READ Why BBC Says It Might Be Hard To Know The Truth About Boko Haram In Nigeria

The Baga killings last week are a case in point, with
politicians and government officials offering vastly different information –
from 150 dead to 2,000.
News of another attack by Islamist militants from Boko Haram
often starts as a vague one-liner as was the case on 3 January: “Attack on
Baga. Loud gunfire heard.”
This first bit of information often comes via social media.
The challenge now is to find out the details and there are plenty of obstacles
in the way of getting to the truth.

There was shooting from every corner of the headquarters of
the multinational task force”
First up there has been no mobile phone connection in Baga
for many months after the jihadists attacked mobile phone masts in the
There are of course the officials whose job it is to tell
the world what is going on.
But for the first few days of the Baga crisis both the
military spokesmen and government officials were silent or not picking up
Then, often with help from colleagues from the BBC’s Hausa
service, the goal is to get through to people who have witnessed the violence.

On 4 January we spoke to a man who had walked for two days
through the bush, eventually getting a lift to the relative safety of the
biggest city in the area, Maiduguri, on a lorry.
“There was shooting from every corner of the headquarters
of the multinational task force,” he tells me, adding that the exchange of
fire lasted hours.
Then there are more testimonies from witnesses who say the
military base was overpowered and then the gunmen started killing civilians in
Baga town.

Baga, seen here in April 2013, has been the scene of
previous clashes between Boko Haram and the army

The military recovered arms in a previous clash but later
lost control of Baga again
But every witness we speak to is fleeing for their life.
They are not hanging around Baga to check exactly what’s happening so it is
hard to be sure we are getting facts.
Then a local politician from the area weighs in with more
accounts of people being shot in Baga and others dying as they fled, their
boats capsizing on Lake Chad.
“I don’t know how many people have been killed,”
says Senator Maina Maaji Lawan, who represents Borno North.
“But at least 70% of the area I represent is in Boko
Haram hands.”
Four days after the attack and there is still silence from
the government and the military.
Totally untrue

Then some journalists manage to meet the chief of defence
staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh.
It is not an organised news conference but a hurried
exchange in a car park.
He is asked about the attack on the military base in Baga.
“Of course there was an attack,” he shoots back.
“But don’t worry we are at work.”
Can we retake Baga? Mr Badeh is asked.
“Why not?” is the short reply. Seconds later he
ducks into his car and is driven off.
It is an unusual way for the capture of Baga to be confirmed
officially although it is worth noting this is the same very senior military
official who told us a few months ago that a ceasefire deal had been reached
with Boko Haram which turned out to be totally untrue.
More eyewitnesses fleeing Baga are telling the BBC about
hundreds of bodies on the streets of Baga.
Another local politician says 2,000 are dead. But he is not
there to count them – nobody is because it is far too dangerous – so it is hard
to believe him.
Election focus
Meanwhile in Paris news breaks of, initially at least, 12
people being shot dead by gunmen. Within minutes President Francois Hollande is
speaking to the world’s media offering some clarity and leadership.
“This is an act of exceptional barbarism,” he begins
and says security measures are in place to apprehend the perpetrators.
Ten days since Baga was first attacked and there have also
been several suicide bombings.
But we have not heard a word from Nigerian President
Goodluck Jonathan – except for a statement condemning the Paris attacks.
The finance minister also appears keener to comment on
events far away that have killed far less people.
“Terrible incident. Our deepest sympathies to the
journalists and their families. We are one with France in mourning,”
tweets Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala with the hash tag #JeSuisCharlie.
Meanwhile local TV stations follow every twist and turn of
the presidential election campaign – some are lengthy programmes sponsored by
rival political parties.

Nigerian politicians appear more focused on their election
campaigns than on security issues

The media seem far more focused on the Valentine’s Day vote.
That seems to be where the politicians are focused too.
On Monday evening the government put out a statement saying
“the number of people who lost their lives during the Baga attack has so
far not exceeded about 150”.
But we may never know how many have died in and around Baga.
We know there will never be an investigation that will
reveal the truth.
It won’t be the first time we are not sure if 150, 300, 500
or even 2,000 people were killed in a massacre in Nigeria.
Source: BBC

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