Ohia Israel examines the aftermath of Amnesty International’s report indicting Nigeria Military over Boko Haram attacks on Baga and Mungono
By Ohia Israel
The report by Amnesty International, indicting the Nigeria Military over its failure to protect civilians – even when there were warnings in advance that Boko Haram was planning to attack Baga and Monguno – is still eliciting reactions from keen watchers in the country.
New evidence shows that the Nigerian military was repeatedly warned of impending Boko Haram attacks on Baga and Monguno which claimed hundreds of lives, and failed to take adequate action to protect civilians, said Amnesty International.
According to a senior military source and other evidence gathered by Amnesty International, commanders at the military base in Baga regularly informed military headquarters in November and December 2014 of the threat of a Boko Haram attack and repeatedly requested reinforcements. Other military sources and witnesses have told Amnesty International that the military in Monguno had an advanced warning of the Boko Haram attack on 25 January.
“It is clear from this evidence that Nigeria’s military leadership woefully and repeatedly failed in their duty to protect civilians of Baga and Monguno despite repeated warnings about an impending threat posed by Boko Haram,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa director.
“These attacks are an urgent wake-up calls for the Nigerian leadership, the African Union and the international community. It is essential to protect hundreds of thousands of civilians in north east Nigeria from Boko Haram’s continued onslaught.”
According to a senior military source, long before the attack on Baga, the Multinational Joint Task Force based in the town informed military headquarters in Abuja about sightings of Boko Haram patrols and build-ups of Boko Haram fighters. They also told headquarters ahead of the attacks, that civilians in surrounding towns and villages were fleeing the area in large numbers.
Speaking about the attack on Baga, Dogon Baga and surrounding towns and villages, one military source told Amnesty International: “This attack was expected because Boko Haram warned the inhabitants of Baga and surrounding villages almost two months ago that they would be coming to attack the troops and the civilian JTF [Joint Task Force].” Sources told Amnesty International that after the Baga attack on 3 January, Boko Haram members informed locals that their “next target is Monguno,” and that these civilians informed the local military.
One Monguno resident told Amnesty International: “There was a warning. Everyone was aware. Boko Haram came on Wednesday last week [21 January] and asked the villagers [in nearby Ngurno] to leave because they are coming to attack the barracks. The villagers told the soldiers.”
Nigerian authorities have a responsibility to take all feasible measures to protect the civilian population, including by assisting with an evacuation of those who wished to flee and transporting them to safer areas. They also have a responsibility to inform civilians of risks and dangers. According to witnesses, the local military did not make an effort to do this.
“If such a force were to be deployed it is vital that it has a clear mandate to protect civilians and that all parties engaging in military deployment comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” said Netsanet Belay.
According another Amnesty report, it said, on 25 January, Boko Haram captured Monguno and also attacked Maiduguri and Konduga. Until the attack on Maiduguri was repelled by security forces, Boko Haram had effectively cut off any routes that civilians could have used to flee Boko Haram controlled territory.
On 15 January Amnesty International released satellite images providing indisputable and shocking evidence of the scale of the attack on the towns of Baga and Doron Baga by Boko Haram militants. The before and after images of two neighbouring towns, Baga (160 kilometres from Maiduguri) and Doron Baga (also known as Doro Gowon, 2.5 km from Baga), taken on 2 and 7 January showed the devastating effect of the attacks which left over 3,700 structures damaged or completely destroyed. Other nearby towns and villages were also attacked over this period.
Since 2009, Boko Haram has deliberately targeted civilians through raids, abductions and bomb attacks with attacks increasing in frequency and severity. The effects on the civilian population have been devastating with thousands killed, hundreds abducted and hundreds of thousands forced to leave their homes.
Amnesty International has raised concerns on a number of occasions that security forces are not doing enough to protect civilians from human rights abuses committed by Boko Haram. There have been very few effective investigations and prosecutions of Boko Haram members for crimes under international law.
Amnesty International said, that the Baga and Maiduguri attacks demonstrate how the conflict has dramatically escalated in the last 12 months. Amnesty International’s research indicates that in 2014 at least 4,000 civilians were killed by Boko Haram and the actual number is likely to be higher.
A failure to protect hundreds of thousands of civilians could lead to a disastrous humanitarian crisis said Amnesty International with reports of two large scale attacks in Nigeria on the major north-eastern city of Maiduguri as well as the nearby town of Monguno.
“These ongoing attacks by Boko Haram are significant and grim news. We believe hundreds of thousands of civilians are now at grave risk,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director.
“People in and around Maiduguri need immediate protection. If the military doesn’t succeed in stopping Boko Haram’s advance they may be trapped with nowhere else to turn.”
Amnesty International has received reports that at 6am on Sunday, gunmen attacked the base of 33 Artillery brigade at Jintilo village, just 6km outside Maiduguri. There are reports of ongoing fighting at the air force base closer to Maiduguri.
The Nigerian military has responded with air strikes and moved tanks and troops to the area.
Civilians have reportedly fled the areas near to Jintilo towards central Maiduguri. However, not all civilians have been able to leave.
“One resident told us: ‘If Maiduguri is attacked, we have nowhere else to go. Kano Road was the only way out’”, said Netsanet Belay.
“All parties to the conflict urgently need to ensure that civilians who wish to evacuate Maiduguri are able to do so. In order to allow civilians to escape the fighting in Maiduguri, military operations should not be conducted along the main point of access: Kano Road.”
