Maiduguri — Faceoff between security forces and gunmen in Borno and Yobe states has caused the death of "hundreds", a forum of elders said yesterday, urging both sides to agree to a ceasefire so as to end the bloodshed.
Joint military teams in the two restive states have upped their activities in Maiduguri and Damaturu in the past weeks to root out attackers from the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal Jihad, aka Boko Haram, but residents say more innocent people than gunmen were killed in the process. The Borno Elders Forum, which had severally called for the withdrawal of the military, issued a statement in Maiduguri yesterday saying that the killings looking more like genocide and must be stopped.
"The killings run into hundreds, and it seems the people are facing genocide," said the statement, which was titled 'A Passionate Appeal for Restraint,' and signed by former minister Shettima Ali Monguno.
But the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno State said there is no genocide in its activities and that it was operating with "utmost respect to the constitution."
The elders' statement said, "Nobody seems to care even as the fasting Muslims were killed, maimed, robbed, or displaced. It is indeed pathetic and unfortunate that such a situation will be allowed to happen to innocent Muslims. The blood of the innocent flows and they are on their own."
It added: "The plight of the thousands of the victims of this crisis is horrendous. Thousands were displaced and thousands others are fleeing their homes, even in this Holy month of Ramadan."
Yesterday's call by the Borno elders came in the wake of allegations by some residents of Maiduguri that security forces were secretly burying corpses of civilians killed in the crisis in mass graves because hospital mortuaries are overstretched.
There have also been killings of civilians blamed on the Boko Haram sect itself, as well as criminal activities apparently by people who are exploiting the situation to engage in robberies.
"The Borno Elders Forum will not be tired or frustrated and will continue to call on all sides to restrain themselves. We are therefore calling on the aggrieved sect to respect and honor this Holy month of Ramadan, lay down their arms, embrace peace and dialogue, and as well consider retracing their steps back into the society," the statement said.
"They need to reflect on the consequences of their actions on the larger society. They need to take pity in the plight of their own people in their own land.
"We equally call on the JTF and all security operatives to respect the rights of innocent Muslims. It is their duty to protect all Nigerians. They also need to honor this Holy month of Ramadan in which all Muslims observe fasting. Fasting Muslims need help, need assistance, need care and not harassment and violence.
"In the spirit of this Holy month of Ramadan we are calling for an immediate truce, an immediate cessation of hostilities which would lead to a permanent solution.
"We are equally calling for the return of the fleeing masses to their homes. We wish to request the JTF and the government to quickly facilitate their return to enable them celebrate the forthcoming Eid el-Fitr Sallah in their homes, happily with their children."
The JTF yesterday dismissed the allegation of genocide by the elders' forum. "There is nothing to respond in the appeal by the Borno elders. In my understanding, it is just a passionate appeal to concerned citizens to do what is right," spokesman Lt-Colonel Sagir Musa said.
"It is a move in the right direction which is welcomed by the JTF. Be that as it may, let me reiterate that there has never been a recorded or an established case of genocide against the JTF in Maiduguri.
"We operate and will continue to operate within the mandate and powers approved by appropriate superior authority with utmost respect to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."
'Secret burials going on'
Residents of Kaleri, Gaidamari, Budun and Bulabulin areas in Maiduguri alleged it is common to see corpses of civilians immediately after confrontation between gunmen and JTF operatives.
"Last week, I personally saw a tipper loaded with dead bodies heading towards Baga road...it was very early in the morning but I don't know their destination," a trader, who gave his name as Muntari, told Daily Trust.
When our correspondents visited the morgue of the State Specialists Hospital in Maiduguri on Wednesday, it was found that the mortuary was filled up with corpses.
Mortuary attendants claimed they were still receiving dead bodies, most of them being dropped by security agencies without explanation.
A mortuary attendant who spoke on condition of anonymity told our reporter that between Sunday and Wednesday morning, 19 corpses were taken to the hospital from different parts of the town.
"We are still receiving corpses but the freezers inside the mortuary are filled up already and relatives are yet to come for claim," the attendant said.
"Right now, the 19 corpses which were brought to the hospital are lying on the ground because the freezers are already filled up."
A bad odour was oozing out from the mortuary even though the power generating set was functioning.
Another source said the smell was from the decomposing corpses lying on ground inside the mortuary since on Sunday.
No hospital official was willing to speak on the record yesterday on the number of dead bodies taken to the mortuary in the last ten days.