Civilians killed in Nigerian military's fight with Boko Haram, claim rights groups
The city of Maiduguri in north-east Nigeria is a stronghold of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram. It was where Mohammed Yusuf, the group’s leader, was based before he was killed in police custody in 2009. In the days that led up to Yusuf’s arrest, over 300 people were killed in fierce fighting between state security forces and Boko Haram fighters.
Since the death of its leader, Boko Haram has hit back with reprisal attacks against government officials and religious leaders, prompting intervention from the Joint Military Task Force.
Today, over 5,000 military personnel are deployed in the city. Their mission? Operation Restore Order. But human rights groups say that restoring order has come at the cost of dozens of civilian lives.
“Whenever an explosion occurs, what the JTF does is they go berserk and start killing anyone who is at the scene, even though the perpetrators have left,“ says a Maidiguri human rights activist, who wishes to remain anonymous and has recorded over 100 civilian deaths in the city this year.
Lieutenant Colonel Hassan, a spokesman for the Joint Military Task Force in Maiduguri, insists that only members of the sect have been killed.
“When Boko Haram detonate their bombs and follow it up with indiscriminate killing, we try to arrest them," he says. "But if they resist arrest we incapacitate them, and we might end up killing them.”
The Lieutenant Colonel is perplexed by the condemnation of human rights groups, because as far as he is concerned the JTF “has won the hearts and minds of the people in Maiduguri. We have restored peace in this town.”
A fragile peace may have returned to Maiduguri, but most civilians regard the presence of the Joint Military Task Force as the lesser of two evils.
“At least we have customers now, before they came this place was deserted,” concludes a trader at the Baga Road market.