• Saturday, February 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigerian Military struggles to balance civilian protection with counterterrorism efforts

In an ongoing struggle to combat insecurity in the country, the Nigerian military has inflicted immense suffering on the very civilians it seeks to protect.

The civilian population has paid a heavy price, particularly in the North West and North East regions, due to military errors.

The civilians are facing horrors at the hands of terrorists and bandits, as well as from the military, which is supposed to protect them from criminals.

SBM Intelligence, a research and consulting firm, conducted an investigation that revealed that between 2017 and 2023, over 300 innocent civilians were killed and many more were injured as a result of accidental airstrikes carried out by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).

Despite promises of investigation and preventive measures, the tragic pattern of mishaps continues to claim innocent lives.

The investigation also revealed that Niger, Katsina, Nasarawa, Yobe, Zamfara, Borno, and Kaduna are the most affected by the military mishaps.

A litany of misadventure

Rann, Borno State (January 2017)

On January 17, 2017, a Nigerian Air Force jet mistakenly bombed an IDP camp in Rann, Borno State.

The horrible incident led to the death of 126 civilians, including aid workers and internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the camp. The majority of the victims were children and women.

Sakotoku Village, Damboa, Borno State

The Nigerian Air Force fighter jet accidentally killed seventeen people, mainly women and children, in Sakotoku Village, Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State.

Zamfara (July 2021)

A military jet pursuing bandits in a forest between Shinkafi and Maradun LGAs in Zamfara killed a woman and four of her children in July 2021.

Buhari Village, Yobe (September 2021)

On September 15, 2021, a military jet targeting terrorists mistakenly bombed a civilian population in Buhari village in Yunusari LGA of Yobe State.

The incident led to the deaths of nine people. The victims’ families were reportedly given N10,000 as compensation by the authority.

Kwatar Daban Masara, Lake Chad (September 28)

On September 28, 2021, a military airstrike killed 20 fishermen in the Kwatar Daban Masara region of Lake Chad.

Kurebe, Niger State (April 2022)

On April 13, 2022, a fighter jet targeting terrorists killed six children in the Kurebe area of Shiroro LGA in Niger State.

Safana, Katsina State

Following an airstrike by the Air Force in the Safana LGA of Katsina State, thirteen locals suffered injuries and one person died.

30 Vigilantes Killed in Niger

In January 2023, 30 local vigilantes fighting bandits were reportedly killed after a military jet fired at them.

27 herdsmen killed in Nasarawa

Also, in January 2023, 27 herdsmen were reportedly killed after the Nigerian Air Force bombed Kwateri, a community between Benue and Nasarawa states.

Tudun Biri community, Kaduna

The most recent of all is the Kaduna air strike, which happened at Tudun Biri community in the Igabi LGA.

86 villagers reportedly died after a military jet dropped two bombs on a civilian population.

The victims were reportedly celebrating Maulud, an Islamic event, when the incident occurred.

The incident has generated and still generating a lot of condemnation, both locally and internationally.

On several occasions, the Nigerian Air Force promised to probe the incidents and introduce measures to prevent future occurrences. However, there is no update on the outcome of its findings as history continues to repeat itself.

In December 2022, then-Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed downplayed the civilian casualties, referring to them as “collateral deaths” that happen “once in a while.”

“Fighting insurgency is a very difficult thing. And as much as the air force or the military are careful, once in a while, it does happen—that innocent people also suffer. We will regret it,” he had said.

However, President Bola Tinubu has ordered a probe into the circumstances leading to the recent airstrike in Kaduna State. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to any meaningful changes to prevent future civilian casualties.

The Army reacts

A spokesman for the Army, Onyema Nwachukwu, a brigadier general, said its forces had located a group of people and determined they were militants, who officials often refer to as “bandits,” at large in north and central Nigeria.

He added that the Military officers “misinterpreted their pattern of activities to be similar to that of the bandits.”

Criminal groups of thousands of militants have become the primary security threat in much of northern and central Nigeria, effectively occupying rural villages, launching attacks and mass kidnappings.

While paying a condolence visit to scene, the victims, leaders of the affected community and the local hospital last Tuesday, the head of the Nigerian Army, Taoreed Lagbaja, a lieutenant general, described the incident as “grave and regrettable,”

Lagbaja further said: “We will do everything possible to prevent such an occurrence from happening again in the conduct of our operations going forward.”

Tinubu orders investigation

Expressing concerns over the incident, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu said the attack was “disturbing and painful” and pledged a “thorough and full-fledged investigation into the incident,” which he described as a “bombing mishap.”