Baga, Nigeria

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.

2 thoughts on “Baga, Nigeria

  1. The most important question should be “what does Baga tell us about the Nigerian State?”.

    Nigeria is a former colony and the methods used by British colonial administrators were used by the Nigerian Army/Nigerian State to suppress “native insurrections”. If you consider the sack of Benin in 1897 or the several “punitive expeditions” executed by the West African Frontier Force, Baga doesn’t look all the out of ordinary.

    Fast forward to 1966, 500 people were massacred at Asaba by the Nigerian Army. In 1980, 4,000 people were killed in Kano in the wake of Maitatsine. Major Paul Okutimo and Lt-Col Dauda Musa Komo committed gross human rights abuses in Ogoni land during the 90’s.

    Then there was Odi, Zaki Biam and now Baga. Through out all this, the “International community” made all the noise, but since Nigerian crude is sweet and no “white farmers” are involved, why would they bother?

    However, the most damaging legacy of these gross human rights abuses is the total lack of empathy by the non-affected. You must understand that Nigerians “mourn regionally”. During the “Oputa panel” hearings on the Asaba Massacre, Major-General Haruna, not only expressed no remorse for the killings, but said that he would do it again to “preserve Nigeria’s unity”.

    Understandably, people from the South-East would not feel too much empathy with people from the North, especially when people from the North saw nothing wrong with the “pogrom” that killed 30,000 South-Easterners in 1966. The same thing applies to Niger Deltans; few non-Niger Deltans were bothered by the gross human rights abuses (Odi, Ogoni land etc).

    So the empathy deficit still persists.

    What happens? Sadly, this event will be forgotten (the US has not withheld military cooperation with Nigeria over this, crude oil is important). Some people outside the North ask “where was Human Rights Watch and the International Community when Churches were suicide bombed by Boko Haram?”.

    It is complicated, Nigeria is more of a “nation” in theory than in fact.

    What I wrote might sound “callous”, but that is Nigeria’s reality. This isn’t a nation that will endure, I don’t think so – it’s people don’t speak with one voice.

  2. Hey! Glad to see this alive. I considered commenting on twitter, but felt that might be putting unwanted pressure.

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