Nigerian soldiers fired wildly “at anybody in sight” during a deadly April incident in the northeast of the country, a police report cited yesterday by the country’s Human Rights Commission said.
Troops completely “razed” five wards of the town of Baga during the rampage, according to police findings quoted in the rights commission’s new report.
The incident was reportedly sparked by the killing of a fellow soldier.
The police report on the violence that began on April 16 in Nigeria’s remote northeastern corner and may have continued into the following day had not been previously made public.
The Red Cross has said that 187 people were killed during the incident, while a local senator put the death toll at 228.
Nigeria’s military has denied accusations of abuses, insisting 37 people were killed, 30 of whom were militants, six civilians and one a soldier. Military officials further denied fires were lit during the violence, saying they were caused by Islamist insurgents terrorising the region.
The commission report, says police provided the same death toll as the military, though it does not say if the victims were civilians.
Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, a defence spokesman, said the military stood by its previous account.
The police report cited differed from what had been previously discussed between the police and military, he conceded, but declined to provide further details.
A police spokesman said he could not comment as he had not yet read the report.
The commission’s report on the Baga incident and insecurity in general in the northeast does not assign blame, as it was unable to visit the area because of safety concerns.
Mobile phone lines have also been cut in much of the northeast since the military launched a sweeping offensive in the region on May 15 to try to end a four-year insurgency by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram.
Soldiers involved in the Baga incident were part of a multi-national task force that includes personnel from Nigeria, Niger and Chad, the report said. The borders of the three countries converge in Nigeria’s northeast corner.
But under the rules of the force, only Nigerian soldiers would have been operating on Nigerian territory, rights commission head Chidi Odinkalu said.
Troops are said to have returned to Baga after a soldier was shot dead, allegedly by members of Boko Haram. Other soldiers may have also been wounded.
The commission noted allegations that the soldier’s killing “was one of many acts of provocation with fatal consequences attributed to (Boko Haram) which may have inspired or invited a firm response by the military deployment in the town.”
The police incident report as quoted by the commission said troops who arrived after the soldier was killed had “started shooting indiscriminately at anybody in sight”, including domestic animals.
“This reaction resulted (in) loss of lives and massive destruction of properties.”
The commission added later that the police report had established that five wards—Bulabulin, Bayan Tasha, Panpan Gajagaja, Adam Kolo and Bagadaza—had in the words of the police, been “completely razed down by the soldiers”.
It quotes the police report saying “properties worth millions of naira were lost ‘through fire which burnt over 30 vehicles, 57 motorcycles, 100 bags of beans/maize’”.
The Baga violence was among a string of incidents contributing to President Goodluck Jonathan’s May 14 declaration of a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. Baga is located in Borno, the worst affected of the three.
The rights commission report cited claims that Boko Haram “had active or dominant presence” in up to 12 of Borno’s 27 districts when Jonathan declared the state of emergency.
Since then, Nigeria’s military has claimed major successes in pushing out the Islamists. Independent confirmation has been impossible however, with phone lines cut and access to remote areas restricted.
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