PREMIUM TIMES can report today that the Federal Government may have lied to the world on the number of people that have been killed so far by the extremist Boko Haram sect in a series of daring but deadly attacks on security installations, schools, media houses, markets and other targets.
The Minister of Police Affairs, Caleb Olubolade, had on Tuesday, while presenting a scorecard of his one year in office, said the Boko Haram sect, which has presented perhaps the most serious security challenge to Nigeria, had so far carried out 118 attacks in six northern states and Abuja, killing 308 people.
The minister said the attacks were carried out in Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna, Niger, Yobe and Plateau states.
But PREMIUM TIMES’ checks indicate that the minister had most possibly presented a less than accurate picture of the devastation that the sect had wrecked on Nigeria and its people.
It is not clear as at the time of publishing this whether the government deliberately underreported the Boko Haram casualty figure to hide its weaknesses and play down the severity of security lapses in Nigeria. But Mr. Olubolade’s office is government’s baseline repository of information on internal security in Nigeria.
Records kept by some non-governmental organisations, the media and some Nigerian activists suggest that the insurgent group had killed far more people than the Nigerian government is willing to admit.
One major flaw in the minister’s presentation is his limiting of the scope of the terrorist group’s attacks to six states, excluding Kano where a coordinated attack by the group in January this year killed 185 people.
Since January, the terror group has frequently attacked the city of Kano. Recently, the city’s university was attacked on a Sunday morning killing two professors and 18 worshipers on Sunday service.
Attacks by the Boko Haram sect have also been recorded in other states like Taraba, Kogi, Gombe and Adamawa states, which the minister left out of his tally.
No government record
Records compiled by non-government organisations say that in the first three weeks of 2012 alone, attacks by the terrorist group killed more than 253 people in 21 separate attacks.
A report released by the Human Rights Watch in January, shortly after the deadly January Kano attacks said the group had killed more than 935 people in some 164 attacks during the same period.
A timeline documentation of casualties of the terrorist group’s reported attacks, excluding the Kano attacks, compiled by the Integrated Regional Information Network, a humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, puts the figure of casualties from Boko Haram attacks, since July 2009, at 648.
The documentation compiled from verifiable news reports, although last updated on January 18, 2012, is far higher than the Nigerian government’s claim.
The government is willing to admit only 308 deaths and 118 attacks in six states based on figures supplied by the Nigerian Police Force. The police claims are however non-verifiable.
The police claim they have water tight records of the incessant Boko Haram menace and other crimes in the land but refused to share such with the public to justify their claims of casualty rate.
“We release data as at when due,” Frank Mba, spokesperson of the Nigerian Police told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said the police release such data on “a need to know” basis. The principle, according to Mr Mba, ensures that the police do not release such data to the public except they are convinced doing so would not “jeopardize national security or an ongoing investigation.”
“The police have got a burden to justify those figures because many will say they lack credibility,” Chidi Odinkalu, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission said.
History of killings
The Boko Haram sect, founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, set out seeking to impose a stricter form of Sharia or Islamic law in northern Nigeria and end corruption.
The group slowly degenerated into violence after the five days of clashes in July 2009 between the group and members of the security forces in Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, and Kano states that left more than 800 people dead, including at least 30 police officers.
During that unrest, the police captured and summarily executed the Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, along with several dozen of his followers in front of the police headquarters in Maiduguri.
Since the July 2009 clash with the authorities, the group has executed series of attacks on Nigeria.
Suspected members of the group carried out hundreds of attacks on cities in northern Nigeria, targeting government security officers, politicians, traditional leaders, opposing clerics, Muslims, Christians, students and journalists.
Last year, the group claimed responsibility for the November bombings in Damaturu, Yobe State, that left at least 100 people dead, and a suicide bomb attack in August on the United Nations building in Abuja that killed 24 people and injured more than 100 others.
A survey of the group’s three deadliest attacks during the period discredits the police affairs minister’s claim.
On December 22, 2011, Boko Haram’s coordinated attacks in Maiduguri, Borno state, and Potiskum and Damaturu, both in Yobe state left over 125 people dead.
The group reportedly killed 20 in Maiduguri, four police officers and a civilian in Potiskum and over 100 in Damaturu.
In an earlier attack on November 4, 2011, which the group used to announce its presence in Yobe State, around 150 people were killed in attacks on the cities of Potiskum and Damaturu.
The January Kano attack by the group, where government agencies admitted at least 185 people were killed, is the group’s most recent and deadly attacks.
The sum of casualties from these three attacks only, totals 460, which is 152 victims higher the government is willing to admit.
Keeping the figures low
The Nigerian police is traditionally known to underreport casualty rates from fatal incidents. According to a high ranking police officer who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on condition of anonymity, the tradition is as old as the police itself, acquired from British colonialists who believed “if you admit actual casualty rates from such incidents, it can cause the public to panic.”
The Brits have since moved on to a much more accountable system but the Nigerian police is stuck with the old system.
“In Britain, such lies are taken seriously,” Matthew Atar, a young Human rights activist in Abuja, said. “Public officials caught in such acts resign immediately.”
Mr Odinkalu, chairman of the National Human Rights commission, also believes records of casualty rates in fatal incidents is one thing Nigeria is yet to get right.
“One thing I think we don’t do very well is counting figures of victims very well,” Mr Odinkalu said.