The Human Rights Watch yesterday released satellite images showing massive destruction of properties from a military raid in Baga two weeks ago which put a lie to the claim by authorities that only 30 houses were destroyed.In the report of its investigation issued yesterday, Human Rights Watch said Baga residents revealed how soldiers ransacked the town on April 16 and 17 after members of Boko Haram attacked a military patrol, killing a soldier in the process.
“Community leaders said that immediately after the attack they counted 2,000 burned homes and 183 bodies. Satellite images of the town analysed by Human Rights Watch corroborate these accounts and identify 2,275 destroyed buildings, the vast majority likely residences, with another 125 severely damaged,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement yesterday.
It would be recalled that the Presidency stated that reports of massive destruction of property and loss of lives in Baga town were mostly exaggerated but the report of the Human Rights Watch introduces a new dimension as to what truly happened in that community.
In its report, the Defence HQ said only 36 people died but did not give specific number of houses burnt. However, last week the military commander who led the Baga operation Brig. Gen. Austin Edokpaye said a total of 30 houses were burnt and that the fires were caused by the Boko Haram fighters who used weapons with conflagrating effects.
For its part, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), said the entire houses in Baga were not up to 1,000, and its officials counted only 32 fresh graves.
But Human Rights Watch yesterday noted that the discrepancies between the official reports and the facts on the ground smacked of attempts of a cover-up.
“The Nigerian military has a duty to protect itself and the population from Boko Haram attacks, but the evidence indicates that it engaged more in destruction than in protection,” Bekele said.
“The glaring discrepancies between the facts on the ground and statements by senior military officials raise concerns that they tried to cover up military abuses.”
He said the HRW interviewed seven residents of Baga who fled the town on the night of the devastation. The report also added that many survivors spent several nights hiding in the bush but expressed fear in describing what they saw fearing military retaliation.
“The destruction and killings by soldiers in Baga are serious human rights violations. The government needs to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators, regardless of rank,” Bakele added.
In its reaction to the latest evidence as presented by HRW, Director of Defence Information Brigadier General Chris Olukolade yesterday, said: “The report of the fact-finding military team on Baga given to the President by the Chief of Defence Staff remains the stand of the DHQ until reasonably and fairly proven otherwise.”