Apr. 6, 2014
by Theophilus Abbah, Haruna Ibrahim & Habibu Umar Aminu
With the death of over 1,200 Nigerians from January to March 2014 as a result of insurgency and counter-insurgency measures by the military, Nigeria now ranks high among the countries with high rates of deaths from insurgency in the world, Sunday Trust data analysis has revealed.
Only last week, Amnesty International came up with a report which said over 1,500 Nigerians have been killed in the first three months of this year. A collation of reported deaths done by this newspaper from January to March puts the death toll at about 1,200, across four states and the Federal Capital Territory. In January, there were 16 incidents in which 229 civilians were killed, 98 insurgents died and five soldiers/policemen lost their lives. In February, there were 13 attacks, which left 338 civilians dead, eight insurgents killed and nine soldiers/police also killed. In the month of March, there were a total of 13 attacks, which left 219 civilians dead; 290 insurgents killed while 23 soldiers/policemen were also killed. In total, there were 43 incidents, 786 civilians killed, 396 insurgents eliminated, while 37 soldiers/policemen lost their lives.
These figures may actually be conservative, as the military has continued to conceal the numbers of its men who lost their lives in encounters with insurgents. Also, if the allegation by Amnesty International that hundreds of suspected Boko Haram members detained in Giwa barracks in Maiduguri were killed during the insurgents attempt to free them last month, the death toll would be much higher than 1,200 figure we obtained from newspaper reports over the last three months.
From the above figures, Nigeria has suffered the highest number of deaths from January to March in countries where al-Qaeda-kind of insurgency has been prevalent in the last few years. These countries include Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We did not include Syria and the Central African Republic (CAR) because the violence there may be considered as civil war. In Syria, anti-government elements are pitted in a bloody and destructive attempt to overthrow the government in power, while in the Central Africa Republic (CAR), the conflict is an offshoot of a political face-off which has tailed into a religious battle.
In Iraq, for instance, 227 persons were killed in January from various attacks and counter-attacks by Shiite and Sunni sects. The highest number of deaths occurred on January 15, 2014, when 40 persons were killed in a series of car bombs in Central Iraq. In the month of February, the number of persons killed in Iraq was put at 185, while in March, 147 persons were killed. On March 9, 2014, the highest number of persons was killed. On that day, at least 45 persons were killed when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged mini-bus at a crowded checkpoint south of Baghdad. In all, a total of 559 deaths were recorded and reported in the international media.
In Pakistan, where the Taliban are fighting the authorities and rival sects, the reported death toll from January to March is put at about 122, with the highest incidence of violence occurring in February. At least 56 persons were killed in the month of February. However, the incident which claimed the highest number of deaths occurred on January 19, which led to the death of 20 persons. According to Financial Times online publication, on that day, “a powerful bomb ripped through a Pakistan army truck in the country’s northern city of Bannu near the Afghan border on Sunday, killing at least 20 soldiers, according to senior intelligence and army officials. The explosion led to one of the largest number of casualties in a single Taliban strike against Pakistan’s army.” A month-by-month analysis by our reporter indicated that in January, 38 persons were killed; February, 56 were killed; while in March, 30 persons lost their lives. The government of Pakistan has been involved in a long-drawn battle against the Taliban, which is linked to the sect that has its root in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, where the Taliban has been at war with American forces and the local authorities over the years, the reported death toll from attacks by insurgents is put at about 93. In January, 28 persons were killed; in February, the number of deaths was 14, and in March, the country witnessed the highest number of deaths since the beginning of 2014, with as many as 47 being killed. The highest number of deaths during the period under review occurred on January 17 in which 21 persons were killed. In the January 17 attack, “the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Afghanistan and four UN staff members were among as many as 21 people killed when a Taliban suicide squad burst into a Kabul restaurant on Friday evening and gunned down the diners. Two Britons were among the dead after the unusually violent attack at the heart of the heavily fortified diplomatic quarter,” according to The Guardian of UK. The next in the rank of grievous attacks and deaths occurred on March 18, 2014, when “a suicide bomber riding a rickshaw blew himself up outside a checkpoint near a market in northern Afghanistan… killing at least 17 civilians,” according to TIME magazine online.
