We buried 236 after NAF bombing of IDPs camp, not 70
- As Questions, Doubts Continue To Dog Official Explanations
As many as 236 people may have been killed in the ill-fated Nigerian air strike against Boko Haram that hit a camp for civilians displaced by the unrest, a local official told AFP on Saturday.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Friday had said the death toll from Tuesday’s strike on the town of Rann in the far northeast had risen to 90, although it claimed that could climb as high as 170.
But Babagana Malarima, president of the local Kala-Balge government in Borno State where the strike took place, claimed the death toll is much higher.
“From what the people who buried the dead victims with their hands told me, not those who treated the wounded, they buried 234 dead,” said Malarima on Saturday.
“And I later got a report that two of the injured taken to Maiduguri died.”
The bombed camp had been set up to help people fleeing Boko Haram Islamists in Borno State.
Nigeria’s air force said it was investigating the incident but military commanders had already claimed it was a mistake.
Questions have continued to dog the mishap in Rann, since the NAF Alpha jet dropped bombs in an Internally Displaced People, IDP’s Camp, killing scores of refugees and aid workers.
Though the war theater command, Defense Headquarters, DHQs, the Presidency and a rash of highly placed members of the public have continued to offer effusive apologies for the bombing, insisting that it was a mistake, there has been hard questions also pointing out that explanations on the cause of the incident don’t add up.
DHQs say that the ill-fated operation in Rann was spurred by some intelligence report of enemy regrouping in the area.
NAF, according to the military high command, had carried out the air raid in the region hoping to kill off what it was told were remnants of Boko Haram regrouping in the area of Kala Balge.
Rather than hitting intended targets, the bombs landed in the IDP camp, mowing down displaced people and aid workers from Red Cross and Crescent and Doctors Without Borders.
The theatre commander, Operation Lafia Dole, Lucky Irabor, DHQs and Presidency have been effusive with apologies over the matter ever since. Only yesterday, Theophilus Danjuma, former Minister of Defense, and head of the committee to rehabilitate the war torn North East also joined his voice in explaining the mistake of the attack.
The rash of apologies aside, it was learnt that too many questions were left unanswered on the matter. Explaining this further, a highly placed source in the Presidency told INDEPENDENT that President Muhammadu Buhari has requested a thorough investigation and probe of the process leading to the order and execution of the operation that led to the killing of civilians in Rann.
“There have been speculations about some security and intelligence agencies working at cross purpose on account of inter-agency rivalry in the war theater. President Buhari was under the impression that such occurrences were a thing of the past,” explained the newspaper source.
Also, the Presidency, as learnt, is confused as to how enemy locations got mixed up with coordinates of an approved IDP Camp that had foreign workers stationed there.
According to our source, every IDP camp in the North East was set up in areas not easily accessible or assailable by insurgents. Secondly, such camp, whether run by the state governments in conjunction with National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, or the many charity and/or humanitarian agencies must receive clearance from the military especially so that its security can be guaranteed and refugees protected.
“The locations of all the IDP camps are well known to government and the military. That is why aid workers agree to work there in the first place,” further explained the presidency source who asked only to speak in anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter. Those asking the hard questions in the presidency say that the arrangement of IDPs in the region leaves very little room for a mix up in their locations for any Air Force interdiction.
There were also fears too that the incident may well play well for those claiming that the military indulge in indiscriminate bombings in the North East. For instance, Boko Haram, last year in footage, alleged that NAF’s indiscriminate bombings had killed a sizeable number of Chibok girls they had in their custody. This claim was further reiterated by one of the freed 21 Chibok girls recently.
Also, human rights agencies like Amnesty international still insists that the Nigerian military’s record in human right violation has consistently continued to dip despite the change of administration.
When asked about a possible probe of this incident, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar, DHQs spokesman, was evasive but was effusive about just how sorry the military is about the incident.
“We acted based on intelligence on the enemy’s presence in Rann so as to strike and finish them. But, unfortunately, it turned the other way round. We are in pains by this even though it has never happened throughout our engagement with this ungodly group,” Brig Gen Abubakar said.
He was silent about any probe of the incident.
But in an earlier release, Ayodele Famuyiwa, NAF’s spokesman, told the media on Wednesday that it was expecting a detailed report from the theater commander, Irabor. “Available information is sketchy, the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafya Dole is taking appropriate steps to avail us with details of the incident,” Famuyiwa said.
“Our people are really traumatised that a fighter jet belonging to their country can make this mistake and kill them the way it did in their own country,” fumed Malarima.
“Lives and property have been lost. It is not enough to just bury the dead and pray for their souls. Their families should be supported as is done in other countries. They should not be forgotten.
“The death toll is colossal. We are in grief.”
Tuesday’s strike happened while humanitarian workers were distributing food in Rann, a small town close to the Cameroon border where some 20,000 to 40,000 people had sought refuge.
MSF said most of the victims were women and children.
At least six Red Cross volunteers were amongst the dead with another 13 injured.
Rann only recently became accessible to aid agencies because of improved security.
But on Thursday night, security forces said Boko Haram launched an attack on Rann that was repulsed, leaving at least 14 militants dead.
Nigeria’s chief of army staff Lieutenant-General Tukur Buraitai said on Friday while visiting Rann that Thursday’sattack showed the military were acting on credible intel.
“This incident happened in the midst of a civilian population and it was based on intelligence received that Boko Haram had moved into the area,” said Buraitai.
“The air force was briefed and they came and the incident happened.
“And yesterday we received a report that Boko Haram were back. Soldiers repelled them.”
Buraitai added: “This shows that there is credibility in the intelligence report we received that these people (Boko Haram) are moving into Kala-Balge area.
“A mistake was made. We pray it doesn’t happen again.”
At least 20,000 have been killed and more than 2.6 million made homeless since Boko Haram Islamists’ insurgency began in 2009.