Africa

Boko Haram crisis: Nigeria estimates Baga deaths at 150

  • 12 January 2015
  • From the section Africa
Children stand near the scene of a recent explosion in a mobile phone market in Potiskum, Nigeria, on 12 January 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption Potiskum in the north-east was among the towns hit by explosions at the weekend

Nigeria says the number of people who lost their lives in an assault by Boko Haram militants on the town of Baga last week was no more than 150.

The defence ministry said this figure included "many of the terrorists" who had attacked the town in Borno state and faced resistance by troops.

Local officials earlier estimated the number of deaths at as many as 2,000.

Nigeria has often been accused of underestimating casualty figures to downplay the threat of Boko Haram.

The ministry dismissed higher estimates for deaths at Baga, in north-east Nigeria, as "speculation and conjecture" and "exaggerated".

It said the army was taking "necessary actions" to restore law and order there, but gave few details about the operation to recapture the town from the Islamist insurgents.

Media captionThe BBC's Will Ross reports on the "relentless" violence in the north-east of Nigeria

Earlier, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, in central Nigeria, accused the West of ignoring the threat posed by Boko Haram.

Ignatius Kaigama said the world had to show more determination to halt the group's advance in Nigeria.

His warning came after at least 23 people were killed at the weekend by three female suicide bombers, one reported to be 10 years old.

In neighbouring Cameroon, the military said it had repelled an attack by Boko Haram insurgents on one of its northern bases.

A military source told the BBC that the insurgents had come in over the Nigerian border. In the exchange of gunfire, the army said one soldier and several insurgents were killed.

'Depraved'

Archbishop Kaigama told the BBC's Newsday programme that the slaughter in Baga had shown that the Nigerian military was unable to tackle Boko Haram.

"It is a monumental tragedy. It has saddened all of Nigeria. But... we seem to be helpless. Because if we could stop Boko Haram, we would have done it right away. But they continue to attack, and kill and capture territories... with such impunity," he said.

Image copyright Aid to the church in need
Image caption Archbishop Kaigama said the world had to show greater collective resolve to tackle Boko Haram

Analysis

By Will Ross, BBC News, Lagos

The violence is relentless and increasingly shocking. If it is true that a 10-year-old girl carried the explosives which killed at least 19 people in Maiduguri on Saturday, it throws up a list of unanswerable questions. For example, was the girl aware of what she was doing? Was she drugged or brainwashed and did she trigger the bomb or was it done remotely?

Sometimes Nigeria's military has recorded successes. It managed to prevent the jihadists from taking over the Yobe state capital Damaturu on Friday night - the gun battle lasted for hours.

But the military faces a mountainous task trying to protect civilians from the bombers and gunmen who are spread over a large area of the north-east and although officials don't like to hear it, they have often been overpowered and failed to protect civilians.

The world is slowly waking up to express shock at the latest violence but beyond condemnation and limited help with training, it seems there is little or no appetite to become more deeply involved in this conflict.


Archbishop Kaigama said facing down Boko Haram required international support and unity of the type that had been shown after last week's militant attacks in France.

"We need that spirit to be spread around," he said. "Not just when it [an attack] happens in Europe, but when it happens in Nigeria, in Niger, in Cameroon.

"We [must] mobilise our international resources and face or confront the people who bring such sadness to many families."

A French-led initiative has called for Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad to contribute 700 troops each to a multinational force against Boko Haram, but no country has implemented the plan.


Boko Haram at a glance

Image copyright AFP
  • Founded in 2002
  • Initially focused on opposing Western education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Some three million people affected
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

Who are Boko Haram?

Why Nigeria has not defeated Boko Haram

Boko Haram in numbers