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Nigerian Air Force needs to get its act together

Barely four years after hundreds of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were slain by the Nigerian Air Force’s bombing, another accident has claimed the lives of some Nigerian soldiers.

Boko Haram terrorists had attacked a military base at Mainok, Borno State on 25 April 2021 and reportedly overpowered the troops who called for reinforcement. The truck, which was sent for reinforcement, was targeted and shelled by the airstrike following a flawed intelligence, sources said.

This incident is happening about a year after the air force “mistakenly” bombed a village in Damboa Local Government Area of Borno, killing 17 people including women and children.

In January 2017, the Air Force killed more than 100 internally displaced persons (IDPs) during an accidental bombing.

In the incident, a military jet dropped two bombs on the camp for displaced persons in Rann, Maiduguri. At the time of the attack aid distribution was taking place and many women and children were killed, as well as at least nine humanitarian workers from the Nigerian Red Cross and the International Committee for the Red Cross.

A senior Nigerian military official had said the cause of the accidental bombing of a displaced persons camp in the country’s northeast in January was the result of incorrect coordinates.

Even if Boko Haram fighters were present in or near the settlement at the time, the Nigerian military should have ensured all of their attacks were targeting military objectives, and that they took all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians. Investigation after the accident should have determined the causes of the attack and the military should have made the necessary changes, including in its planning of operations to minimise the risk of similar attacks in the future.

It is rather shocking that four years after, incorrect coordinates have again been blamed for the recent bombing that has killed Nigerian troops in Mainok.

Also, in 2017 the Nigeria Air Force said one of its fighter jets launched an “accidental air strike” during operations in pursuit of Boko Haram fighters.

The then commander of the military’s counterinsurgency operations in the northeast, Major General Lucky Irabor, told the media that he ordered the mission because Boko Haram fighters were gathering in the area. Two soldiers were also wounded, and an investigation was going to take place. Its outcome, if any, has not deterred continued errors.

Moreover, the tragic incident cannot be blamed on failure to mark the camp in an area that is fully controlled by the army.

According to Medicins Sans Frontiers the whole camp was controlled by the army and no one can come in or out without being checked, so it was a shock, as well as the fact that this was a very densely populated place that was full of civilians who already lived there and internally displaced persons who had come there.

Nigeria’s Air Force needs to take a closer look at its war operations because its so-called friendly fire now has a track record of killing non-combatant citizens.

These listed tragic incidents are not the first military airstrike that apparently killed civilians in the fight against Boko Haram.

On February 28, 2014, a Nigeria military aircraft dropped munitions on Daglun, a Borno village, killing 20 civilians, mostly older residents, according to media reports. On March 16, 2014, a similar military attack on Kayamla village, less than 10 kilometres outside Maiduguri, reportedly killed 10 civilians.

On 31st March 2021, a Nigerian Air Force Alpha Jet aircraft (NAF475) went off the radar with crew members on board. Days later it was announced that the light jetfighter had crashed in Konduga Local Council of Borno State. However, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for downing the jet. The Federal Government of Nigeria promptly denied this claim of responsibility by the insurgent group. Incidents such as these raise security concerns in the minds of Nigerians.

In a letter dated January 17, 2019, addressed to the executive secretary, National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC), Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer argued that instead of reporting the tragic incident to the Accident Investigation Bureau, (AIB), which is saddled with the responsibility of investigating aircraft accidents in Nigeria, the authorities of the Nigerian Air Force decided suo motu to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the bombing of the IDPs camp.

The report of the inquiry was not made public; the Nigerian Air Force blamed the bombing of the camp on an accident.

Although NAF expressed its deepest regrets to all concerned and promised that all necessary measures would be taken to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate incident. It is not clear to what extent these measures have been worked out given the reoccurrence of friendly fire from NAF killing Nigerians and Nigerian troops.

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