The Defence Headquarters fact-finding team to Baga has returned to present its report to the Chief of Defence Staff on the outcome of its 3-day visit to Baga following the reports on last week encounter between the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and Boko Haram Terrorists in the town.
The team which was led by the Chief of Training and Operations, Defence Headquarters, Major General Lawrence Ngubane interacted with the Commander, officers and troops of the MNJTF as well as some community leaders, the police, aid workers and residents of the town with a view of getting their perspectives on the incident.
The team also went round the town interviewing those who participated or witnessed the encounter at the various scenes connected with the incident as it tries to verify various claims reported in the media concerning the professional conduct of the soldiers.
In its particular concern to ascertain the claims of massive loss of lives, the team was taken to cemeteries in the town as it tried to locate the reported large number of civilian casualties were buried. It however found no mass grave after nearly two days of search.
Responding to the enquiries of the team, the District Head of Baga, Alhaji Babagana Zanna, who was also accompanied by the Local Government Chairman Alhaji Kone, maintained that he had not received any report of the said mass burial in his domain. Also responding to the team, the Chairman, Kukawa Local Government Area, who was earlier quoted to have given some figures said he was not in the town during the incidence and as such does not know the number of civilians who died in the incident.
Briefing the team earlier, the Task Force Commander, Brigadier General Austin Edokpayi narrated how the task force operation was conducted on the 16 and 17 April 2013. He noted that the situation in the town had been stabilized until the arrival of some politicians and government officials who addressed the community on Sunday 21 April making a series of allegations which ended up raising fresh tension and campaign to discredit the military.The politicians reiterated their call for withdrawal of soldiers from the State.
General Edokpayi maintained that the operation was only targeted at stopping the Boko Haram terrorists who had established a pattern of burning buildings and property as a mode of operation in the area lately. He cited instances of how the terrorists used the approach of burning properties in communities such as Duguri, Metele, and Kangarwa where they operated recently.
He went on to brief the team on details of the casualty recorded in the course of the encounter from the perspective of the task force, stating that some civilians who were wounded were treated and discharged from the Task Force Medical facility. He also showed the team various high caliber weapons recovered from the insurgents before they were finally routed from the town.
The leader of the DHQ team, Major General Ngubane later addressed the troops of the task force, assuring them that the Chief of Defence Staff is concerned about how operations are carried out in any location where the troops are deployed.
According the General, his team was also in Baga to confirm the logistics and welfare needs of the troops and brief the CDS for immediate attention.
Speaking further, he urged the troops to continue to be vigilant and defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria at all times. He however warned that any negligence or violation of rules of engagement would not be tolerated from any quarter. General Ngubane also spoke to officials of the Red Cross and NEMA who confirmed that they were not being hindered in having access to the displaced people. They appreciated the security granted them saying it gave confidence against earlier fear of Boko Haram terrorists. Before returning to Abuja, the team also visited the Headquarters of the Joint Task Force, Operation Restore Order in Maiduguri. They later paid a courtesy visit to the Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, who commended the visit, describing the incident in Baga as unfortunate. Earlier, the team leader assured the Governor that the Nigerian Military places high value on human lives and would not encourage the loss of even one life carelessly in its operations. He however noted that the figures being quoted as civilian casualties in Baga were a far cry from the possible actual figure.
He wondered why the incidence was being so sensationalized unnecessarily. He thanked the Governor for his understanding and support for the military in his state. The team has since returned to Abuja to brief the military authorities at the Defence Headquarters.