Families of victims of Wednesday’s harrowing aerial shooting by the Nigerian Air Force fighter jet targeting Boko Haram fighters in Yobe State have called on the federal government to pay them compensation.
They hinged their request on the fact that unlike other climes, governments at all levels in Nigeria rarely pay compensation to victims of collateral damage.
Daily Trust reports that at least nine people died in Yobe during the latest incident, while more than 20 sustained injuries when the Nigerian Air Force fighter jet mistook them for terrorists.
The victims were drawn from Buwari, Bulabulin, Matari, Malari and Kajinjiri.
Among the eight people that died were three elderly men and a woman who left behind children and dependants. Four children also lost their lives in the incident and some houses were reportedly destroyed.
While some of the victims were on their way to farms, others were caught in the cobweb on their way to a weekly market in Geidam.
Some locals believed that the shooting at the civilian population was an error. They said even though it was destined to happen, they called for compensation, in addition to the support given to those receiving treatment in hospitals.
The Nigerian Air Force has also admitted that its aircraft was responsible for the accidental shooting.
In a statement on Thursday, the air force spokesman, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, admitted that some shots were fired from a military aircraft.
“Following intelligence on Boko Haram/ISWAP movements along the Komadugu Yobe River line, an aircraft from the Air Component of Operation Hadin Kai was detailed to respond to the suspected terrorists’ activities in the area, along the Nigeria/Niger border at 0600hrs on September 15, 2021.
“The aircraft, while operating at the south of Kanamma, observed suspicious movement consistent with Boko Haram terrorists’ behaviour whenever a jet is overhead.
“Accordingly, the pilot fired some probing shots. It is important to state that the area is well known for continuous Boko Haram /ISWAP activities,” he said.
Our correspondents report that like in many other incidents, the Air Force did not speak on compensation for the victims, even though it said a panel had been set up to investigate the issue.
Experts who spoke said this is the right time for the Air Force, and by extension, the military high command to talk on whether compensation was captured in their rules of engagements.
They said if it is not, there is the need to have it to mitigate the effects of collateral damage, which could not be avoided in any war situation.
Findings showed that in most cases, victims or families of those that lost their lives only during military operations or attacks by non-state actors only receive little support from state governments through the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) or the federal government through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
There are many incidents when people killed in crossfire would only be buried and that is all; those who lost limbs would only be given peanuts, even though they would never live a normal life again, while those who lost their houses or sources of livelihood would become beggars for life.
Children who lost their parents during such unfortunate incidents rarely have access to education, while some old people who lost their breadwinners would find it difficult to survive, as many of them fall sick due to frustration.
Lawyers and activists who spoke on the matter yesterday said it was a “legitimate request” for families of victims of tragedies to seek reparation.
‘Our dreams have been shattered’
When the latest incident happened in Yobe, there was confusion on who was responsible for the aerial raid on the civilian population.
But now that the issue of who did what has been settled, survivors who sustained injuries gave an account of their plights and their expectations.
A community leader in Buwari, Malam Lawan, said they were devastated.
“We lost four people – Hajiya Zara, who was around 65 years ol; Alhaji Manga, who was over 40 years old and Goni Mustapha, who was in his mid-30s, and another person. This is apart from children who died.
“All the elderly people I mentioned left behind families and dependants; and this is our major problem now.
“I want the government to compensate us. Compensation is legal in Islam,” he said.
Babagana Modu Ari, a resident of Geidam, said although his understanding of government was limited, he believed there was a difference between support and compensation.
“We listen to the radio all the time and we have heard that governments in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East are paying compensation to victims whenever there is indiscretion somewhere.
“If somebody’s father is killed in error by the troops, the government will pay the families in millions so that their life will not be in jeopardy.
“In Saudi Arabia, they pay compensation. We heard that even in America they pay compensation to people even when it is not government forces that killed innocent lives,” he said.
Although currently bedridden at Geidam General Hospital receiving treatment, a 50-year-old victim, Mele Ali, said he was hopeful that he would recover.
