The Federal Government was Sunday urged to investigate the killings of about 40 herders in an airstrike believed to have been carried out by the military at Rukubi village in Doma Local Government Area of Nasarawa State last week.
Sources had told Daily Trust that the incident happened when the herders were returning from Makurdi, Benue State Capital, where they had gone to retrieve over 1,000 cows seized by the Benue Livestock Guards.
The incident sparked outrage, but military authorities have remained silent on it.
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) on Sunday demanded an explanation for the killings which it described as intentional.
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In a statement by its spokesperson, Muhammad Nura Abdullahi, MACBAN condemned the “silence” of the Federal Government and the military on the incident.
The association also said the Benue State Government should be held liable for the incident.
It explained that the trucks carrying the livestock were closely monitored until they reached their destination before an armed drone was unleashed on the pastoralists.
“MACBAN describes the silence as reprehensible and lack of regard for the loss of lives of ordinary Nigerians who are victims of high handedness of Benue State government and the officers of the Makurdi-based Operation Whirl Stroke who deployed an aircraft/drone.”
“The pastoralists went to Makurdi earlier in the day to retrieve their 1,250 livestock earlier impounded by the Benue State Livestock Guards after paying a fine of N29million.
“If nothing, we expect the president to commiserate with the families of the victims of this heinous crime. MACBAN recalls this is the third time in one year that the (Nigerian) Air Force was involved in the bombing of pastoralists and livestock in Nasarawa, Benue and Taraba states.
“The recent killings constitute a war crime and a panel of inquiry must be constituted to find out on whose authority the drone/aircraft was used and punish the culprits.
“The late pastoralists are bona fide Nigerians, have rights like every other citizen and therefore must be protected under the law. The loss of one life is bad enough talk less of over 40 innocent lives in a single swoop. This is an unacceptable and most despicable crime against humanity.
“We find it shameful that while people were being killed, the President was enjoying a state dinner in Katsina State. We also call on the National Human Rights Commission to investigate this case and other cases involving shootings by the Air Force in Nasarawa,” the statement read.
In its reaction, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) yesterday said over 50 pastoralists and butchers were killed in the incident, urging the Federal Government to investigate the circumstances surrounding it.
The ACF, in a statement by its Secretary-General, Murtala Aliyu, demanded the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators “whoever they are”.
“To our knowledge, only government has the power to deploy armed drones. Sources told the ACF that the drone strike happened while the livestock was being offloaded after the owners were forced to take back their cattle in trucks from Makurdi.
“This incident came barely six months after a similar incident in which hundreds of livestock were killed when a helicopter gunship belonging to the Nigerian Air force from the Makurdi Base Operation carried out the strike killing and wounding the animals and some herders in Awe also in Nasarawa State.”
According to the ACF, the death of one person, in a serious country, is enough to attract the attention and intervention of the government.
“The Nigerian airspace is managed by the Federal Government through the Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA). So, we expect the Federal Government to immediately fish out the perpetrators of this dastardly act, whoever they are, to face the law,” the ACF said.
It commended the Nasarawa State Government for the intervention it made so far in giving medical attention and support to the survivors and the victims’ families. While condoling the families of the deceased, the ACF called for adequate compensation to the families of the victims.
Also, the Northern Consensus Movement (NCM) called on the federal government to pay compensation to the families of the slain pastoralists.
The group lamented the attitude of some northern leaders, particularly northern governors, for keeping silent despite the fact that all those killed were northerners.
The group’s president, Awwal Abdullahi Aliyu, at a news briefing in Kaduna on Sunday, also asked the National Assembly to ensure the incident was not swept under the carpet.
The group threatened to sue Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom for his alleged act of hatred against Fulani and Hausa residing in his state.
It warned him against harassing northerners in the state, asking northerners to support a northern candidate in the coming presidential election for the survival of the region.
Families deserve compensation – NHRC, lawyer
The Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Anthony Ojukwu (SAN) yesterday called for justice for the victims.
In a chat with Daily Trust, Ojukwu said officers found to be negligent must be held accountable under the laws of the country.
“The commission feels sad over the erroneous attacks which have been acknowledged, and would support that the families of those Nigerians who lost their loved ones be compensated and negligent officers should be held accountable under the laws of the country,” he said. He regretted that the shortage of funding was hampering the commission’s work in pursuit of justice for victims of human rights violations.
“That’s why we are clamouring for a human rights fund in the amendment to the NHRC Act so that sudden violations like this can be handled.”
Also, the chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Section on Public Interest Law (SPIDEL), Onyekachi Ubani, said the families of the victims must be compensated if it was established that it was an accidental bombing.
“This is not the first time this is happening, it is either the fourth or fifth and shows a clear failure of intelligence in security arrangement,” he said.
A human rights lawyer, Deji Ajare, said the airstrike was beginning to take a systematic dimension which could qualify for war crimes against the Nigerian government.
“If our military is allowed to continue with such reckless attacks without care for precision and verification of security information, then we must know that the lives of every Nigerian will be at risk,” Ajare said.
I have no hand in the killing – Ortom
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom denied that he and his government had a hand in the killing, describing the allegations as mischievous. He clarified that he did not order anyone to carry out such act as he had no powers to order an air raid operation.
Ortom, in a statement by his spokesman, Nathaniel Ikyur, made available to our correspondent in Makurdi yesterday, indicated that he reacted to the allegations blaming him for the killing during a Thanksgiving Mass for the official commissioning of a Parish House built by him at Holy Cross Parish, Ogbolokuta, Ulayi in Ado Local Government Area of the state.
Ortom said the raid might have been as a result of intelligence gathered by the Military High Command.
The governor added that it was pure mischief for anyone to attempt to rope him into what he had no knowledge of.
The Director, Defence Media Operations, Maj.-Gen. Musa Danmadami, could not be reached for comments last night as calls to his mobile phone did not connect.
But Danmadami had, at a press briefing in Abuja on Thursday, said he would not want to comment on the issue since Nasarawa State Governor Abdullahi Sule had already spoken.
As of the time of filing this report last night, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, had not replied a text message sent to him by our reporter after phone calls seeking the Presidency’s reaction to the allegations by MACBAN.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had on Friday offered his prayers and condolences to the government and people of Nasarawa State over the incident.
From Maryam Ahmadu-Suka, Mohammed I. Yaba (Kaduna), Hope A. Emmanuel (Makurdi), John C. Azu, Muideen Olaniyi & Idowu Isamotu (Abuja)