Shettima who drove through the burnt town amidst heavy motorcade of security personnel condemned the incident which he said was a ‘nasty occurrence’.
At the town’s hospital, the governor had to commiserate with women, children and aged men receiving treatment for various degrees of burnt caused by the fire.
Bashir Isa, a grocery merchant, told PREMIUM TIMES that “everyone has been in the bush since Friday night; we started returning back to town because the governor came to town today.
“To get food to eat in the town now is a problem because even the markets are burnt. We are still picking corpses of women and children in the bush and creeks.”
Brigadier General Edokpaye denied residents allegations that the shootout was unprovoked.
“We lost an officer during the attack on our men on patrol. We’ve received an intelligence that some suspected Boko Haram members usually pray and hide arms at a particular mosque in town. It was around that mosque that our men were attacked with several of them injured and an officer died.
“When we reinforced and returned to the scene the terrorists came out with heavy firepower including RPGs which usually has a conflagration effect,” the army chief said.
Governor Shettima pleaded with fleeing residents to return back to their burnt homes as a committee has been empannelled 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 supervises his field officers from time to time “in order to avert such nasty incidences in the future.”