The DHQ officials visited Baga over the weekend.
After visiting Baga and interacting with residents of the communities, senior officials of the Nigerian military say the reports of mass graves in Baga are false.
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) fact-finding team to Baga, after its visit, presented its report to the Chief of Defence Staff.
This is contained in a statement issued in Abuja and signed by Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, the Director of Defence Information.
The statement said the team visited Baga following the reports on last week encounter between the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and Boko Haram terrorists.
“The team, led by the Chief of Training and Operations, in the DHQ, Maj.-Gen. Lawrence Ngubane, interacted with the commander, officers and troops of the MNJTF.
“The team also with some community leaders, the police, aid workers and residents of the town with a view of getting their perspectives on the incident.
“The team went round the town interviewing those who participated or witnessed the encounter at the various scenes connected with the incident.
“The team did these interactions so as to verify various claims reported in the media concerning the professional conduct of the soldiers.
“In its particular concern to ascertain the claims of massive loss of lives, the team was taken to cemeteries in the town as it tried to locate where the reported large number of civilian casualties were buried.
“It however found no mass grave after nearly two days of search,’’ the statement read.
According to the statement, the District Head of Baga, Babagana Zanna, who was also accompanied by Kukakwa Local Government Chairman, Alhaji Kone, in his response to the inquiries by the team, maintained that he had not received any report of the said mass burial in his domain.
Also responding, Mr. Kone said was not in the town during the incident.
He said as such he did not know the number of civilians who died in the incident.
Briefing the team earlier, the Task Force Commander, Brigadier General Austin Edokpayi, narrated how the task force operation was conducted on April 16 and April 17.
“The situation in the town had been stable until the arrival of some politicians and government officials who addressed the community on April 21, making a series of allegations which ended up raising fresh tension and campaign to discredit the military.
“The politicians reiterated their call for the withdrawal of soldiers from the state,’’ Mr. Edokpayi said.
He maintained that the operation was only targeted at stopping the Boko Haram terrorists who had established a pattern of burning buildings and properties as a mode of operation in the area lately.
He cited Duguri, Metele, and Kangarwa as instances of communities where the terrorists operated recently using the approach of burning properties.
Mr. Edokpayi also briefed the team on details of the casualty recorded in the course of the encounter from the perspective of the task force.
The task force commander, according to the statement, said that some civilians who were wounded were treated and discharged from the Task Force Medical facility.
He also showed the team various high calibre weapons recovered from the insurgents before they were finally routed out of town.
The leader of the DHQ fact-finding team later addressed the troops of the task force.
He assured them that the Chief of Defence Staff was concerned about how operations were carried out in any location the troops were deployed to.
He said that the team was also in Baga to confirm the logistics and welfare needs of the troops and brief the CDS for immediate attention.
He urged the troops to continue to be vigilant and defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria at all times.
He however warned that any negligence or violation of rules of engagement would not be tolerated from any quarter.
Mr. Ngubane also spoke to officials of the Red Cross and NEMA who confirmed that they were not being hindered in having access to displaced people.
They appreciated the security granted them which, they said, gave them confidence against earlier fear of Boko Haram terrorists.
The statement added that before returning to Abuja, the team also visited the Headquarters of the Joint Task Force, Operation Restore Order in Maiduguri.
They later paid a courtesy visit on the Governor of Borno, Kashim Shettima, who commended the visit, describing the incident in Baga as unfortunate.
The team leader assured the governor that the military places high value on human lives and would not encourage the loss of even one life carelessly in its operations.
He however noted that the figures being quoted as civilian casualties in Baga were a far cry from the possible actual figure and thanked the governor for his understanding and support to the military in his state.
The Borno Governor had said over 100 people were killed in the attack; residents said they buried 185 people after the attack; while the Senator representing the Borno North said a total of 220 people were eventually buried in three mass graves after the attack.
“At one of the three graveyards called Makabartar Waya, 130 graves of victims were counted; in another graveyard called Makabartar Arewa, 60 graves were counted; then in Budumari graveyard, another 30 graves of victims were counted. And inside the town, the aid agencies said they buried eight corpses which could not be evacuated to the graveyards,” Senator Maina Lawan told reporters after his visit to Baga.
The DHQ did not provide its own findings on civilian casualties in its statement; although Mr. Edokpayi had said only six civilians were killed
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