SOLOMON ODENIYI reports that no fewer than nine air strikes, which were targeted at bandits and terrorists, have accidentally hit wrong targets and sent many Nigerians to their early graves
Some herders from Nasarawa State went to Makurdi, the Benue State capital to recover 1,250 cows impounded by the state Livestock Guards, unaware they would never return.
The Nigerian Air Force, believing they were terrorists, rained bombs on them, killing around 27 herders instantly. The death toll from the incident has risen to 40, while the doctors are still battling to save the lives of four persons injured during the air raid.
Narrating what transpired in a statement, the President of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Baba Othman Ngelzarma, said, “The pastoralists went to Makurdi to retrieve their 1,250 livestock earlier impounded by the Benue State livestock guards after paying a fine of N29m.
“They hired vehicles from Makurdi to convey back their seized livestock to Rukubi, and it was in the process of offloading their livestock that an attack was conducted that killed 31 pastoralists, eight Hausa butchers from Benue who had escorted the vehicles to upload the cows, and four others are now on admission in Lafia Hospital.”
A day before the Nasarawa incident, there was a case of mishit by the Nigerian Air Force in Niger, where some special hunters and residents were killed. The incident, according to the Niger State Government, has rendered over 8,000 residents homeless.
Aside from these incidents, the Air Force’s accidental airstrikes on civilians have thrown several families into mourning. The development has, however, become a source of great concern for Nigerians and security experts.
Data on miscalculated strikes in the last 16 months
A tally from media reports done by our correspondent shows that there have been at least nine incidents of miscalculated airstrikes by the Nigerian Air Force between September 2021 and January 2023.
No fewer than 147 innocent citizens, including children, have lost their lives to these strikes, while at least 72 others were injured during the period under review. It is possible that there are more casualties because the number of victims in some cases was not specified.
Zamfara, Yobe, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger, and most recently Nasarawa are some of the states where incidents have occurred.
Timeline of the incidents
These incidents resulted in the killing of nine civilians, including three children, in a strike in a rural community near the border with Niger on September 16, 2021. Twenty-three people were injured in that mishap.
Also, some villagers allege that an airstrike by the military on September 26, 2021, killed no fewer than 20 residents in the area. To date, the Air Force has yet to own up to the incident, despite the insistence of the villagers.
In addition, seven children were killed and five injured while being targeted by terrorists in the neighbouring Niger Republic during an airstrike by the Air Force on February 20, 2022.
A month later, at least six children between the ages of five and 12 were killed by the NAF airstrike in the Kuregba community of the Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State.
One person was killed and 13 others injured following an airstrike conducted by the NAF at Kunkuna village in the Safana Local Government Area of Katsina State on July 7, 2022.
On December 13, 2022, the properties of residents were destroyed in a miscalculated airstrike in Kaduna. This happened to be the only mishit with no record of citizens killed.
At least 64 persons were killed and many injured in an airstrike by the NAF on December 19, 2022, at Mutumji Community in the Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State.
So far in 2023, there have been two cases of mishits by the Air Force.
The first of the year occurred in Niger State last Monday, which was said to have killed an unspecified number of special hunters of the Joint Security Task Force and residents.
Also on Tuesday, no fewer than 40 herders were killed, including four in Nasarawa State, during yet another accidental strike.
Mishit in other climes
Research conducted by our correspondent showed the air wings of other countries’ militaries make blunders; however, it was observed that the mishits were not as consistent as those we have in Nigeria.
It was also observed that in situations of accidental strikes, the military takes responsibility and punishes any of its personnel found culpable.
No fewer than 16 American military personnel, including a general officer, were given administrative punishments for their roles in the accidental strike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
In Nigeria, the Air Force has hardly owned up to some of these incidents. For example, rather than admitting that the Nasarawa strike was carried out in error, the military has stated that it will not engage in discussions with the Nasarawa State governor. Also, no one has been held accountable for past incidents.
Commenting on the incidents, a security expert, Timothy Avele, said the inability of the Air Force to process raw intelligence was responsible for the high level of collateral damage being experienced.
He said, “My best guess is the military, especially the air force, is lacking highly trained intelligence analysts. In most cases, the intelligence that was acted upon was incomplete or incorrectly analysed.
“Acting on raw intelligence information is the main cause of these misfires. Secondly, they could simply add some tech devices to aid in the accurate targeting of the jets.”
Another security expert, Chidi Omeje, said, “This is just an accident, and it is not peculiar to Nigeria. We are all aware that in the most recent case, it was a state government official who gave them the intelligence they went with. I must, however, confess that the recurrence of the misfiring is not a good one. The military must be more circumspect. What we have is an asymmetric war; they should be sure when they are releasing the bombs. I expect them to own up to these incidents and prove to Nigerians that it was never intended. They should not deny or be silent about these incidents.”
Possible way out
Avele advocated for the use of modern intelligence analysis by Nigerian Air Force analysts.
He said, “So, the best solution is to retrain, upskill, and reskill their intelligence analysts. Five to ten days of training could reduce this kind of incident by over 85%. The training will focus more on modern intelligence analysis using artificial intelligence and open-source tools, happily, most of these tools are free to use by law enforcement agencies. Secondly, to boost the number of analysts they have, it’s cheaper to engage analysts from the university community and even the private sector.”
Another security expert, Dr. Roy Okhidievbie, advised the military to investigate to establish there was no compromise by any of its personnel.
He added that these accidental strikes could be the result of distorted intelligence given to the pilots.
Okhidievbie said, “Apart from the technological deployment and the personnel handling the equipment. We also have to consider our criminal justice system. There seems to be a compromise in the military because our criminal justice system has been arm-twisted to serve as leeway for terrorists and criminals, which is being called deradicalisation, and some of these people find their way back into the military. Have you not heard of soldiers being arrested for selling guns and sharing intelligence with terrorists?
“Do you want to tell me it is not possible to have distorted intelligence given to the Air Force just to embrace the service? It is possible. Distorted information would only make them bomb civilian communities, and we call them “miscalculated strikes.” Who has seen the intelligence given to the pilots if they carried the appropriate coordinates?
“As deadly as the actions, that is as corrective as the consequence of the actions to be taken by the law. Until that is done, there would be no deterrence for people to infiltrate, cause commotion and take the lives of innocent Nigerians, and walk away.”
The Nigerian Air Force Spokesperson, Air Commodore Wap Maigida, could not be reached for comment because calls to his line went unanswered. He also has yet to respond to a message sent to him on the matter as of the time of filing this report.