The Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, has accused the West of ignoring the threat of the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, adding that Nigeria needs the same kind of support France got after terrorists killed 12 journalists of the Paris-based satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and a policeman last week.
This is just as the United States President Barrack Obama has expressed optimism that the insurgency in North-eastern Nigeria will not disrupt the peaceful conduct of the 2015 general election.
Speaking on Monday in the Plateau State capital, Archbishop Kaigama said the world has to show more determination to halt the group’s advance in Nigeria.
He said the international community has to show the same spirit and resolve it had done after the attacks in France.
Archbishop Kaigama told the BBC's Newsday programme that the slaughter in Baga had shown that the Nigerian military is 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.
The Nigerian military has said it is trying to retake the town but has given few details about the operation.
On Saturday, it said it had successfully fought off Boko Haram fighters trying to capture Damaturu in Yobe State.
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 Cameroun.
“We must mobilise our international resources and face or confront the people who bring such sadness to many families.”
Archbishop Kaigama’s comments were re-echoed by Hollywood actor Boris Kodjoe, who on his Instagram page wondered why nobody was marching for Nigeria’s 2,000 victims.
The mixed race actor, born to a Ghanaian father and German mother, expressed deep sadness over the attack by Boko Haram and compared the world’s reaction to Nigeria with the world’s reaction to the Paris terrorist attack.
“The killing of 17 victims in three despicable terrorist acts this week prompted a unity march of 1.5 million people including 40 world leaders in Paris. Well done.
“Maybe it’s just me but did anyone else hear about Nigeria? 2000 civilians including women and children were massacred by terrorists this week. Can somebody tell me why nobody is marching for those victims?
“Any world leaders planning a trip to Lagos or Abuja this week? Too busy? Bad flight connections? Just asking. Imagine the statement we could make,” he said.
Obama: Sect Won’t Disrupt Elections
Despite the criticism by the Catholic archbishop and Kodjoe, Obama yesterday expressed optimism that the insurgency spearheaded by Boko Haram in North-eastern Nigeria would not disrupt the peaceful conduct of the 2015 general election.
Delivering Obama’s message, US State Department spokesperson, Ms. Jen Psaki, said in Washington that the federal government should ensure that it is not discouraged from carrying out credible and peaceful elections that would reflect the will of the Nigerian people even in the face of all the terrible attacks from
Boko Haram and other terrorist organisations.
The US president also restated that his country’s cooperation with Nigeria on a broad range of issues, including security, was part of a recent dialogue that the Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, had with President Goodluck Jonathan at the tail end of last year.
Obama added that the US remained committed to supporting Nigeria as it addresses the violence caused by Boko Haram, stressing that the US still has a presence in Nigeria.
“An interdisciplinary team that we’ve had on the ground for some time as well,” he said.
On the accusation that the US was not providing enough support in Nigeria’s effort against the insurgency, Psaki said: “I can’t speak to what their specific requests are. I can convey that we continue to provide a range of assistance to Nigeria.
“We remain committed to our counter-terrorism relationship and our strategic relationship in that regard, and that we are – remain in close contact, as is evidenced by the secretary’s calls with the president.”
UN, UNICEF Condemn Baga Attacks
The US’ optimism notwithstanding, the United Nations and UNICEF on Sunday strongly condemned the escalating bloodshed at the hands of Boko Haram, capped by reports that suspected child suicide bombers attacked a crowded market in war-torn Borno State
A statement issued by the spokesperson to the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, in New York said the secretary-general was appalled by reports that hundreds of civilians had been killed around the town of Baga in the past week.
“The situation in Nigeria and the region remains at the top of the Secretary-General’s agenda,” said the statement, adding that on Saturday, it was reported that a 10-year-old girl was used to detonate a bomb at a market in Maiduguri, also in Borno State, killing at least 19 people.
Utterly condemning the “depraved act at the hands of Boko Haram terrorists”, Ban underscored the readiness of the UN to assist the Nigerian government and all affected neighbouring states in bringing an end to the violence and to alleviate the suffering of civilians with all available means and resources.
Similarly, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a separate statement: “These images from Northern Nigeria should be searing the conscience of the world.”
Deploring the reports that so many innocent children, women and elderly had been massacred in Baga, he noted specifically that young girls had been sent to die with a bomb strapped to their chests in Maiduguri.
“And lest we forget, more than two hundred girls stolen from their families, still lost,” he added.
“Words alone can neither express our outrage nor ease the agony of all those suffering from the constant violence in northern Nigeria,” Lake declared,
underscoring that the images of recent days and all they imply for the future of Nigeria “should galvanise effective action. For this cannot go on”.
Boko Haram Still in Control of Baga
However, as the UN and UNICEF condemned the attacks on Baga, residents yesterday revealed that the Boko Haram terrorists were still in control of the town more than a week after a massacre feared to be the worst since the insurgency began.
“I entered Baga around 2.00 yesterday (Monday) and it was still occupied by Boko Haram,” fisherman Borye Kime told AFP by telephone from Dubuwa village in neighbouring Chad.
“They have set up barricades in strategic locations in the town. It is corpses everywhere. The whole town smells of decomposing bodies,” he added.
Boko Haram first attacked Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad on January 3 and subsequently razed it and at least 16 surrounding settlements.
Local officials have cited huge numbers of the dead in the attacks but confirming the figures is currently impossible. Some 20,000 people are said to have been forced to flee.