Ali said the incident was something they never expected at the moment the Nigerian security forces were winning the war against the insurgents.
“Our dream for the day was shattered because the incident happened after we took our breakfast, and as farmers, we were intending to go to our farms when the aircraft struck and fired shots on us.
“After I discovered myself in blood, I called for help from the neighbourhood and some people took me to hospital. I am here under good medical care,” Ali said, and prayed that life would come back to normal.
Another victim, Babura Buwari, 70, who sustained a leg injury, said although he was shocked by the unfortunate incident, he was thankful to God that he survived.
“The last time we saw Boko Haram attack around our village was about 7 years ago, and there were no casualties as they only took food items and left.,” he said.
Besides the injury he sustained, he said part of his house was destroyed by the intensity of objects fired by the military aircraft.
He said they got some support from the state government who visited them and offered medical and foodstuff assistance, but called for compensation.
Fatima Birma, a 32-year-old woman, was hit in the leg while undertaking house chores, and she fainted.
“Within a short period, I saw many of us with injuries lying in a truck. It was a difficult moment, but we thank God who rescued us,” she said.
She, too, demanded justice from the government, as well as compensation for their destroyed houses.
Compensation is legal
Khamis Aliyu, a resident of Damaturu, said the victims deserved similar support as the one given to the victims of the #EndSARS protest recently.
“The federal government directed that all state governments should constitute administrative panel to investigate what happened during the #EndSARS saga and other cases relating to police brutality. The committees were headed by prominent judges in the states who awarded millions of naira in compensation to the victims.
“I want to believe that the victims of insurgency, not just those killed by the Air Force in error recently, should be adequately compensated,” he said.
The chairman of the North-East Network of Civil Society Organisations, Ambassador Ahmed Shehu, said it was unfortunate that the Air Force was recording collateral damage on the civilian population.
“As a civil society, we commiserate with the victims’ families, but what next? These people who have lost their lives have left families behind. Those injured have families to take care of. So, I think there must be a deliberate effort to empower their families. Imagine someone that has seven children and lost his life in this avoidable incident.
“It is important that government should do something to empower the families. The inability to empower these children they left behind will lead us to what we are avoiding. It will make them easy prey for recruitment as you can see that the insurgents always target the vulnerable and recruit them.
“The onus is on Yobe State and the federal governments to identify these families and to strategically empower them,” he said.
On his part, the dean of the Borno Concern Citizens, Professor Khalifa Dikwa, said there was the need for thorough investigation.
“It is one too many, with the death of nine people and more than 30 injured. A similar incident happened on January 17, 2017 when the Nigerian Air Force jet bombed an internally displaced persons’ camp near the Cameroonian border in Rann, Borno State.
“Again, we didn’t hear the reason why this repeats itself, but whatever it is, there should be a kind of compensation for the victims or their relatives.
“Many casualties were recorded during the Rann incident and nothing has been said about it. These accidental air bombardments are unacceptable to us. People are being killed and we need to be fair to the helpless civilians,” he said.
A public affairs analyst, Abubakar Mohammed Kareto, said the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) only gave “a flimsy excuse for bombing Rann.”
He said, “After several calls were made on them, they said they thought it was a Boko Haram encampment. The Rann bombing left at least 115 people dead, including six Red Cross aid workers, and more than 100 injured.
“While reacting to the bombing, the NAF promised that all necessary measures would be taken to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate incident. Unfortunately, it happened again.
“It is sad to note that the government that bombed these people in Rann abandoned the over 100 people injured with several degrees of injuries, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Red Cross.
“Sadly again, the NAF has finally admitted to carrying out Wednesday’s bombing of Buhari village in Yunusari Local Government.
“There is a need for confidence and trust-building between the armed forces and the communities for such wars to be successful. There is a need for further investigation of these humanitarian disasters,” he said.
Reacting, Professor Kamilu Sani Fagge of the Department of Political Science in Bayero University, Kano (BUK), said the government should respond with immediacy, noting that justice delayed is justice denied.
