Monday, 06 May 2013 00:00 From Laolu Akande New York
DISTURBED by the alleged magnitude of the Baga crisis which claimed almost 200 lives, the United States (U.S.) government has dispatched a team of State Department officials to meet with top Nigerian government officials this week in Abuja to investigate the development.
While the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Nigerian military of being responsible for the massacre, the Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S., Prof. Ade Adefuye, has stated that the satellite pictures disclosed by the human rights organisation are insufficient to determine who was responsible for the carnage.
In U.S. official circles all through last week, there was also uncertainty as to what to actually believe or which reports were accurate.
For instance, U.S. government spokespersons last week could not directly answer media inquiries on the matter during daily press briefings at the State Department as journalists wanted to know who the U.S. government believed – the HRW or the Nigerian government.
The HRW and widespread western news reports suggested the Nigerian military were more responsible for the carnage, may have exceeded their engagement rules and violated fundamental human rights in the Baga battle.
But the preliminary report of the Nigerian government released also last week hinted that such claims had been exaggerated.
In an interview with The Guardian at the weekend, the Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S. confirmed that the U.S. government’s team would be meeting in Abuja yesterday with officials of the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministry, Justice Ministry and the National Security Adviser, among others, over the Boko Haram issue and especially the recent Baga battle.
U.S. State Department official spokesperson, Mr. Patrick Ventrell, had earlier indicated late last week that officials of the department’s Democracy and Human Rights Bureau led by Deputy Assistant Secretary, Daniel Baer, would be in Nigeria this week regarding fallouts of the Baga battle.
But Ventrell, the official spokesperson of the U.S. State Department, could not answer categorically when journalists pressed him last week on whose report the U.S. government believed.
U.S. sources hinted that the American government may have decided to send its officials from the Human Rights Bureau to ascertain the situation and also explore options before the Nigerian government in the fight against terrorism in the country.
In fact, Ventrell added last week that the U.S. government “will have a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour who’s going to travel to Abuja to discuss the incident in Baga and broader human rights issues with senior Nigerian officials next week. So we’re going to continue our dialoguewith the Nigerian authorities on this.”
Confirming the visit, Adefuye said the Nigerian Embassy had also met with the U.S. team visiting Nigeria last week to review the situation.
Adefuye said: “When they came here to meet with us at the embassy, we made it clear that the claims on the casualties have been excessively exaggerated.”
Adefuye observed that the satellite pictures while revealing the extent of damage after the Baga battle, could not have possibly determined who was responsible. He stated that the terrorists were responsible for some of the damage in Baga.
Official Nigerian reports had also noted that it was part of the terrorists’ strategy to set the place on fire in such circumstances.