Though attacks by Boko Haram on villages and other locations in cities have led to multiple deaths, experts have said the high rate of deaths in Nigeria is as a result of military operations. Amnesty International’s 32-page report on deaths in Nigeria from January to March 2014 blamed insurgents and the military for impunity. The report said, “In 2014, as attacks by Boko Haram intensified, the military has responded by stepping up its operations against Boko Haram camps in Borno state. In the first three months of the year, over 400 suspected Boko Haram members were killed in JTF raids and in firefights during Boko Haram attacks on towns. Thirty-Eight (38) civilians have also allegedly been killed by the military this year. In addition, at least 150 detainees died in military custody. On 19 March 2014, Amnesty International received information that the military had bombed Kayamla village, killing 10 civilians. According to one staff at the State Specialist Hospital who spoke to six wounded people from the village, the fighter jet launched series of bombs on the village after community people had given information to the army that some Boko Haram fighters fleeing Maiduguri after the attack on Giwa barracks had passed through the village. Many villagers sustained injuries. When Amnesty International spoke to the hospital staff on Wednesday March 26, 2014, he reported that two of the six wounded people had died in hospital from injuries sustained by fragments.”
The organisation added that, “On Friday, 14 March, at 7 am, Boko Haram members attacked the Giwa barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State and opened the cells to release the more than 1,000 detainees, who were arrested under suspicion of being members or sympathisers of Boko Haram. A video released by Boko Haram shows gunmen entering the Giwa military barracks, setting ablaze scores of vehicles in the compound, before releasing hundreds of people, including women, children. Many of those released looked frail and were barefooted.
“Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that the attackers came from a nearby village and crossed the Yedzaram River. A human rights defender interviewed by Amnesty International said the detainees told him that after their cells were opened by Boko Haram, the detainees were given the option of either joining the attackers or going home. Many of the detainees decided to go home. Boko Haram is said to have taken some of their members who were detained and then left Maiduguri.”
Last week, a new group called Borno-Yobe Peoples Forum addressed a press conference, in which it raised the alarm over civilian casualties in the attacks in the month of March. Some of the prominent sons and daughters of the area who attended the occasion include, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, Ambassador Dauda Danladi, General Saleh Maina (rtd), Alhaji Haruna Imam, Dr. Shettima Mustapha, Adamu Ciroma, Senator Ahmed Zanna, Senator Ali Ndume, Alhaji Abubakra Mamu and Air Marshall Al-Amin Dagash, among others.
The group stated that, “In the last one month, Kawuri, Konduga, Izge, Bama, Michika, Buni Yadi, Mafa, Mainok, Jakana, Auno, Shuwa, Madagali, Malari, Wajonkoro, Ajigin, Benishiekh, Gamboru, Kalabalge have been attacked with heavy civilian casualties”.
As it were, these communities are a mixture of Christians and Muslims, hence the victims cut across the two major faiths in the North-East. The Borno-Yobe Peoples Forum, which called for an end to emergency rule even claimed that some 17,000 lives had been lost as a result of the insurgency over the years. It therefore made a 14-point recommendation to government. Among them is a demand that government should address the security and welfare of citizens, quoting Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, which says, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” The group also appealed to government not to renew the state of emergency, which is billed to expire on April 19, 2014. It also challenged government to un-mask the sponsor of the Boko Haram insurgents; thoroughly investigate human rights abuses, including alleged extra-judicial killings; expedite the trial of the security agents that were implicated in the extra-judicial killings of Mohammed Yusuf; security of borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger; investigate the violation of the Nigerian airspace, among many other recommendations.
As it were, the military has said it would investigate allegations of extra-judicial killings. According to a statement signed by Major-General Chris Olukolade at the weekend, the army was looking into the allegations contained in Amnesty International’s report, saying, “The claim contained in the Amnesty International’s report attributing gross abuse of human rights of Nigerians to both the terrorists and the security forces is quite confounding. Notwithstanding the fact that the report is not consistent with the actual situation on ground, the security authorities will ensure that the allegations as it affects the government forces are duly investigated. This will be with a view to taking necessary action to address any case of human right breach on the part of troops.
Meanwhile, Nigerians are once again assured that while carrying out the mandate of ridding the country of any vestige of terrorism, necessary efforts will continue to be made to respect the fundamental rights of all citizens.”
Achieving this would require a new approach to the fight against insurgency in Nigeria.