The Nigerian government has ordered a probe into last week's clashes between the country's military and suspected Islamist insurgents Boko Haram that killed some 185 civilians.
The government decision followed international reactions to the killing of more than 180 people in northern Nigeria. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was shocked and saddened at the reports of high numbers of civilians killed. The investigation is to determine whether Nigerian troops complied with the rules of engagement during the incident in Baga, a remote fishing town in northern Nigeria. To find out how effective the probe will be, DW spoke to Hussaini Abdu, an author and political commentator from northern Nigeria.
DW: How hopeful are you that this enquiry announced by the government will uncover what really happened and why?
Hussaini Abdu: This is not the first time that the military is carrying out this kind of act. This is part of the history of the military. [To set the record straight] there is no rule of engagement in this military assignment. It is one of the key issues that some people have been asking: Can we get the military to make its rule of engagement public? So we know what the military ought to do and what it ought not to be doing. In 1999, the military massively invaded [a site] in the Niger delta and killed scores of people. In 2004 there were similar invasions in Benue and hundreds of people were killed. As far back as 2009 there was also a massive killing of innocent people on the streets of Maiduguri where more than 2,000 people died. The experience of Baga is part of that trend, of impunity by security agencies in the country.
How then are the people in Nigeria viewing the setting up of this probe committee?
People feel that is one of those things that the government does. The probe report will never be made public. There was a probe into what happened in Benue in 2004 and up to now we don't haven't seen the report. The government instituted a committee to investigate the killing of innocent people in 2009 in Maiduguri. Up to now the report hasn't been made public. There have been similar committees to investigate such incidents and nothing has been done about it. The feeling of Nigerians, especially those from these communities, is that this is going to be the same business as usual, there will be a committee set up, reports will be prepared, reports will never be made public and those who have been involved will not be punished.
What can you tell us about the area in which the killings took place?
The area is in the extreme north of Nigeria, bordering with Chad. It is a very arid zone, with patches of arable land around Lake Chad where most of the members of these communities are fishers and some of them are on pastoral work. It has a very big market, which is more like an international market, where people from Niger, Chad and different parts of Nigeria trade. There was a similar incident some time last year when a market was attacked and this particular one was more or less a military invasion of a village.
Do you have any explanation as to why so many people were killed?
The explanation is quite simple. There were reported activities of Boko Haram in this area. The military suspected some Boko Haram members were staying in a particular mosque. They gathered and tried to arrest the suspected Boko Haram members. Apparently they were attacked by some of those Boko Haram activists. When the military reinforced and came in to the village, apparently one of the soldiers was killed, and they held the entire community responsible for the killing and decided to massively deal with the community.
As well as being an author and a commentator you are also a country director of Action Aid in Nigeria. How is the poor security situation in northern Nigeria impinging on your work?
It is impinging quite negatively. These areas happen to be very insecure. They are the areas that need aid workers the most. Because they happen to be in some of the poorest parts of Nigeria, with limited access to health services, limited access to education, massive poverty, increasing drought and nutritional crisis. So this is an environment that needs more massive presence of aid workers. Unfortunately as the insecurities escalate, people are not able to reach that area and we are almost creating a huge humanitarian crisis, and we will not get to know the kind of damage that has been done to this population. Until may be we have been able to manage the Boko Haram situation. Then we can appreciate how much damage has been done, to the psyches of young people, to the psyches of children. Most children cannot go to school because of the crisis. The nutritional content of food has dropped massively because farmers are not going to farm, because of the level of insecurity. And we are afraid, if things continue like this, that part of Nigeria will be exposed to massive hunger.
Hussaini Abdu is an author and political commentator from Northern Nigeria.
Interview: Mark Caldwell