Amnesty International estimates the death toll could be as high as 2,000, though some witnesses cite lower tolls in the hundreds.
Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, a military spokesman, said Monday that the evidence available so far indicates a death toll of no more than 150, including insurgents killed in combat with troops. The military said 14 soldiers were killed and 30 were wounded in the Baga attack, but that “law, order and normalcy” would soon be restored to the area.
Nigeria has often been accused of underestimating casualty figures to downplay the threat of Boko Haram.
It is the second major assault on Baga which was earlier caught in the crosshairs between the Nigerian military and insurgents. Soldiers ransacked the town in April 2013 after Boko Haram militants attacked a military patrol, killing a soldier and wounding 5 others.
Community leaders told Human Rights Watch at that time that soldiers began burning down their homes in retaliation, shooting people as they fled. They counted 2,000 burned homes and 183 bodies. Satellite images of the town analyzed by HRW corroborated these accounts and identified 2,275 destroyed buildings, the vast majority residences, with another 125 severely damaged.
The Nigerian government dismissed the evidence, claiming only 30 homes were destroyed.
“The Nigerian military has a duty to protect itself and the population from Boko Haram attacks, but the evidence indicates that it engaged more in destruction than in protection,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The glaring discrepancies between the facts on the ground and statements by senior military officials raise concerns that they tried to cover up military abuses.”
Ignatius Kaigama, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, in central Nigeria, accused the West of ignoring the threat posed by Boko Haram.
Putting down Boko Haram required international support and unity of the type shown after last week’s militant attacks in France, he said. “We need that spirit to be spread around… Not just when [an attack] happens in Europe, but when it happens in Nigeria, in Niger, in Cameroon.”
His remarks came after some 23 people were killed over the weekend by two teenage girls who blew themselves up at a marketplace in northeastern Nigeria.
Elsewhere in the country, ethnic tensions were stirred up in a Sunday service lead by the prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Samuel Uche. At an event attended by Pres. Goodluck Jonathan, the Senate President, and top military brass, the cleric accused the Fulanis and Kanuris of attempting to bring Boko Haram to power.
Archbishop Uche called for the arrest and prosecution of the leaders of opposition over their threats to form a parallel government if presidential elections slated for Feb. 14 are rigged. Pres. Jonathan has also called for the disqualification of the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
Presidential elections are scheduled for Feb. 14. w/pix of Pres. G. Jonathan