AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This week, satellite images of Nigeria show the devastation of a recent siege from the Islamic militants known as Boko Haram. The remote community of Baga was destroyed in an attack which began January 3. Hundreds of people were killed, and some reports actually put that death toll up to 2,000. Baga is a fishing town, but it's also home to a government military base that was focused on shutting down the militant group's smuggling operation. The images were published by Amnesty International, and here to talk more about what can be learned from them is Adotei Akwei - Managing Director of Government Relations for Amnesty. Welcome to the studio.
ADOTEI AKWEI: Thank you.
CORNISH: Help us understand what we're looking at here in these before and after images.
AKWEI: As you said, Baga and Doron Baga are villages right on Lake Chad. They're a community of about 200,000 people. So the images show maybe 10 - 15,000 different structures. And these - difference between the pictures before January 3 and the ones after show roughly 3,000 village structures that have been destroyed. And it kind of underscores how badly damaged both villages were. And the fact that the numbers that we're talking about are clearly higher than what the Nigerian government is releasing, which is saying 150.
CORNISH: So from these satellite images, can you get any better sense of perhaps the death toll?
AKWEI: Unfortunately not, but you can estimate that based on the number of structures that were destroyed and the population density of both Baga and Doron Baga, that it really is several hundred - if not easily over 1,000 close to 2,000. But until we actually get into those - Baga we're not going to be able to verify. But we do believe that it constitutes a war crime or a crime against humanity - given the severity of it.
CORNISH: We mentioned a military base being in the area, but I also understand this is a community that has collaborated with Nigerian security forces. On the civilian level - like a civilian defense group. What can you tell us about these groups?
AKWEI: Well, the CDFs are the response that sort of emerged organically when...
CORNISH: So Civilian Defense Force?
AKWEI: Exactly. And these are home vigilantes - in other words, they provide a kind of protection because the Nigerian military has not been able to keep people safe from the attacks. They are affiliated with the Nigerian forces but not officially. Their methods of prevention are questionable. And in some cases, they've been linked to serious human rights abuses and there's certainly no accountability. But there's no other protection for these villagers.
CORNISH: Is there any indication that this is one of the reasons why Boko Haram targeted this community?
AKWEI: The presence of the military base probably could be a deciding factor in that it was a prize that would have been symbolic in terms of sending a message that, you know, we are Boko Haram and we can take on whatever military force you people put together. And I would say that because a lot of the communication and the video messaging from Boko Haram is very much geared towards perpetuating this myth that they're unstoppable.
CORNISH: Do you feel that they're unstoppable?
AKWEI: No, I believe that the response to date has been unsuccessful for a number of reasons. The first one is that the military's capacity has been basically gutted by corruption and by low morale - and those are things that are chronic to the Nigerian military and need to be addressed. I think that there's also been a dilemma, or a lack of consensus about the strategy - and that may be coming from the civilian side of President Jonathan's administration disagreeing with the military - which is perceived to be more from the north and may not be as supportive of this current president as it should be or needs to be. The bottom line being that the people in the northern part of the country have been vulnerable to these attacks and have paid the price for it.
CORNISH: Adotei Akwei - he's Managing Director of Government Relations for Amnesty International. Thank you so much for coming in to speak with us.
AKWEI: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.