New Telegraph

February 26, 2024

Curbing accidental killing of civilians by military drones

“There is no gainsaying the fact that it was a monumental tragedy and no stone should be left unturned to unravel the cause or causes of that unfortunate incident, and should it be found out that what happened was due to human error, my advice is that appropriate sanction should be imposed”, one of them said. Another one said: “It was an error of human intervention, and it shows a default or deficiency in adopting and spending money on appropriate technological advancement. “If the military had advanced technology and appropriate one for that matter, they would have been able to calibrate the equipment properly to know the exact spot or the place where they are dropping their bomb”.

The above quotes were part of submissions of some senior lawyers while expressing concerns on the latest in the series of accidental killing of civilians by military drones. The lawyers, while baring their minds on the unfortunate incident in Kaduna State which claimed many lives, demanded for a thorough probe of how it happened. It would be recalled that no fewer than 127 residents of Tudun Biri in the Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State were on Sunday, December 3, 2023, killed, consequent upon a military drone attack targeting terrorists in the area. Confirming the incident, Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, said the attack was launched by a Nigerian Army drone that mistook the villagers, who were celebrating Maulud (Prophet Muhammad’s birthday), for terrorists. Aruwan said the unfortunate incident which left several people injured, with many still missing is being investigated. Speaking at the end of an emergency meeting between the Deputy Governor, Hadiza Balarabe, and security chiefs, religious and traditional leaders, the commissioner said, “The General Officer Commanding 1 Division, Nigerian Army, MajorGeneral V.U Okoro, explained that the Nigerian Army was on a routine mission against terrorists, but inadvertently affected members of the community.” Army’s apology The Nigerian Army on Monday, December 4, confirmed that it was responsible for the air strike that left many villagers killed, and several others injured at Tudun Biri village in Kaduna State. It equally extended its apologies for its error in bombing worshippers in the area. The Army equally expressed regrets over the error, describing it as “a very disheartening occurrence.” The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Taoreed Lagbaja, tendered the apology when he visited the community.

Accompanied by the Principal Staff Officers from the Army Headquarters and the General Officer Commanding, One Division, MajorGeneral Okoro, Lagbaja, who commiserated with the victims, donated N10 million to the survivors after visiting them at the Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital in Kaduna. The Army Chief while offering prayers at the deceased mass grave site in the village, said: “On Sunday, while the Nigerian Army UAV (Unarmed Aerial Vehicle) platforms were conducting armed reconnaissance around the vicinity of Riyawa, Ruma, the drones observed movement of people suspected to be bandits. “Having trailed them for some time, the decision was taken to strike based on the observation of some tactics usually employed by bandits. “Unfortunately, the report we got thereafter revealed that it was innocent civilians in Tudun Biri that the drone carried out the strike on. “We have already set up an inquiry. The inquiry committee will ensure a holistic review and recommendations that will be worthwhile going forward.” Tinubu orders probe Meanwhile, President Bola Tinubu has ordered what he describes as a swift and thorough investigation into the bombing. In a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, the President sympathised with the families of the victims. The statement reads: “President Bola Tinubu sympathises with the families of victims, the people and the government of Kaduna State over the bombing mishap.

“President Tinubu describes the incident as very unfortunate, disturbing, and painful, expressing indignation and grief over the tragic loss of Nigerians lives. “The President directs a thorough and full-fledged investigation into the incident and calls for calm while the authorities look diligently into the mishap. “The President also directs swift and comprehensive medical attention for surviving victims while praying for the repose of the souls of the deceased.” Past cases of accidental killings Nasarawa In January this year, a military drone carried out an attack in Nasarawa State that claimed the lives of several residents. Specifically, the police in the state confirmed that no fewer than 27 herders, mainly ethnic Fulani, were killed in the Nasarawa incident. But Fulani groups in the state came up with the claim that 40 people were killed and scores of other civilians were injured. It was learnt most of those killed were herders returning from Benue State, after reclaiming their livestock seized by the Benue State Government. Reacting to the incident, the Nasarawa State Police Command had disclosed that preliminary investigation revealed that the pastoralists had gone to Benue to pay fines for the release of their cattle impounded by the Benue Livestock Guards, who were implementing the state’s antiopen grazing law before they were killed by a drone at a border community.

The police spokesperson in Nasarawa, Ramhan Nansel, said: “While they were loading some of the cows into vehicles in Kwatiri village, a border community between Benue and Nasarawa, something like a drone or an aircraft hovered in the air and shelled them.” Zamfara In December 2022, a military airstrike claimed scores of civilian lives while soldiers were repelling attacks by non-state actors on some communities in Dansadau District of Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State. It was the insistence of residents that armed bandits had targeted Malele, Yan Sawayu, Yan Awaki Maigoge, and Ruwan Tofa communities before the attacks were foiled by the air raids which forced the rampaging gunmen to flee into the neighbouring Mutunji community for safety. Unfortunately, the terrorists were not the only victims of the air raid in Mutunji. Civilians, including women and children, were also killed. According to the community leader of Mutunji, Umar Mutunji, the civilian casualties were over 70. Katsina For Katsina State, at least six people were reportedly killed by an Air Force jet in the Kunkunna community of Safana Local Government of the state in July 2022. The victims of Katsina attack were hit by bombs targeted at bandits. Confirming the incident, AbdulJalal Runka, a lawmaker representing Safana Constituency at the Katsina State House of Assembly, revealed that a woman was killed by the bomb, while 14 other people were injured in the attack. “Eight persons were admitted at the Umaru Musa Yar’adua University Teaching Hospital (formerly Federal Medical Centre Katsina)”, the lawmaker said. Niger Six children were killed when a Nigerian Air Force jet bombed their residence in Kurebe, Shiroro Local Government of Niger State in April 2022.

