The entire township of Baga, a border town in Borno state, was razed down at the weekend as a Nigeria-led multinational force and suspected members of Islamic group Boko Haram engaged in a shootout that left no fewer than 185 persons dead, according to government officials.
The level of destruction and loss of lives, according to a source, remains one of the most unprecedented since the insurgency by the extremist sect commenced. Residents of Baga, a town famous for having the largest fish market in Nigeria, alleged that the killings and burning down of houses were perpetrated by soldiers. Governor Kashim Shettima, who visited the town yesterday, was overcome by emotion at the sight of charred houses, vehicles and how homeless residents took refuge in the bush. The commander of the multinational force, Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye, explained that the conflagration that consumed the town and resultant deaths should be blamed on Boko Haram, who opened fire on soldiers and used civilians as human shield.
However, a local trader in the town told Blueprint that the attack, which started at about 8pm on Friday, was unprovoked even as he blamed soldiers for going house-to-house, chasing residents and setting their abodes on fire. A resident who pleaded not to be named said: “Only God can understand what we have done to deserve this. So far, we have buried 185 corpses. Some were burnt beyond recognition; others are hospitalised, with various degrees of burn.”