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US, UN Others Condemn Baga Killings

Written By Joseph Y. Musa on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 | 4/24/2013 10:14:00 am

The United States of America, United Nations and the National Human Rights Commission
(NHRC) have condemned the violent confrontation that led to the loss of many lives in Baga, a border town in Borno State.

Similarly, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Northern Elders Forum (NEF) have raised similar concerns over the Baga incident.

Their reaction coincided with the arrangements being put in place by the federal government to inaugurate the Committees on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North and that of Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons today.

The US government, which also expressed concern over the possibility of the insurgency having deeper ties with other violent extremists throughout the region, said quelling the violent revolt needed more than just a security intervention.

Responding to reporters’ questions at the State Department in Washington DC on Monday evening, the acting deputy spokesperson, Patrick Ventrell, said the US government would support the Nigerian authorities in their efforts to bring the perpetrators of violent acts to justice.

“The United States does condemn the violence that took the lives of so many innocent civilians in Baga, Borno State. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those who died or were injured as a result of these attacks.

“We support the Nigerian authorities in their efforts to bring the perpetrators of violent acts to justice, and stress the importance of respecting human rights and protecting civilians in all security responses. So we urge all parties to refrain from reprisal attacks,” he said.

On the reported use of rocket-propelled grenades by Boko Haram and the fact that the sect might have integrated more with the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb across the Sahel, Ventrell said the State Department does not have information on the type of munitions used by the sect.

“I do not have any particular information on the munitions that were used. But clearly, we’re concerned about the context of them trying to have deeper ties with other violent extremists throughout the region, and that’s something that we’re very focused on and watching very closely.

“But really the context here is that we’ve been very clear that we want them to respond – Nigerian authorities – but want them to do so respecting human rights and in that broader context.

“So they have to address these vulnerable communities’ concerns. They have to do so in not necessarily a heavy-handed way, but in one that is effective and focused on their legitimate economic and political needs in the north as well,” he said.

When asked to comment on the US’ position on the attempt by the Nigerian government to reach out to the group, the spokesman said violent extremism such as the case in Nigeria requires more than just a security response.

“Well, our response is that violent extremism requires more than just a security response. As the group, Boko Haram, exploits legitimate northern grievances to attract recruits and public sympathy, the response should be to address some of those legitimate needs and concerns of the people in the north so that it is not exploited by this group, which clearly has perpetrated some very awful violence," he said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he was “shocked and saddened at the reports of the high numbers of civilians killed.”

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said in a press statement that President Goodluck Jonathan has appointed a female rights activist, Mrs. Aisha Wakil, as a member of the Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North. She is the second female to serve on the committee.

The other female member on the committee is Hajiya Naja’atu Bala Mohammed, a prominent Kano politician.

Wakil’s appointment might have been as a result of the refusal by the President-General of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN), Dr. Datti Ahmad, and Comrade Shehu Sani, an activist, to serve on the committee.

In February, last year, Wakil and her husband were among the five negotiators, namely: Sheik Abubakar Gemuno, Dr. Shettima Mongunu, Alhaji Bukar Ibrahim and Alhaji Junadu Idris, which a faction of Boko Haram had named to represent it in a dialogue with the federal government, but effort hit the rocks.

The sect, which had described her as a peace broker and mother at the time, said they respected their nominees and trusted them to mediate between it and the government.

Wakil, who is a human rights activist, had in March, last year, during a protest by women on Maiduguri streets urged the adherents of Boko Haram, whom she referred to as her sons, to accept the offer of dialogue by the federal government.

She had tearfully appealed:  “My sons, I have been begging you since in silence to come out and state your grievances and stop destroying your homeland. Please come out and state your grievances and stop these killings,”

In the meantime, the inauguration of the two committees originally scheduled for 10 am today, was brought forward to 9 am.

A press release by Abati said: “As earlier announced, the inauguration of both committees will take place at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa.
“All members of both committees are expected to be seated by 08.30 am in readiness for the prompt commencement of the inauguration at 09.00 am."

In its reaction to the Baga incident, the Senate yesterday mandated its Committees on Defence, Police and National Intelligence to immediately commence investigations into last weekend’s killings and submit their findings within 14 days.

The move followed a Point of Order raised on the floor of the Senate by Senator Ma’ji Lawan (Borno North). Lawan, who bemoaned the massacre in Baga, described it as outrageous, condemnable and unacceptable in a civilised society that is not in a state of war.

He disclosed that the attack was not perpetrated by the Joint Task Force (JTF) but by the Multinational Task Force (MTF), a group of military men on patrol of the borders of four countries. The four countries are Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroun.
According to him, members of the MTF had been in the area for a long time and had remained largely peaceful until they were provoked by the killing of one of their own by Boko Haram insurgents.

