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What's Behind Nigeria's Escalating Bodycount?

Author: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies
May 21, 2013
Atlantic Monthly


New data from the Council on Foreign Relations' Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) shows that April was the second-bloodiest month in Nigeria since President Goodluck Jonathan's inauguration in May 2011. Five hundred and seventy one people were killed by an Islamic insurgency called Boko Haram, by Nigeria's security services, or in sectarian clashes. There is a long history of military brutality in Nigeria under both military and civilian governments. Nevertheless, the pace of clashes between Boko Haram and Nigeria's security services appears to be accelerating, with many non-combatants killed. Though Nigeria is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa and a major oil producer, the federal government in Abuja is failing to provide security for its citizens in parts of the country.

April's spike results largely from the Nigerian military's raid on the small fishing village of Baga on Lake Chad. Troops from Nigeria, Niger, and Chad reportedly entered the village to flush out suspected Boko Haram members. The ensuing shoot-out led to deaths credibly estimated to range from 187 to over 220, mostly civilian non-combatants. More than 2,000 houses were burned.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan and the security services, especially the army, usually stonewall accusations of brutality. At Baga, official spokesmen insisted that only a handful of civilians died during the operation, despite many eyewitness reports of the carnage. However, the credible human rights organization Human Rights Watch used satellite imagery to show that most of the town had been destroyed and even the state governor acknowledged a much higher death toll than the official claim.

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