New Telegraph

Kaduna ‘accidental’ bombing of civilians, one too many

Were it even a one-off occurrence, the Army’s bombing of celebrants of Maulud (birthday of Prophet Muhammad) in Kaduna State on December 3, 2023, would be hard to explain away as “mistaken.” But it isn’t! “Mistakenly” bombing of civilian communities (or troops’ positions) has become a periodic happening, especially in several states in northern Nigeria where insurgency, banditry and kidnapping predominate. And the so-called “inadvertent” bombings seem to occur when the military, the police and other security agencies and civilian collaborators are gaining in the war against terrorism and criminalities across the country.

Which begs the question: Are these repeated shelling by jets or drones accidental, coincidental, happenstance, inadvertent, involuntary, mistaken, unanticipated, unforeseen, unintended, unintentional, unknowing, unmeant, unplanned, and unpremeditated? Or they’re advertent, calculated, certain, deliberate, destined, foreseen, intended, intentional, inevitable, knowing, planned, predictable, predestined, premeditated, unforced, voluntary and wilful? The probing question mostly arises from the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) quick denial of involvement of its aircraft in the bombing, noting that other sister security agencies deploy drones across the theatre of operations.

The Army accepted responsibility for the repeated interdiction to do further damage and inflict more casualties when survivors of the initial blast were rescuing the injured for medical attention. Were the target actually a gathering of terrorists, the Army would’ve received plaudits for a job well done in annihilating hundreds of insurgents or bandits that have killed thousands across northern Nigeria since 2009 when Boko Haram planted its feet in Borno State. But the “target” was villagers celebrating Maulud. That’s why the Army’s received condemnation, calls for investigation and retribution for killing non-combatant civilians. Since 2017, as tallied by The Nation in its December 6 report, six communities have been bombed – five by NAF jets, and one by an Army drone – killing hundreds, majority of them women and children.

They’re as follows: * January 17, 2017: Between 52 and 126 villagers, including aid workers, were killed and 120 injured, as NAF fighter jets bombed a camp of Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Rann, Borno State. * April 13, 2020: A NAF fighter jet shelled Sakotoku village in Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State, killing 17 civilians, including women and children. * April 13, 2022: A NAF jet killed six children returning home from where they had gone to fetch water in Kurebe village in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State. * July 7, 2022: A NAF jet bombed Kunkuna village in Safana Local Government Area of Katsina State, killing one, and injuring 13 villagers, shortly after the attack on ex-President Muhammadu Buhari’s security team in the state. * January 2023: Bombs by NAF jets killed 37 persons, including herders, at the boundary between Benue and Nasarawa states in Doma Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. * December 3, 2023: Nigerian Army drone killed over 120 villagers, who were celebrating Maulud in Tudun Biri of Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Similarly, a report by Al Jazeera on September 6, 2022, noted that since April 2014, at least 14 incidents had been documented of the air force bombing residential villages.

They include: * February 2014: A NAF aircraft dropped a bomb on Daglun, a village in Borno State, killing 20 civilians, and wounding scores of others. * April 2019: Children in Tangaram village in Anka community in Zamfara State cheered for an aircraft, which passed over the village, but returned to drop a bomb that killed six children, and injured 17 civilians. * September 15, 2021: An air raid killed 10 people and wounded 20 others in Buhari village in Yunusari LGA of Yobe State, with the NAF claiming its jet targeted members of Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP) when it hit the village. Also, The Cable did an extensive coverage of communities or areas impacted by military airstrikes, and reported the following: * In June 2021: There were reports that an air force fighter jet killed some wedding guests in Genu, Rijau LGA of Niger State, with the NAF saying it had no record of unintended civilian casualties apart from bandits. * In July 2021: A NAF airstrike targeting bandits at the Sububu forest located between Shinkafi and Maradun LGAs of Zamfara, hit and killed a woman and four of her children, with NAF denying that civilian casualties were recorded. * December 1, 2022: An undisclosed number of people were killed in Dansadau district, Maru LGA of Zamfara State, when a military air raid was conducted in Malele, Mutunji and other villages around Dansadau.