DHQ Puts Death Toll at 150
But as residents of Baga continue to count their losses, the Nigerian military has stated that the claim by some media organisations and human rights agencies that over 2,000 people were massacred in the Borno town is grossly exaggerated.
The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade, made this clarification yesterday in Abuja during a press conference on the state of affairs in the beleaguered town.
Olukolade said the actual number of deaths were not more than 150 with most of them being members of the terrorist group since they were reported to have invaded the place in large numbers.
According to him, most Baga residents had already fled or were compelled to flee the town before the terrorists reached the town’s centre.
“As you might be aware,” he said, “there was another terror attack on the town of Baga in Borno State last week which left a number of people dead.
“Following that unfortunate attack, a lot of speculations and conjectures have been peddled by a section of the press, particularly the online media regarding the casualty rate.
“Some claimed that over a thousand people were killed while others wrote with certainty that 2,000 people lost their lives in that singular attack.
“Without any doubt, terrible atrocities have been committed against innocent Nigerians in Baga by the rampaging terrorists who attacked and have been operating in the town since January 3, 2015.”
Olukolade, however, added that necessary action was being taken to bring to an end the activities of the terrorists and restore law and order to the community.
“To this end, a lot of covert operations including surveillance activities which recorded series of aerial photographs are ongoing in that vicinity.
“It is however necessary to inform Nigerians in the interim that the exercise so far has not corroborated the report on the casualty rate which was put at 2,000 deaths.
“From all available evidence, the number of people who lost their lives during that attack has so far not exceeded about 150 in the interim.
“This figure includes many of the terrorists who were bearing arms and got killed in the course of their attack and battle with troops,” he said.
He noted that Baga and the neighbouring towns had borne a series of attacks and harassment by terrorists, adding: “In the course of this, many residents had left, leaving the population in the town almost seriously depleted.
“Many were also able to escape while the terrorists’ battle with troops lasted. The figure given by sources who claimed to be eyewitnesses must be an extremely exaggerated estimate.
“Unfortunately, this figure is now being bandied about in a section of the media as if it has been authenticated. It cannot be true.”
Speaking further, he urged the media to be circumspect in adopting casualty figures especially the ones given to them by the so-called eyewitness, who in most cases, are influenced by their own perspectives.
He acknowledged, nonetheless, that this was not a time for a debate on casualty figures or number of deaths, as the life of every Nigerian is important.
According to Olukolade, as much as the intention, which was aimed at drawing attention to the atrocities being committed by the terrorist group in Nigeria, was most welcome, the need for factual presentation of the situation was equally vital.
He said the aim of what he described as misinformation was designed to discredit the government and the military, adding that all well-meaning people should consider it as a disservice to humanity.
The Defence spokesman decried the actions of those adept at churning out falsehood or exaggerating situations with the intention of emboldening the terrorists and diminishing the efforts of the security forces, stating that the acts are inimical to the safety of innocent Nigerians who have borne the brunt of terrorist attacks in the country.
“The tendency to celebrate the occasional setbacks while downplaying the efforts and successes at containing the terrorists is unfair and very unfortunate.
“Many international bodies are being misled in their interpretation of the situation owing to sensational headlines and stories,” he said.
He further assured the public that appropriate plans, men and resources were presently being mobilised to address the situation in Baga and other parts of the North-east.
“The Defence Headquarters wishes to reiterate its earlier assurance that the military has not given up on Baga or any part of the country where terrorists are marauding.
“We want to reassure Nigerians that no portion of Nigeria’s territory has been or will be ceded to terrorists,” he said.
3,200 Residents in IDP Camp
Meanwhile, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has said that a total of 3,200 of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Baga are now in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
The agency, in a statement by a Senior Press Officer, Mr. Manzo Ezekiel, said it had dispatched a team from Abuja to strengthen the provision of humanitarian support to the displaced persons who fled from the recent insurgency attacks on the town.
In the statement, NEMA said it registered 3,200 of the IDPs from Baga at the weekend and they were now in Maiduguri and accommodated at the Teachers Village estate where NEMA is providing them with basic support in collaboration with the Borno State Government.
It said the creation of the new camp brings to 11 where NEMA has been supporting IDPs with food and non-food items.
“The other IDPs in the camps are from towns and villages in the state which had been previously displaced by the insurgency,” it said.
According to Manzo, NEMA’s special intervention team was led by the Director of Search and Rescue to join the staff at its zonal office in Maiduguri to strengthen the humanitarian intervention of the agency in the state.
Cameroun Repels Islamists
In a related development, Cameroun’s army has repelled an attack by Boko Haram Islamists on a military base near the North-west border after intense fighting, a military source said.
“A group of Boko Haram fighters attacked Kolofata (in the far North-west) this morning. They specifically targeted the military base in the town,” a police source said.
“The fighting was intense, but they were pushed back. We inflicted casualties upon them, there were none on our side,” an official from the army’s elite Rapid Intervention Battalion told AFP.
A local source said that residents fled the city “as soon as people heard the first gunfire”, in the town, which also houses police, elite army and local government premises. No casualty figures were given.
Last month, Cameroun sent warplanes into action against Boko Haram fighters for the first time, after a large force of jihadists crossed the border and seized a military camp.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau last week threatened Cameroun in a video message on YouTube, warning that the country would suffer the same fate as Nigeria.