He said, “In issues like this, where there is accidental collateral damage and it has been established, it is the responsibility of the government to compensate victims. For those who are wounded, government should take care of their bills, and for those who are killed, their families should be compensated.
“This is the global best practice all over the world where you have such issue. Government should show concern; it does not have to wait until people complain. Allowing people to complain sometimes may lead to riots, and that will not augur well,” he said.
Also speaking, Kabiru Dakata, the executive secretary of the Centre for Awareness on Justice and Accountability (CAJA), said it was a disturbing and clear case of human rights violation for the government not to pay compensation to victims when it is established that it was culpable in their accidental killings.
He said, “It also indicates how unprofessional our security system is being operated. This is one of many reasons why, sometimes, Nigeria finds it difficult to procure such heavy weapons from countries that respect human rights.
“In the context of fighting terrorism, the right to compensation for victims of armed conflict is recognised under international human rights laws and other national laws. So why should our leaders behave as if they were not aware of those international and domestic laws?
“Even though there will always be victims of armed conflict, the case of Rann of 2017 and the recent case of farmers in Yobe can best be described as victims of unprofessionalism.
“The continued silence of the government shows that it doesn’t care about the victims’ families. This should be a wake-up call to the human rights groups in the country to continue demanding justice for the victims in a well-coordinated and consistent manner.”
Reacting to the incident, Dayo Akinlaja, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the victims deserved adequate and expeditious compensation, adding that the relatives could resort to a judicial remedy if appropriate action was not taken.
He said the legal dictum that where there is an injury, there is also a remedy applied in this matter because the people whose lives were cut short were entitled to life. And the constitution provides that the welfare and security of citizens shall be the primary duty of government.
“There is absolutely no reason the government should not pay compensation,” he said.
Also, a human rights lawyer, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, said the community could sue the NAF in the court of law for breach of the fundamental rights of their relatives and seek compensation.
“This will put the NAF on the need to be more professional in carrying out their official duties,” Jimoh said.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dayo Akinlade, said yesterday that it was a pitiable situation for the victims and the bereaved.
“As humans, we are prone to mistakes in one form or another. The accident is because of that understanding. Indeed, I sincerely commend the leadership of the NAF for their candour and forthrightness in the tragic incident. Hopefully, the needful lessons would be learnt and such an ugly occurrence would not repeat itself.
“With the reality that what has happened cannot be reversed, about the only reasonable thing to do is to compensate the victims and the bereaved as appropriate,” he said.
Compensation not part of military practice – Source
There was no immediate response on the request from the Air Force, but a senior security officer told Daily Trust that payment of compensation was not part of military practice.
The official, who does not want to be mentioned because he is not authorised to speak on the matter, said investigation on the incident was not yet completed.
“Yes, the matter is being investigated, but it is not in our tradition to pay compensation; it is the state government that supports families of victims in a situation like this.
“There is no insurance cover for this kind of incident; even our aircraft are not insured, it is only the pilots that are insured.
“We hope the state government would support the victims, but are you sure that the victims are not families of Boko Haram?” He asked
Daily Trust reports that soon after the incident, Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe directed government hospitals in Geidam and Damaturu to offer free medical services to those who sustained injuries in the disaster.
The executive secretary of Yobe SEMA, Dr Mohammed Goje, while commiserating with some of the victims and caregivers in Geidam General Hospital, conveyed the governor’s condolence and assured them of free medical attention as directed by the governor.
“Cash was given to all the patients’ caregivers to enable them sustain themselves while taking care of the survivors in the hospital,” he said.
“Additionally, a food basket was given to each household of survivors and representatives of the deceased. Diesel and powered battery were also supplied for immediate operation of water facility in the community,” he said.
Ibrahim Baba Saleh (Damaturu), Olatunji Omirin (Maiduguri), Clement A. Oloyede (Kano), Ismail Mudashir, John Chuks Azu, Abbas Jimoh, Haruna Ibrahim (Abuja) & Adelanwa Bamgboye (Lagos)