9 May 2014

Mass burials in Nigeria after Boko Haram attack

A local trader who survived an attack this week by Boko Haram insurgents on a remote town in Nigeria, in which more than 300 may have died, tells Channel 4 News it was followed by mass burials.

A 12-hour-long attack on Gamborou Ngala town in Borno state in the north east of Nigeria left at least 300 dead on Monday after gunmen suspected of being Boko Haram terrorists opened fire in a market before attacking local homes.

The militants were said to have sprayed gunfire into the crowds at a busy market. They were then said to have moved into the town itself where they set shops and homes ablaze and gunned down residents as they tried to escape the flames.

Malam Kolomi, who was speaking by telephone from Ngala, told Channel 4 News: “We have buried many people in mass graves since the attack. We buried 10 bodies in each grave.”

A Nigerian official from the Borno, who visited the remote town on Thursday, also told Channel 4 News policemen and foreign traders were among more than 300 killed.

The official, Bakura Mustapha, who as the chairman of the Ngala local government was dispatched on a fact-finding mission by the state governor, said that the scene that confronted him was even worse than he had been led to expect.

We have buried many people in mass graves since after the attack. We buried ten bodies in each grave. Eyewitness

“The death toll is over 300,” Mr Mustapha said by phone from Borno State. “I have just returned from the scene of the attack. Sixteen policemen are among the dead… as well as some Cameroonian traders who were in the market at the time of the attack.”

While news from Ngala is now slowly trickling out, there is no news at all of the more than 220 teenaged schoolgirls still missing, 25 days after being kidnapped by Boko Haram.

Neither has there been any news from the negotiator with whom Channel 4 News had been in constant contact until three days ago. He had been hoping to secure the handover of 18 girls who Boko Haram had said required urgent medical attention.

The abductors had told the intermediary that they were prepared to free the sick girls as a prelude to possible further releases. There is also no news of any progress being made by the two battalions which President Goodluck Jonathan says he has deployed in search of the missing girls.

Many Nigerians remain unconvinced by his prediction on Thursday at the World Economic Forum meeting he is hosting in Abuja that their kidnaps mark the beginning of the end for terror in Nigeria. On Friday protesters gathered outside the Nigerian embassy in London to demand action.

‘Failed to act’

On Friday Amnesty International reported that it had obtained “damning” evidence from “credible sources” that the Nigerian security forces had failed to act on advance warnings that the state-run boarding school was about to be attacked by Boko Haram.

The human rights group claimed it had obtained testimonies which, it said had been independently verified, indicating that the security forces had intelligence of the imminent raid, four hours in advance of the attack, but had failed to prevent it.

The fact that Nigerian security forces knew about Boko Haram’s impending raid will only amplify the national and international outcry at this horrific crime. Amnesty International

The military headquarters in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, had received information on the impending attack at 7pm on 14 April. The town of Chibok, where the school was located, was attacked at around midnight.

Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director said: “The fact that Nigerian security forces knew about Boko Haram’s impending raid, but failed to take the immediate action needed to stop it, will only amplify the national and international outcry at this horrific crime.”

The Nigerian military has been widely accused of very serious human abuse and unlawful killings. There is also understood to be a big discrepancy between how much money is allocated to fight the insurgents and how much is actually spent.

There are many reports that, as a result of this, soldiers in the violence-afflicted north east are woefully underequipped for taking on the rebel fighters. There is also understood to be deep reluctance among soldiers to engage with heavily armed militants who are usually high on drugs when they attack.

Read more: at least 300 killed in latest Boko Haram attack

The US Secretary of State John Kerry says a US inter-agency team is now “hitting the ground” and will be “working in concert with Mr Jonathan’s government to do everything that we can possibly can to return these girls to their families and their communities.”

A British Foreign & Commonwealth Office statement on Friday said a team of UK experts was also in Abuja and would be working closely with the Americans.

“The team,” it said, “is drawn from across government, including DfID, FCO and the MoD, and will work with the Nigerian authorities leading on the abductions and terrorism in Nigeria.

“The team will be considering not just the recent incidents but also longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram. The team will be working closely with their US counterparts and others to coordinate efforts.”