The number of villagers massacred by Boko Haram jihadists in a remote village in northeastern Nigeria rose to 160 on Wednesday, according to locals, as the military rejected accounts of the attack.
Residents of Kukuwa-Gari in Yobe State described how more than 150 of their relatives and neighbours drowned in a river fleeing militants who opened fire on the village on Thursday last week, while another eight were shot dead.
A local official put the death toll at a much lower 50 while Colonel Rabe Abubakar, the acting director of the military’s information department, said reports of the incident were “not true, utterly scurrilous and very misleading” in a statement entitled “Boko Haram did not kill 150 in Yobe”.
He said the military was tipped off ahead of the attack, which he placed at “mid-afternoon yesterday”, so that troops and civilian forces were able to ambush the Boko Haram militants outside Kukuwa-Gari.
“The insurgents ran into them and a gunbattle ensued in which four Boko Haram members and one civilian (fighter) lost their lives,” he said.
The villagers’ count of the dead in Kukuwa-Gari would constitute the largest loss of life in any single Boko Haram attack since President Muhammadu Buhari swept to power on May 29, vowing to crush the insurgency.
Telecommunications in Kukuwa-Gari are almost non-existent, but villagers who fled to nearby settlements said those who returned had buried 160 bodies, while many feared going back.
Alhaji Kankana Sarkin-Baka, leader of a local group of hunters co-opted to fight the insurgency alongside vigilante groups, said 17 gunmen had come on motorcycles, including a local Boko Haram commander.