* In January 2023: 30 vigilantes, who had laid ambush for bandits sighted around the area, were struck by multiple explosions from a NAF jet in Galadima Kogo, Shiroro LGA of Niger State. * On September 28, 2021: About 20 fishermen reportedly killed by a NAF airstrike in the Kwatar Daban Masara region of Lake Chad. * On February 20, 2022: A Nigerian military airstrike targeting terrorists killed seven children in a border community in Nachade village, Maradi, in the Niger Republic, while they’re playing as their parents were in a ceremony. Agreed that in “providing air support for ground troops in the fight against a spate of killings and kidnappings” across northern Nigeria, the military could make mistakes, but they shouldn’t be on a regular basis or denied offhand, that “no bomb or missile was even expended” in the affected areas. When the military did admit any errors, it’s to justify the mistakes under the cover of targeting armed groups hibernating in or pursued into civilian communities.

But the public and especially survivors of erroneous military attacks want the government (military) to admit what they did, rather than justifying their actions as resulting from targeting armed groups hibernating, sighted in or pursued into civilian communities, and paying compensations in pittance thereafter to victims. Ironically, the military hasn’t spared its own in the “wrong” bombing of suspected terrorist targets, as there’d been reports of Airforce shelling of troops confronting insurgents in the North-East of Nigeria. For instance, in April 2020, some soldiers were killed in Mainok, Borno State, after a NAF fighter jet fired a bomb on the ground troops it was providing air support for. Unfortunately the jet hit the wrong coordinates, while targeting Boko Haram insurgents, who had attacked the troops some days earlier.

The “how’s” and “why’s” for the “unintended” Army shelling of celebrating villagers in Kaduna State are what everybody who’s spoken wants answers to, while they condemn the act, condole with the victims, and call for an investigation, and stiff penalties for culprits. President Bola Tinubu, who was away in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for the COP-28 summit when the incident happened, called for an expeditious and thorough investigation into the incident, even as he condoled with the victims and families of those who died in the bombing. “President Tinubu describes the incident as very unfortunate, disturbing, and painful, expressing indignation and grief over the tragic loss of Nigerian lives,” a statement by presidential spokesman, Chief Ajuri Ngelale, said on December 5.

“The president has directed a thorough and fullfledged investigation into the incident and called for calm while the authorities looked into the mishap,” Ngelale said. Vice President Kashim Shettima visited the injured at the Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital in Kaduna on December 7, and pledged the government’s full investigation and punishments for culprits of the massacre. Many other individuals and groups have spoken in tandem with the realities on the ground. They include Kaduna State Governor Uba Sani; House of Representatives Speaker Tejudeen Abbas; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi; the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF); Northern Elders Forum (NEF); Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN); Congress of Northern Nigeria Christians (CNNC); Jama’atul Nasril-Islam; Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF); and Amnesty International (AI) that gave a figure of “over 120 dead” as of December 6.

While investigation, sanctioning of the culprits, and paying compensations to victims and those who lost relatives in the Kaduna tragedy are imperative, there’s need for the military to look inward for possible saboteurs of its operations to combat and degrade terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other criminalities across Nigeria. Because globally, there are reports of rise in participation in or having sympathy for terrorism within the security agencies, particularly the military. Is Nigeria immune to this frightening trend within the security apparatuses? There’ve been reports of saboteurs within the Nigerian armed forces relaying troops’ positions to insurgents for attacks, or tipping off terrorists about imminent attacks by security operatives; and some security personnel aiding and abetting terrorist and bandit attacks and kidnappings in the North, and oil bunkering in Niger Delta in the South. Yet, the military (and its arms: Army, Air Force and Navy) has been quick to deny such allegations as aimed at tarnishing its image and reputation, and distract it from the war against internal security challenges that have overwhelmed the Police and other civil security agencies in the country. As Nigerians await the outcome of investigation, to “get to the bottom” of the Kaduna bombing, it’s hoped that the matter won’t be “swept under the carpet,” as have previous probes of such untoward mishaps.

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