Maiduguri and Abuja — Senator Maina Maaji, who represents Borno North Senatorial District in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, has alleged that he counted 228 graves and over 4,000 destroyed houses in Baga his hometown, while on a fact-finding mission.
The senator, who spoke to journalists in Maiduguri yesterday, alleged that those killed were defenceless youths, children and women, in what the Multinational Task Force claimed to be a face-off between Boko Haram sect fighters and its men.
On the killings, Senator Maaji alleged that "In the three graveyards that I visited and the ones inside town, the total number of the dead is 228. There is an investigation panel set up by the president. The Senate also set up a joint committee on defense, intelligence and national security and the police panel to assess the situation. I did not want to flog this any further because the outcome of the investigations is going to say which figures are correct. I want a thorough investigation to be done to determine the truth of the matter. Between the senate committee and the president's committee, the truth shall come out because this will guide us in our quest to do things in a civilized way.
Speaking further at the press conference, Senator Maaji said, "After the visit, I discovered that what I have seen is far more than the report we have received. The houses destroyed were more than 4,000. Baga is a meeting point. You will find all Nigerians there: Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, Kanuri, Nupe because of the level of economic activities taking place there. When we are talking of houses we are not talking of mansions. It is the houses of low income people, ordinary Nigerians who are living from hand to mouth that I'm talking about. I have visited four kilometers of continuous carnage. I have seen it while driving in my car; I walked round talking to people, pacifying them. Therefore what I have seen with my eyes outweighed what was reported."
He blamed the military for the use of force to destroy Baga on the excuse that a Boko Haram fighter killed a soldier. (Read an excerpt from the interview on Page 7).
In reaction to continued criticism of its operations and a report that it had arrested 15 soldiers in connection with the attack on Baga, the Defense Headquarters yesterday issued a statement, saying that no soldier was arrested over the recent killing of civilians in Baga town.
The statement signed by defence spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade said "It is surprising that the atrocities of Boko Haram terrorists are being desperately blamed on the troops even without any meaningful investigations by those promoting these allegations locally and internationally. This tendency is clearly in line with the orchestrated effort by a vested interest, using the press, to whip up public resentment against the necessary military operations in defence and security of the nation. "The series of false claims on the incident in Baga should however not be forced down the throat of well-meaning people of Nigeria and beyond. The DHQ once more, wishes to urge the press to desist from playing into the hands of those who do not mean well for the country in times like this."
On the reported arrest of 15 soldiers, the press statement said, "the DHQ wishes to declare that no soldier has been arrested or detained on account of the incident that happened in Baga last week as reported in certain newspapers today Saturday, April 27. The report, which claimed that 15 soldiers have been arrested in connection with their alleged role in what the medium referred to as 'Borno Bloodbath' is indeed false in its entirety.
"At no point did the DHQ or any of the services of the Nigerian Armed Forces order the arrest of any of its soldiers in connection with the incident in Baga.
"The Defence Headquarters reaffirms its stand that all lives are precious in the conduct of all operations and the loss of human lives should not be taken with levity or unnecessary sensationalism as some interest groups appear bent on doing. The military has therefore refrained from joining issues on figures being so vociferously presented and believed in certain quarters even when the reports on the ground are indicating otherwise. The untiring efforts by some persons and groups to unduly attribute the killings in Baga to the troops of the Multi National Joint Task Force are however assuming a very unfair and dangerous dimension indeed.
A fact finding team led by the DHQ's Chief of Training and Operations Major General Lawrence Ngubane has been dispatched to the town.