Boko Haram: ‘The killing went on and on’

2015-01-11 15:00

"I saw bodies in the street. Children and women, some were crying for help.”

That’s one of the rare and horrifying eyewitness accounts of a Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria this week. Up to 2?000 people died during the attack.

Mohamed Bukar was among those who fled the town of Baga in Nigeria’s Borno region as Boko Haram – whose insurgents control large swathes of the area – entered the area.

Until last weekend, Baga was one of the hold-outs: the Washington Post reported that because of a multinational military base manned by troops from Niger and Chad, the town was “the last place in Borno under the national government’s control”.

“They came through the north, the west and from the southern part of the town because the eastern part is only water,” one resident told the BBC. “So, when we [went] toward the western part, we saw heavily armed Boko Haram men coming towards us.”

Bukar told Reuters he was among those able to escape with his family, making for the state capital Maiduguri after “seeing how Boko Haram was killing people”.

Another survivor, Abubakar Gulama, told Reuters he’d had to leave his family behind as he made for Monguno, about 40km from Baga.

Gulama described a town engulfed by flames, its streets littered with bodies.

Local state senator Maina Maaji Lawan told BBC: “The indiscriminate killing went on and on and on.”

Baga and surrounds are in a stranglehold, and victims’ bodies could not be counted, let alone collected and properly buried. There are no journalists reporting from the region, and even the Nigerian military is absent.

Reports trickling out of Baga could not even pinpoint exactly when Boko Haram’s members began their killing spree.

“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” Muhammad Abba Gava, a spokesperson for poorly armed civilians in a defence group that fights Boko Haram, told AP.

“No one could attend to the corpses or even to the seriously injured ones, who may have died by now,” Gava said.

Musa Alhaji Bukar, a senior government official in the area, told BBC that Baga, which had a population of about 10?000, is now virtually non-existent and has been burnt to the ground.

The rural town was left vulnerable after Nigerian government soldiers posted there abandoned their posts because they knew Boko Haram was moving in.

An Abuja-based journalist, who asked not to be named for fear of recriminations, told City Press it was becoming increasingly common for soldiers to leave the areas where Boko Haram now rules with an iron fist.

“It is a classic case of ‘a living dog is better than a dead dog’,” she said.

The insurgents are far better equipped than the country’s soldiers, she said, which meant they were effectively unable to hold Boko Haram at bay.

Last April, hundreds of school girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents from a school in Chibok, also in the country’s remote north-east.

That attack garnered international attention, sparking world leaders and ordinary people alike to demand: “Bring back our girls!”

But the Abujda journalist said that as Boko Haram’s attacks in Nigeria became more deadly and frequent, people have almost stopped reacting.

Even President Goodluck Jonathan, who began his re-election campaign this week, was tight-lipped about the war in his own backyard – though he condemned the killings in Paris of 12 journalists at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Nigeria’s elections are set for February 14.

The strongest national government condemnation came in a statement to Nigeria’s Punch newspaper by Mike Omeri, who coordinates the National Information Centre.

“These brutal and barbaric attacks by Boko Haram represent none of the people of Nigeria and no religion. Our security forces will continue to pursue the perpetrators of these heinous acts,” he said.

“We will stop Boko Haram, and we will bring to justice those responsible for the brutal violence being perpetrated against the people of Nigeria.”

The number of people displaced by the attack is as uncertain as the death toll. It’s estimated by local government officials that about 20?000 people fled Baga and surrounding areas.

Hundreds who survived the swim out to that island in Lake Chad are said to be trapped.

Abubakar Gamandi, a Baga native, told AFP: “They told me that some of them are dying from lack of food, cold and malaria on the mosquito-infested island.”

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