Baga (map) is a fishing village on the coast of Lake Chad in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. The international media (see ABC), drawing on local accounts, has reported that fighting between the Nigerian military and the militant Muslim sect Boko Haram caused around 187 casualties during a battle on April 16-17. Human Rights Watch, on Wednesday, released satellite images and an analysis suggesting over 2,000 homes were destroyed in a military raid. The Human Rights Watch analysis is worth reading in full, as is an AFP report from post-raid Baga.
For many observers, alleged abuses by Nigerian soldiers will immediately raise the question of security sector reform. How, observers may ask, can Nigeria deal with Boko Haram, politically or military, if harsh military crackdowns fuel ordinary people’s mistrust of the government? In the worst case scenario, military abuses might even increase Boko Haram’s capacity to recruit among young men. Concerns about abuses are not new: back in fall 2012, Human Rights Watch (in October) and Amnesty International (in November) published reports detailing abuses by Nigerian security personnel. Amnesty called the security forces “out of control.”
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan promised after the Baga attacks that his government will punish any soldier found to have committed abuses. Reuters called these words “a rare statement admitting the possibility of abuses by his forces.” We will now see whether more information comes to light about the events in Baga, and whether that information prompts any change in accountability measures within the Nigerian security forces.