15 Jan 2015

New satellite images reveal devastation of Boko Haram massacre

How many died? We may never know. Boko Haram militants swept through the town of Baga, in north eastern Nigeria, a few days before the Kouachi brothers murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris. The news took several days to emerge – there are no journalists in Baga, no people taking pictures, no independent witnesses, no mobile phone signal, just terrified people fleeing for their lives.
Satellite pictures obtained by Amnesty International show the towns of Baga and Doron Baga on January 2 – before the attack – and five days later, 3700 structures have been damaged or destroyed. According to Daniel Eyre, researcher for Amnesty International, who has spent the last week compiling eye-witness accounts, gunmen went house to house, pulling people out and shooting them. Residents of the town fled into the bush, but Boko Haram men were waiting for them there, hiding in the trees, and shooting anyone who passed.

Eye-witnesses talk of hundreds of bodies in the streets, but they were fleeing too fast to stop and count. Government officials at first were silent and then came out with contradictory numbers. A local official told the BBC that as many as 2000 may have died. An army spokesman put it at 150. The BBC Lagos correspondent, Will Ross, on whom many Nigerians as well as foreigners rely for news, has found piecing together a reliable account of what happened well nigh impossible.

Read more: Boko Haram attack survivors flee as West criticised

According to Daniel Eyre, Boko Haram are targetting towns and communities where Joint Task Forces have been established – civilian militia who assist the army, or, more often than not, replace the army when soldiers flee.

“But it’s important to note that Boko Haram kill all civilians, not just the militia,” he said.

Alexis Okeowo, one of the best and bravest journalists in Nigeria, has also reflected on the impossibility of getting reliable death tolls from a place where journalists risk being killed or kidnapped

She is, however, sure that this situation is not inevitable.

‘The sad fact is that Boko Haram could have been defeated by now, by a more competent and more determined Nigerian government,’ she writes.

The government, and most Nigerian journalists, are more interested in the forthcoming elections than in saving their countrypeople from the ruthless zealots of Boko Haram.

The Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, has until now said nothing about the killings in Baga – although somehow he found the time to express his sympathy to the French people for their loss. It’s as if the Nigerian government thinks that silence will make it not so – yet vast swathes of northern Nigeria are now controlled by Boko Haram and thousands of people are fleeing across the borders to Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

Government ministers don’t want to talk about their cowardly and corrupt senior army officers and terrified troops who don’t fight but flee. Much easier to talk about what’s happening in Paris.

“Terrible incident. Our deepest sympathies to the journalists and their families. We are one with France in mourning,” tweeted Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian Finance Minister adding – of course – the hash tag #JeSuisCharlie.

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