by Dare Lawal
The Nigerian military high command is disputing figures being bandied that over 2,000 people were killed in Baga, Borno state on January 3 wen Boko Haram terrorists laid siege on the city. Local and international media have reported those figures, quoting sources from the town.
On Monday however, the Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, addressed the press in Abuja, informing them that available evidence indicate that only 150 people were killed in the confrontation, and a large number of the dead were members of the terrorist group.
He said that while the battle raged between the soldiers and the terrorists, many of the residents of the town were able to flee.
Olukolade said that the figures being reported and attributed to eyewitnesses were exaggerated.
“It is however necessary to inform Nigerians in the interim that the exercise so far has not corroborated the report on the casualty rate which was put at 2,000. From all available evidences, the number of people who lost their lives during that attack has so far not exceeded about 150 in the interim. This figure includes many of the terrorists who were bearing arms and got killed in the course of their attack and battle with troops.
“It should be noted that Baga and the neighbouring towns have been under a series of attacks and harassment by the terrorists. In the course of this, many residents have left, leaving the population in the town almost seriously depleted. Many were also able to escape while the terrorists’ battle with troops lasted.
“The figure given by sources who claim to be eyewitnesses must be an extremely exaggerated estimate. Unfortunately, this figure is now being bandied about in a section of the media as if it has been authenticated. It cannot be true,” he said
Olukolade said that the military had embarked on a lot of covert operations including aerial surveillance activities designed to prevent the terrorists from carrying out heinous acts against innocent Nigerians.
The Defence spokesman showed video clips of movement within and around Baga during the incidents.
Olukolade stressed that while it was important to report incidents that would bring out the acts perpetrated by the Boko Haram sect, such reports should be factual.
“In any case, this is no time to debate about casualty figures or number of deaths as the life of any Nigerian is important. Much as the intention which could be with the aim of drawing attention to the atrocities being committed by terrorists group in Nigeria is most welcome, the need for factual presentation of the situation is equally vital,” he added
The Defence spokesman said that the military had not given up on Baga or any other part of the country and was indeed making preparations to address the security challenge.