Lawan, who urged well-meaning Nigerians to come to the aid of surviving women and children in the community, argued that Nigeria was currently experiencing a humanitarian crisis which he said required dialogue to resolve, adding that the amnesty programme currently being considered by the presidency was a good avenue to end the mindless killings in the land.

Lawan, who hails from Baga where the killings took place, said with emotions etched across his face, that his home town was currently in ruins, adding that the Saturday killings also involved the destruction of 3,000 houses, 62 cars, 284 motorcycles and immeasurable food items.

The senator, who said the tragedy was synonymous with the 1999 Odi massacre, added that by yesterday, no one knew when the crisis would end, as killings were still ongoing, disclosing that dangerous weapons such as machine guns, sophisticated arms and ammunition were employed in the killings.

Similarly, the House of Representatives has urged the federal government to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged massacre at Baga.

The lawmakers also resolved to set up a special committee to visit the affected community to commiserate with the people over the loss of lives and property during the clash.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was also tasked on the need to respond to the needs of the survivors of the clash.

These resolutions followed a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Hon. Ali Monguno (ANPP/Borno) in which the lawmaker drew the attention of his colleagues to the bloody clash.

In the lead debate, Monguno stated Borno and Yobe States have remained the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency and had witnessed series of clashes between soldiers and the sect resulting in heavy civilian casualties.

He acknowledged that the federal government deployed the soldiers in the area in order to safeguard lives and property.

Monguno however lamented that the presence of the troops had done more harm than good because of the collateral damage that often accompanied every confrontation between soldiers and the insurgents.

He argued that the pain, which had been inflicted on the civilian population, had inadvertently earned the insurgents some sympathy from the people and even tends to swell the number of the militants.

The lawmaker urged the troops to be more professional in their engagement to avoid compounding the security situation in Borno.

He also enjoined Boko Haram to accept the olive branch being extended to them by embracing the amnesty programme proposed by the federal government.

Also, in a statement issued in Lagos by ACN's National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party warned the military against engaging in extra-judicial killings, saying the security agencies must respect the relevant rules of engagement in their ongoing onslaught against the sect in order to spare the lives and property of innocent civilians.

"Without jumping to any conclusion on what really transpired in Baga, we hasten to say that the military, in fighting an asymmetric war against insurgents, must ensure the strict observance of its rules of engagement to avoid the kind of deaths that were recorded in the border town.

'”No matter what defence the military may put forward, the mass deaths
and destruction in Baga during the JTF-insurgents’ clash portrayed the Nigerian military as having little or no respect for human rights and the sanctity of lives.
“This is not a flattering portrayal for a military that has made its mark in global peacekeeping," it said.

Similarly, the CPC in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, said it was outraged by the unfortunate incident of the wanton destruction of lives and property that attended the face-off between insurgents believed to be Boko Haram and soldiers in Baga.

It said the attendant ecological disruption and huge humanitarian calamity had attracted so much attention (international and local) that clearly obviated the need for continuously passing the buck.

“True, the president has called for the probe of this needless carnage, which euphemistically means stalemated action on the matter; the imperative of pursuing the peace option is sorer than before.

“The houses destroyed must be rebuilt by the federal government whilst massive rehabilitative efforts are put in place for the displaced victims of the combatants’ rage,” CPC said.
Condemning the killings, NEF called on the federal government to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to unravel the killing of about 200 people in Baga.

The forum also expressed reservations about the success of the Boko Haram amnesty committee, saying that the inclusion of government officials in the committee might not bring about the desired confidence for dialogue.

Speaking in an interview with journalists shortly after their meeting with the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) in Kaduna, the spokesman of NEF and former Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, condemned the Baga killings, saying it was unfortunate.

“This certainly is not the way an operation like this should be conducted. That is why we believe the president needs not just a probe. We need a judicial commission of inquiry to unravel what has happened in Baga,” Abdullahi said.

He added that commission of inquiry should have an expanded terms of reference for people to come to speak on issues that have been happening in Borno and Yobe States.
He also blamed the military authorities for posting soldiers who, according to him, cannot communicate in the local language of the people of the two states, noting that lack of communication with the local communities in those states was also compounding the security issues.

Besides, he argued that the use of the military would not solve the problem, insisting that sheer force was not the solution to the Boko Haram insurgency.

According to him, the NEF had earlier advised the president to re-evaluate the use of soldiers as peacekeepers, because soldiers are not good peacekeepers.
Also commenting on the amnesty committee, Abdullahi maintained that the inclusion of a minister as the chairman of the committee and a government official as its secretary would not instill the desired confidence.

“The only worry in some quarters is the independence and neutrality of the committee because of its chairman and secretary.
“I hope it will work but a lot of effort must be made to make sure that it works so that the modus operandi is sufficient,” he said.
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