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EDITORIAL: Military’s ‘accidental’ killing of innocent northerners must stop

It is rare for a nation’s military to turn its guns on its own citizens. And when that happens, the context is usually clear, such…

It is rare for a nation’s military to turn its guns on its own citizens. And when that happens, the context is usually clear, such as in pogroms carried out for the survival of military regimes.

But for the umpteenth time in democratic Nigeria, we are forced into mourning the unwarranted killing of over 100 innocent citizens by military airstrikes which released bombs on Muslims celebrating Maulud (birthday of the Prophet) in Tudun-Biri village in Rigasa district of Igabi Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State. Equally painful is how several dozens of children and women were rendered orphans and widows in one swoop, all for no just cause. It’s agonizing that a man lost his entire family except an infant who incredibly survived the attack.

The incident, which killed over 120 Nigerians and left over 60 injured, occurred around 9pm on Sunday December 3, 2023. The first official pronouncement on the incident came from the Kaduna State government when its commissioner overseeing the state ministry of internal security and home affairs, Samuel Aruwan, addressed journalists on Monday, December 4, 2023.

Eye witness accounts of the tragedy state that when survivors of the drone attack returned to the event venue for rescue operations, their efforts were thwarted when the drone returned and dropped a second bomb on the congregations observing the annual Maulud. Aruwan told reporters after an emergency closed-door meeting with heads of security agencies, religious and community leaders that the injured were receiving treatment at the Barau Dikko General Hospital in Kaduna.

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It is scandalous for the army authorities which own and man the drone to fail to immediately speak out on the unfortunate incident until after the Kaduna State government had issued statements. More insensitive is the statement by the army spokesperson, Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachukwu, who, after claiming responsibility for the bombing insisted that the statement issued by the Kaduna State government sufficed.

Similar attacks that were recorded earlier this year include the January 24, 2023 attack on Galkogo community in Shiroro LGA of Niger State; the January 25, 2023 bombing of Rukubi community in Doma LGA of Nasarawa State; the March 5, 2023 attack on Sabon Gida village in Fatika district of Giwa LGA of Kaduna State; the August 18, 2023 attack on Kwaki village in Shiroro LGA of Niger State. This year alone, Kaduna and Niger states have each suffered military bomb attacks twice. In all the airstrikes, Borno leads with the highest number of six attacks in 9 years, including the one on Rann IDP camp where 50 civilians were killed on January 17, 2017.

As this newspaper reported yesterday, the military must rue the fact that over 16 such incidents have occurred in northern communities over the past nine years, killing nearly 400 people. The repeated manner of those strikes has thus created the unfortunate but still widespread insinuation by many in the region that those charged with relieving their torment had turned tormentors. This by itself should make the military more careful and more precise in its counter-insurgency operations. It should, we expect, make the Army and the Airforce, in particular, more wary of a quick resort to explaining the strikes as “accidental” or “mistake”. After all, this sort of “mistakes” by the military do not happen anywhere else in Nigeria.

Where the cost is human life, as the military must know, repeated mistakes would not only ring hollow, but must be unacceptable. And in this particular case, the narrative of “mistake” becomes even more untenable because, although the Defence Headquarters said on Tuesday that the attack was based on information about untoward activities of terrorists in the area, it was irresponsible for the army to proceed with the attack after the air force authorities had unequivocally advised against it.

Beyond the reckless show of professional incompetence by the military is how, as a recurring decimal, the incidence of bombing wrong targets suggests the massive extent of re-orientation and re-education required of operational troops. Any professional military worth its name must study and fully understand the cultural environment within which it operates. Maulud, for instance, has a fixed month in the calendar and the sort of activities associated with it are well known. Therefore, only the most unaware operational military unit would mistake a Maulud gathering with a collection of bandits.

Certainly, in this case, anyone would expect, as the barest minimum, that air surveillance of untoward activity by drones be supported and confirmed by ground intelligence before the order to fire is issued, if only to avoid the sort of recklessness that has now ensued.

Moreover, the failure to punish offenders of the previous attacks can only enable or encourage the perpetration of the same criminality by the military. It is precisely because we tend not to punish previous cases that they keep recurring. If something like this happens anywhere in the world, there would be a court martial of the officers and men directly involved, as well as heads of the army.

Therefore, while we strongly condemn the military for this and all previous attacks on innocent Nigerians, we demand an immediate investigation and court martial of all those directly involved, and subsequent and swift punishment of any culprits. This time, we demand prosecution and punishment. Somebody must bear responsibility.

Daily Trust supports the call by the Sultan and President-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and other Muslim scholars including Sheikh Dahiru Usman Bauchi and Sheikh Sani Yahaya Jingir for full compensation to be paid to all victims of the tragedy and their families. It is not enough that the government claims to pay the medical bills of those injured. What about those who died? Who will take care of their families? We demand full compensation.

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