Amnesty International is also calling on all parties to the conflict to refrain from military operations in the vicinity of the hospitals in Maiduguri and any other medical facilities.
“The government must ensure the protection of its civilians is at the core of its operations at this very dangerous time. There are hundreds of thousands of people in Maiduguri. Tens of thousands of people had already fled to Maiduguri from several other villages and towns attacked and controlled by Boko Haram, and are now living in camps there. The government’s failure to protect residents of Maiduguri at this time could lead to a disastrous humanitarian crisis.”
In one of its report it said that Baga massacre may have been the insurgence deadliest massacre in Nigeria; according to the group it also hinted that; Following reports of the massacre of large numbers of civilians by armed group Boko Haram in north east Nigeria, Amnesty International has expert spokespeople available to comment.
“The attack on Baga and surrounding towns, looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the group. If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as two thousand civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught against the civilian population,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.
“We are currently working to find out more details of what happened during the attack on Baga and the surrounding area. This attack reiterates the urgent need for Boko Haram to stop the senseless killing of civilians and for the Nigerian government to take measures to protect a population who live in constant fear of such attacks,” said Daniel Eyre.
The effects on the civilian population have been devastating with thousands killed and abducted and hundreds of thousands forced to leave their homes.
Evidence gathered by Amnesty International indicates that Boko Haram have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Nigerian government must investigate these violent abuses and ensure that those guilty of committing them are brought to justice.
Satellite images released by Amnesty International then provide indisputable and shocking evidence of the scale of attack on the towns of Baga and Doron Baga by Boko Haram militants.
Before and after images of two neighbouring towns, Baga (160 kilometres from Maiduguri) and Doron Baga (also known as Doro Gowon, 2.5 km from Baga), taken on 2 and 7 January show the devastating effect of the attacks which left over 3,700 structures damaged or completely destroyed. Other nearby towns and villages were also attacked over this period.
“These detailed images show devastation of catastrophic proportions in two towns, one of which was almost wiped off the map in the space of four days,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.
“Of all Boko Haram assaults analysed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet. It represents a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt out ruins.”
The analysis shows just two of the many towns and villages that fell victim to a series of Boko Haram attacks which began on 3 January 2015.
In Baga, a densely populated town less than two square kilometres in size, approximately 620 structures were damaged or completely destroyed by fire.
In Doron Baga more than 3,100 structures were damaged or destroyed by fire affecting most of the 4 square kilometre town. Many of the wooden fishing boats along the shoreline, visible in the images taken on the 2 January, are no longer present in the 7 January images tallying with eye witnesses’ testimony that desperate residents fled by boat across Lake Chad.
Thousands of people have fled the violence across the border to Chad and to other parts of Nigeria including Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. These people are adding to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees, who have already stretched the capacity of host communities and government authorities. Amnesty International is calling on the governments of Nigeria and Chad to ensure these displaced people are protected and provided with adequate humanitarian assistance.
The destruction shown in these images matches the horrific testimonies that Amnesty International has gathered. Interviews with eyewitnesses as well as with local government officials and local human rights activists suggest that Boko Haram militants shot hundreds of civilians.
A man in his fifties told Amnesty International what happened in Baga during the attack: “They killed so many people. I saw maybe around 100 killed at that time in Baga. I ran to the bush. As we were running, they were shooting and killing.” He hid in the bush and was later discovered by Boko Haram fighters, who detained him in Doron Baga for four days.
Those who fled describe seeing many more corpses in the bush. “I don’t know how many but there were bodies everywhere we looked,” one woman told Amnesty International.
Another witness described how Boko Haram were shooting indiscriminately killing even small children and a woman who was in labour. “Half of the baby boy is out and she died like this,” he said.
Boko Haram fighters have repeatedly targeted communities for their perceived collaboration with the security forces. Towns that formed state-sponsored militia groups known as the Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF) have suffered particularly brutal attacks. Civilian JTF groups were active in Baga and a senior military official confirmed to Amnesty International confidentially that at times the military took these members on operations to attack Boko Haram positions. A witness told Amnesty International that during the attack on Baga that he heard Boko Haram fighters saying they were searching for Civilian JTF members, as they went house to house shooting men of fighting age.
After the attack on Baga, witnesses describe how Boko Haram drove into the bush rounding up women, children and the elderly who had escaped. According to one woman who was detained for four days “Boko Haram took around 300 women and kept us in a school in Baga. They released the older women, mothers and most of the children after four days but are still keeping the younger women.”
Amnesty International is calling on Boko Haram to stop killing civilians. The deliberate killing of civilians and destruction of their property by Boko Haram are war crimes and crimes against humanity and must be duly investigated.
The government should take all possible legal steps to restore security in the north-east and ensure protections of civilians.
“Up until now, the isolation of Baga combined with the fact that Boko Haram remains in control of the area has meant that it has been very difficult to verify what happened there. Residents have not been able to return to bury the dead, let alone count their number. But through these satellite images combined with graphic testimonies a picture of what is likely to be Boko Haram’s deadliest attack ever is becoming clearer,” said Daniel Eyre.
“This week, Nigeria’s Director of Defence Information stated that the number of people killed in Baga including Boko Haram fighters “has so far not exceeded about 150”. These images, together with the stories of those who survived the attack, suggest that the final death toll could be much higher than this figure.”