There was public outrage on Tuesday over the massacre of no fewer than 185 people during a clash on Saturday between the militant Islamic sect, Boko Haram and the Multinational Joint Task Force in Baga, Borno State.
The condemnation came from the National Assembly, the Northern Elders Forum, the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change and Spain.
While members of the Senate decided after hearing a motion on the clash to probe the killings, lawmakers in the House called for a judicial commission of inquiry.
In Kaduna, the Northern Elders Forum, after its meeting with the Arewa Consultative Forum, feared that the massacre could threaten the planned amnesty for Boko Haram members.
Immediately after hearing a motion by Maina Lawan, President of the Senate, David Mark, directed the Committees on Defence, Police and National Security and Intelligence to probe the allegations that most of the victims were civilians. The committees are to report back in two weeks.
Mark did not allow the motion to be debated on the grounds of security implications and the sensitive nature of the matter.
He said, “There are standard rules of engagement and that do not include mass and extrajudicial killings. The level of death is just too high and we cannot accept that.”
Maina had in his motion, said that Baga which is his hometown, was in ruins following the onslaught.
He said, “My hometown of Baga is today in ruins, with 180 to 200 human lives lost and numerous others unaccounted for. About 2000 homes, 62 cars and 284 motorcycles and tons and tons of foodstuff were also destroyed.
“At this stage, I do not want to immerse myself in the blame game of whether it is the multinational task force or not. The task force or the insurgents carried out the atrocities that bear the hallmark of the Odi massacre.
“Whoever did it, that level of atrocity is condemnable and is hereby condemned. I call for a full scale investigation to unearth the truth as this has become a recurring decimal in all such past instances in Borno State.”
Lawan told journalists after plenary that there was no contesting the fact that the insurgents attacked members of the task force.
“It is true that the insurgents provoked the event. One soldier was shot, but the military went back and came back reinforced and Baga was levelled,” the lawmaker said.
He said the killing of innocent people over the action of a few miscreants was unfair.
In the House, members passed a resolution asking President Goodluck Jonathan to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the clash.
A lawmaker from Borno State, Mr. Mohammed Mungono, told the House that about 195 civilians and one soldier were killed in the incident.
He informed his colleagues that trouble started when Boko Haram members attacked the soldiers and then infiltrated civilian population.
According to him, in an attempt to retaliate, the soldiers fired in whatever direction the attackers ran to, killing non-sect members in the process.
He noted that while the soldiers were in Borno State to provide security, the aim could be defeated if they were “not professional” in the manner they conducted their operations.
The lawmakers then observed a minute’s silence in honour of the dead and adopted the prayers of Mungono, calling for a judicial commission to investigate the killings.
But, there was a mild drama when another prayer asking the House to send a delegation to commiserate with the families of the victims, elicited murmurs of rejection from members.
Speaker Aminu Tambuwal had suggested that the Deputy House Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, would lead the delegation.
In Kaduna, the Northern Elders Forum which like the House members called for a commission of inquiry instead of probe as promised by President Goodluck Jonathan, said the killings were highly uncalled for.
Its spokesman, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, said the latest onslaught cast doubt on the planned amnesty for members of Boko Haram.
According to him, an allegation that a soldier was killed could not have warranted the Army to wipe out an entire community.
He said,“We advised against it much earlier than now. The fact that the President is saying there should be a probe means he is not saying more than he had said before.There have been so many people who were mercilessly killed in their sleep and their houses ransacked in the name of searching for Boko Haram members.
“This certainly is not the way an operation like this should be conducted. That is why we believe the President need not order a probe. We need a judicial commission of inquiry to unravel what has happened in Baga. The commission of inquiry should have expanded terms of reference for people to come before it to raise issues that have been happening in Borno and Yobe states.”
Abdullahi said the National Executive Committee of the ACF and NEF to deliberate on the state of the nation.
He said, “We elders of the North came to ACF to exchange ideas and views on the state of the nation generally and the state of the north in particular. Most of these soldiers that are posted to these areas (Yobe and Borno states) are not only raw as soldiers, but they are coming from totally different backgrounds. ACF Publicity Secretary, Anthony Sani, said the forum would meet today (Wednesday) over the Baga killings.
The Commander of the MNJTF, Brig.- Gen. Austin Edokpaye, has however claimed that only six civilians were killed and not the 185 widely reported by the media on Monday.
Edokpaye, in a three-paragraph statement he sent to journalists in Maiduguri, also said that 30 thatch houses were burnt as against 2,000 which Baga residents told Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, when he visited the community.
Edokpaye said the troops killed 30 Boko Haram gunmen and arrested five others. According to him, a soldier died and five others sustained injuries.
He said “Contrary to media speculation that hundreds of houses were burnt, instead, it was the explosion from Boko Haram terrorists’rocket propelled grenade bombs, anti -aircraft guns and sophisticated IED materials that triggered fire to about 30 thatch houses in the predominantly fishing community.”
He also said that three rocket propelled grenade launchers, two rocket propelled grenade bombs; four AK 47 rifles, 435 assorted ammunitions, seven quantities of IED material, and three Toyota Land Cruisers, were recovered from the sect members.
The Borno State Government said on Tuesday that ‘over 100 people’ were killed.
In Lagos, the ACN criticised the Federal Government’s handling of the killings, calling it slow and disrespectful to the sanctity of human lives
The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the security agencies must respect the relevant rules of engagement in their onslaught against the sect.
This, it added, was necessary in order to spare the lives and property of innocent civilians.
The party said it hoped that the probe ordered into the tragedy by President Goodluck Jonathan would not be another window dressing.
Also, the CPC said it was outraged by what it called the wanton destruction of lives and property in Baga.
Its National Publicity Secretary, Rotimi Fashakin, noted in a statement that the attendant ecological disruption and huge humanitarian calamity had attracted so much attention.
But Spain condemned the clash and expressed worry about weapons used by the group to fight soldiers.
A statement made available by its Embassy in Abuja, reads, “Spain expresses its serious concern on the use on this occasion of heavy artillery which indicates a qualitative increase in the escalation of tension on the part of the insurgents causing at the time more damage and pain among the population.
“Spain expresses its solidarity and support to the victims and their families and hopes that those responsible for these terrorist attacks are brought to justice according to the law.
“In the same vein Spain supports the Nigerian government in its flight against the terrorist challenge and maintains its commitment to the flight against any form of terrorism.”
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission has said that it will discuss the Baga killings on Thursday and Friday.
The killings, it said, would be among activities and events its board would review.
The two-day meeting will be attended by the 12 members of the board which has the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, as secretary.
Confirming the meeting, the NHRC Board Chairman, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, said, “ It is true we are meeting on Thursday and Friday. We will come up with a position on that day”.