Baga, a town that has suffered several attacks from the Boko Haram in the past two years, fell to insurgents who overpowered soldiers of the Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF, and wrecked havoc on residents and property on Saturday, witnesses, a lawmaker, and security officials have said.
Many resident of Baga, a fishing community in Kukawa Local Government Area of Borno State, who were lucky to escape the attack are now taking refuge in Chad Republic. Some, who could not swim through the lake, or get on canoes, reportedly drowned.
Some of the fleeing residents, who managed to call their relatives in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, using Chadian phones, said many women, children and aged ones who couldn’t get canoes and boats to escape, died in the rivers.
Witnesses said the attackers arrived on several four-wheel trucks and motorcycles and used high caliber rifles and explosives to attack both soldiers and civilians.
“They attacked and burnt our homes, business premises and parts of the seized MNJTF base”, said Audu Labo, a displaced resident who spoke via the phone of a relative in Maiduguri from Chad. “The soldiers were overpowered and had to abandon their post and fled for safety.”
“It was in the very early hours of Saturday morning that they came into Baga in their hundreds, driving several Hilux Patrol Vehicles, trucks and some on motorcycles as they immediately began to throw explosives and bombs coming out from long rifles they carry on their shoulders (rocket propelled grenades) as well as those rifles called AK47,” Mr. Labo said.
Mr. Labo and other survivors said soldiers initially engaged the insurgents but had to flee to superior fire power.
“We ran for several hours before we got to the Lake and from there some of us who could not get on the boats had to swim across to Chad Republic,” Mr. Labo said.
He said residents avoided the land routes to Chad because Boko Haram gunmen had already taken over the routes.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that some of the soldiers had to disguise as civilians by pulling off their uniforms and boots to avoid being spotted by the terrorists.
“We all were running for our dear lives; even the soldiers had to pull off their uniforms and some of us had to volunteer our clothes for them to disguise so that they could escape into Chad safely”, a survivor, who sought anonymity for security reasons, said.
A top security officer who had earlier spoken to PREMIUM TIMES on condition of anonymity confirmed the seizure of the MNJTF base to journalists but declined comment on the casualty.
“It is still very difficult to give correct figure of casualties because as you may be aware, the town is now fully under the control of the insurgents,” he said “Our troops tried to hold on for hours but due to lack of reinforcement, they were overpowered”.
While speaking on the attack, Maina Lawan, who represents Borno North in the Senate said civilians ran “helter skelter” and soldiers abandoned their post.
“There is definitely something wrong that makes our military abandon their posts each time there is an attack from Boko Haram,” the senator said while lamenting the situation to the BBC World Service.
There have been several cases of soldiers fleeing battle or refusing to go fight the Boko Haram insurgents who are believed to be better motivated and armed than the military. Many of the fleeing soldiers have accused the military hierarchy of refusing to provide adequate arms and ammunition to fight the insurgents.
The military has since condemned such acts and has sentenced dozens of Nigerian soldiers to death for various offences like mutiny, disobedience of orders, and so on.
The Nigerian military, which coordinates the MNJTF, is yet to react to the latest tack.
In the last two years, Baga has suffered five major attacks with high casualty – the latest was that of November 2014 when Boko Haram insurgents ambushed fishermen returning from a night fishing expedition and slit the throats of 43 of them.
Baga was also the scene of a major masaccre in 2013 that saw dozens of civilians killed and hundreds of houses burnt by angry soldiers allegedly hunting for insurgents.