More than a week after Nigerian militant group Boko Haram began a deadly attack in Baga, a remote town in the north-eastern state of Borno, the world still doesn’t know how many civilians have been killed.

When the international media first began reporting the mass deaths on Friday, Amnesty International claimed at least 2,000 people have lost their lives. The Associated Press claimed the dead bodies strewn in the bush around the town were “too many to count”, and that all of Baga had been razed.

Boko Haram is now reportedly in control of at least 16 towns around Baga, and among the hundreds of civilians who have been trying to escape to the bordering country of Chad, many are believed to have drowned in Lake Chad.

Over the weekend, one would have expected more details to emerge from Nigeria, but the picture remains largely unclear. Boko Haram’s attacks began on January 3 and some believe they still haven’t ended.

What the Nigerian press has reported

Nigerian newspapers first began to report the attack on Baga as the capture of an important military base on the border with Chad. A January 6 report in the Nigerian Guardian did not really mention any civilian deaths but focused on how the seizure of Baga would mean defeat for national military forces.

“The capture of Baga and the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force now means the Islamists control all three of Borno state’s borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon,” the report said.

It wasn’t until January 9 that the media reported Baga residents fleeing from their homes to seek safety.

A Guardian report from Nigeria

“It is sad that government cannot protect us from these rampaging insurgents who take delight in taking innocent lives,” the Guardian quoted one of the survivors saying.

By that time, the Nigerian army had begun retaliatory attacks against Boko Haram around Baga. The Nigerian Tribune quoted a government statement saying, “Since the first attack last weekend on Baga, security forces have been actively pursuing the militants. On Wednesday a group of militants conducted a second terrorist attack on the area, leaving casualties and destroying property.”

Delayed details

A more gruesome picture emerged only later on the weekend, when survivors narrated the horrors they had faced. According to this report, residents of Baga had formed their own rudimentary vigilante group to defend themselves from Boko Haram, but they were no match for the powerful arms the militants wielded. Many residents tried escaping into the bush surrounding the town, but were pursued and killed.

“For five kilometres, I kept stepping on dead bodies until I reached Malam Karanti village, which was also deserted and burnt,” one survivor told the Nigerian Guardian. The survivor, who was hiding behind a wall near his house for three days, claimed that all he could hear were “ceaseless gunshots, explosions, screams from people and chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’ from the Boko Haram gunmen”.

In a report on Sunday, the Vanguard quoted a district official in Baga who dismissed the reports of 2,000 people being killed in the town. The official did admit, however, that “hundreds” had died and that their corpses were littered in the streets and bushes, making it difficult to bury them.

Boko Haram attacks haven’t really stopped in Borno. On Saturday, there was a suicide bomb attack in Borno’s capital city of Maiduguri, reportedly carried out by a 10-year-old girl. The attack killed 20 people and injured 18, and witnesses suspect it was a Boko Haram attack.

Politics and strategy

The Baga attacks have become a major talking point in the run-up to Nigeria’s national election due in February. In 2013, the current president Goodluck Jonathan had declared a state of emergency in Borno and two other states in the north-east of the country. The move, however, has been highly ineffective: according to a BBC report, 741 reported civilian deaths in the year just before the emergency, but in the year after, there have been 2,265.

Now, rival candidate Muhammed Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party has vowed to flush out Boko Haram according to a report in the Nigerian Tribune

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Punch suggested that neighbouring country Cameroon has been far more successful in containing Boko Haram’s recent activity and forcing them to retreat. “Reports have it that after a recent incursion into Cameroonian territory, the Boko Haram jihadists were forced to beat a hasty retreat, with the gendarmes hot on their trail,” the article said. “The clash, which reportedly took place on Boxing Day, saw the Cameroonian soldiers chasing Boko Haram fighters into Bama, right inside Nigerian territory. Employing their aerial power for the first time against the group, the gendarmes inflicted a heavy defeat on Boko Haram, which lost about 150 of its members in the encounter, according to reports.”

Notorious past

Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group founded in 2002, first caught international attention in April 2014 when it abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. Despite global pressure on the Nigerian to rescue the children, most of the girls are still in captivity and allegedly married off by the militants.

The name "Boko Haram" is a reference to the group's opposition to Western-style education. It is officially called the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad and aims is to set up an Islamic state in Nigeria.

The group began violent attacks in Borno and other parts of the country in 2009, and since then, nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced because of its violence.