Sadly, the parents of two of the six children who were killed in the airstrike were killed by bandits in 2020. Spokesperson of the Coalition of Shiroro Association (COSA), Salis Sabo, revealed that the incident took place in the morning of Wednesday, April 13, as the children were returning from a motorised borehole in the community where they had gone to fetch water. “The two other children who lost their lives in the incidents have for long-lost their parents. One of them is a daughter of the late Malam Isah Kurebe and the other is a daughter of the late Malam Adamu Kurebe, who was killed by the terrorists,” said Sabo. Borno In the case of Borno State, and specifically in January 2017, the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) also known as Doctors Without Borders, confirmed that at least 52 people were killed after a Nigerian fighter jet ‘accidentally’ dropped a bomb on an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), camp in Rann, headquarters of Kala-Balge local government area, Borno State.

The international humanitarian organisation equally stated that another 120 people were injured in the incident. As a result of the attack, JeanClément Cabrol, the MSF’s Director of Operations, said: “This large-scale attack on vulnerable people who have already fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable. “The safety of civilians must be respected. We are urgently calling on all parties to ensure bomb victims, the facilitation of medical evacuations by air or road for survivors while in need of emergency care”. Lawyers react In the meantime, some senior lawyers have expressed deep concerns over the spate of killings occasioned by military drone attacks across the country. The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend demanded appropriate sanctions against everyone found culpable in the unfortunate incident.

Speaking on the development, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olalekan Ojo, said what happened in Kaduna was so far, as evidence has shown, a case of an unintentional killing of innocent Nigerians. According to him, “You should recall that it was a case of a person staying in his office and controlling the movement of a drone. It was a drone attack and the person in charge must have thought that the target was the intended target i:e either Boko Haram or bandits as the case may be. “To that extent, it can be regarded as a technical hitch. It could also, if further probed, can be a result of some recklessness or negligence on the part of the person in charge. “Let us assume that the error came from the drone itself, was it that the drone could not accurately capture its target location or what it captured was misinterpreted by the person in charge, the operator in this case. “So, assuming it was a case of some faults, that is technical fault with the drone itself, that means we should be careful as to the type of drone to be used for such operations.” In charging the Nigerian Armed Forces to consider using drones that could give accurate capturing of their target locations, the SAN also called for proper training of operators of such drones, adding that if it was not a result of improper training, the technical competence of such an operator should be put to question.

“There is no gainsaying the fact that it was a monumental tragedy and no stone should be left unturned to unravel the cause or causes of that unfortunate incident, and should it be found out that what happened was due to human error, my advice is that appropriate sanction should be imposed. “Indeed, what happened in my view, goes beyond compensation. If it was due to human error, attributed to negligence or recklessness on the part of the personnel involved, they should be charged to court for involuntary manslaughter. “So, when those operators know that any recklessness or negligence on their part might lead to their being charged before a court of law for involuntary manslaughter, they would be much more careful,” he added. Ojo called on the Federal Government (FG) and the Armed Forces to ensure that upon the conclusion of their investigation, the affected personnel are court marshalled. On his part, a law Professor, Awa Kalu (SAN), expressed sadness over the development and asked the military to strengthen its intelligence unit to ensure that their sources of information are credible. In his words: “If you get unreliable information, and you rely on it, this type of situation or circumstances will inevitably arise.

“Their sources must be credible. Uniformed organizations rely on sources which turn out to be critical intelligence. If it fails, the consequences are there. So, I think they should test their intelligence before they act on it.” In his submissions, Dr Abiodun Layonu (SAN), while commiserating with the victims and families of those that died, described the incident as the fallout of human failure. “It was an error of human intervention, and it shows a default or deficiency in adopting and spending money on appropriate technological advancement. “If the military had advanced technology and appropriate one for that matter, they would have been able to calibrate the equipment properly to know the exact spot or the place where they are dropping their bomb. “They had no intention of bombing civilians, I do not think it was a deliberate action, clearly they were after terrorists, and they must have been misguided or misconstrued their position as to have dropped the bombs in a wrong place,” he posited.

Dr Layonu called on the military to take advantage of what is available by way of technology to be able to avoid such a sad occurrence. “It has happened before, but one must say this is the first time under this administration where they came out clearly and admitted their error and mistake, and they were very apologetic about it”, he added. Another senior lawyer, Imran Ganiu, suggested that the purported accidental bombing of a gathering of several sets of worshipers in Kaduna State by the Nigerian Army, which led to the killings of several innocent citizens with several others in critical conditions is nothing but an act of pure professional negligence and carelessness on the part of the Nigerian Army.

He said: “Except the top echelons of the Nigerian Army are vicariously liable and are made to face the consequences for the negligent acts of their junior officers (the same way they took glory for their positive performance) this gruesome, unwarranted and avoidable killings of innocent Nigerians as a result of carelessness on the part of the appropriate authority will continue. “If severe punitive sanctions were meted out to the concerned officers who were responsible for the negligent bombing of the IDP camp in 2017 which also killed several innocent Nigerians, the recent negligent bombing in Kaduna would have been professionally averted and contained. “Secondly, there must be adequate punitive compensation for the victims. If the government of Nigeria is also made to pay billions of naira in damages to the victims, it will also put some kind of checkmate on the lackadaisical attitude of the Nigerian military. “Finally, the Human Rights Commission is also statutorily empowered to investigate and fight for the victims”

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