Baga killings: Senate questions casualty figures, seeks increased recruitment in security agencies

A woman walks past burnt houses in the aftermath of what Nigerian authorities said was heavy fighting between security forces and Islamist militants in Baga, a fishing town on the shores of Lake Chad, adjacent to the Chadian border, April 21, 2013. The bloody gun battle against Islamist insurgents in Nigeria last week involved forces from neighbouring Chad and Niger, officials said on Tuesday, as West African countries increasingly view jihadist groups as a cross-border threat. There was no confirmation of the death toll from Friday's fighting, but a Nigerian military source said dozens may have died, many of them civilians. The Nigerian Red Cross said it was checking reports from locals that 187 people had died, but had still not obtained security clearance to go into Baga. Picture taken April 21, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer (NIGERIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS) - RTXZ0PR

The Senate committee submitted its report to the whole house.

The Senate on Wednesday called on President Goodluck Jonathan to direct the Armed Forces and other security agencies to recruit more men as insurgency had overstretched the services.

The Senate also wants government at all levels to re-establish government institutions, including schools, health centres, police stations, immigration offices and other institutions shut in Baga, Borno.

The decision followed the adoption of the recommendations of the Senate Joint Committee on Defence and Army, Police Affairs and National Security and Intelligence whose members visited Baga after the April mayhem in the town.

About 200 people, mainly civilians, were reported killed and hundreds of houses burnt earlier in April during a retaliatory attack by soldiers in Baga after insurgents killed a soldier.

The Senate in response to the development set up a 28-member committee to investigate the matter and report back its findings within 14 days.

The report was presented by the Chairman of the joint committee, Sen. George Sekibo (PDP-Rivers).

Mr. Sekibo said that the Governor of the state, Kashim Shetima, informed the committee that the economy and education of the state had been grounded due to the activities of the sect. He also said the committee was told that 10 local government areas had a high prevalence of the activities of Boko Haram and that Marte Local Government Area had hoisted a flag different from that of Nigeria.

The senator said the governor informed the committee that he spent between N200 million and N300 million monthly on the maintenance of JTF troops.

He said the governor also told the committee that Boko Haram had some Chadians and Cameroonians and that the leader of the sect, Abubakar Shekau, was a Kanuri man from Niger Republic.

Commenting on the casualties, Mr. Sekibo noted that while the governor said that 185 people died, the director of State Security Service in the state said 37 people died.

The chairman, however, said that the committee saw “only nine graves”.

He also said the governor told the committee that 2,000 houses were burnt, while the district head said 3,059 but the committee counted 115 burnt houses.

“The death toll of 185 was exaggerated but there may be more than 37 deaths.

“This is possible as there is no documentary evidence from either the natives or the military to ascertain the figures quoted,” he said.

Contributing to the debate, Uche Chukwumerije (PDP-Abia) called for electronic fencing of the country’s borders.

Mr. Chukwumerije wondered why a country like Nigeria had allowed the issue of porous borders to plague it for long when smaller countries had long addressed the issue.

He said there was a need for the Senate to hold another meeting with the security chiefs following the revelations in the committee’s report.

On his part, Senator Kabiru Gayya (ANPP-Kano) said the Federal Government should refund the Borno Government the money it had spent on JTF.

On the number of casualties, he said that there was more than one grave yard in Baga, adding that if the committee visited only one, there was no way it could ascertain the correct number of graves.

The Senate President, David Mark, said that the number of casualties was not the issue as even one life was important.

Mr. Mark stressed the need for the military to re-train its men, considering that the present terrorism was much more sophisticated.

He described the declaration of state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa as a step in the right direction.

(NAN)


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