One of the Internally Displaced Persons in Rann, Borno State, who survived the accidental bombing of the camp on Tuesday, said the Nigerian Air Force fighter jet involved in the operation dropped bombs on the camp three times.
Abdulwahab Adam, who spoke to The PUNCH at the General Hospital, Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, where he was receiving treatment for injuries sustained in the attack, on Wednesday, said, “The bombs were dropped on us thrice and there was no way a mistake could be made thrice.
Tragedy had struck on Tuesday, when a fighter jet involved in the counter-insurgency operation in the North-East, fired at aid workers, soldiers and displaced persons in error, killing no fewer than 100 persons on the ground.
Aid workers confirmed to have been killed in the bombing included the officials of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), International Committee of the Red Cross and some refugees.
“There was nothing accidental about the attack and it could not be referred to as a mistake.
“The Federal Government should stop telling Nigerians that it was a mistake; for this was not. It was nothing but an unprovoked attack on a civilian populace.
“This was not a new camp and the attack happened when people queued up to receive humanitarian materials.
Another victim of the attack, Abba Yusuf, believed the NAF had to explain what led to the attack.
He added, “This is the same force that told the world that they did not drop the bomb on insurgents in the Sambisa Forest because of human shield but weeks later, dropped bombs on unarmed civilians in an IDPs’ camp.
“Could they have been blindfolded to know that we were in a queue and we were unarmed or could they have mistaken the IDPs camp for the haven of insurgents?”
One of the people, who trooped to the hospital to visit their relatives who sustained injuries in the attack, Yakubu Hassan, said, “This is really unfortunate. I came to the hospital to get information about my brother, Babangida Hassan, only to be told that he was killed in the attack.”
He said his brother was a 35 year-old ad-hoc worker with the Nigerian Red Cross.
He asked President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that the “negligent” pilot was brought to book.
He lamented that the deceased left behind two wives and over 30 other dependants.
“How do you want them to be taken care of now?” he asked.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government dispatched a high-powered delegation, led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari, to condole with the government and people of Borno State and the international aid agencies affected in the attack.
In the delegation were two ministers – retired Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan Ali (Defence); and Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture).
Others are the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin; the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai; and the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar.
Kyari delivered the government’s message to the state Governor, Kashim Shettima; the Shehu of Dikwa, Alhaji Mohammed El-Kanemi, and the injured international aid workers at the hospital.
He said, “We are in Maiduguri at the instance of President Buhari to come over and condole with the people and government of Borno State over the unfortunate air strike that took place at Rann town’s IDP Camp on Tuesday, leaving many innocent people dead and others wounded.”
He assured the people that the Nigerian Armed forces would ensure that such incidents did not occur again.
Kyari said the Federal Government would bear the cost of the treatment of all those wounded and who are receiving attention at hospitals in Maiduguri and its environs.
Shettima, who thanked the delegation for the condolence visit, acknowledged the sacrifices of the Armed Forces and the Federal Government in the fight against Boko Haram.
He added that with prayers, zeal, determination and commitment of the military and other security agencies, peace was gradually returning to the state.
Shettima stated that had commenced the reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement of the IDPs.
24 hours after, 90 critically-injured victims yet to be evacuated
Meanwhile, no fewer than 90 critically-injured victims of the Rann attack were yet to be evacuated from the area on Wednesday, more than 24 hours after the accidental strikes.
The PUNCH learnt that 46 of them were supposed to be flown to Maiduguri, which had the facilities required for their treatments, but they had yet to be evacuated as of press time.
According to a statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday, a surgical team had been deployed in Rann to assist with the 90 injured IDPs, who were in an “open-air space in a precarious environment.”
The ICRC added that 100 patients were sighted at the camp, among which only nine were airlifted to Maiduguri on Tuesday.
It added, “Hours after the air strike, a surgical team from the ICRC deployed in Rann, and another ICRC surgical team in Maiduguri, prepared to support the Ministry of Health in receiving casualties.
“The team in Rann triaged around 100 patients, while nine patients in critical condition were evacuated by helicopter to Maiduguri.
“Around 90 patients remain in Rann, out of whom 46 are severely injured and need to be evacuated to Maiduguri as a matter of urgency. Patients are attended to in an open-air space in a precarious environment.”
An ICRC surgeon in Rann, Dr. Laurent Singa, confirmed that the patients at the Rann needed urgent evacuation.
He said, “We started medical work in Rann shortly after the incident. The conditions for post-operative care are not adequate. So, all the patients must be evacuated to Maiduguri as soon as possible.”
The Head of the ICRC delegation in Nigeria, Eloi Fillion, said the Federal Government must ensure that such tragedy did not reoccur, adding that the ICRC would continue its humanitarian services to the IDPs.
The ICRC and the Red Crescent Movement said it extended its heartfelt condolences to the families of all those killed or injured, including those affiliated to the Médecins Sans Frontières.
The Human Rights Watch also on Wednesday called for compensation for the victims of the IDPs camp bombing.
A senior researcher with the HRW in Nigeria, Mausi Segun, said the compensation must be “prompt, adequate and effective.”
We’re evaluating our procedures, says NAF chief
The Chief of Air Staff, on Wednesday, said the Nigerian Air Force had raised a committee to conduct a thorough investigation into the accidental bombing of the IDP camp in Rann.
The air chief added that the NAF was evaluating its procedures to have more efficiency.
Abubakar said this at the Air Force Base in Kainji, Niger State, during an interview with newsmen, adding that the bombing was a tragic mistake.
He said, “Our pilots got airborne on Tuesday, hoping to save lives, but unfortunately, there was a tragic mistake, which led to the loss of innocent lives.
“We have operated for eight years in the North-East and flown close to 6,000hrs; this is the first time we are having this tragedy.
“This is a very tragic and unfortunate incident. Sometimes, it does happen in war. We have directed our Chief of Medical Services to provide medical facility in Maiduguri to the injured, so that they can be treated.
“We are putting up a high-powered committee at the NAF level. We do not want to pre-empt the findings of this committee.
“As a professional service, we will continue to evaluate our procedures and processes so that we can be effective.”
Buhari cancels FEC meeting, Reps set up fact-finding panel, Senate warns military
A scheduled weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council was also called off on Wednesday.
Although no official reason was given for the cancellation, some government officials said the accidental bombing could be responsible for the development.
Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, had, on Tuesday, in a statement, quoted the President as regretting the accidental bombings by the NAF.
But the House of Representatives, on Wednesday, began a subtle investigation into Tuesday’s mistaken air strike in Rann.
It set up a 10-man committee with a mandate to immediately visit Rann, the site of the incident to assess the situation.
The 10 lawmakers were drawn from the Committee on IDPs/Refugees/Initiatives on the North-East; Committee on Air Force; Committee on Army; Committee on Disaster Preparedness/Emergency Assistance; and Committee on Health Services.
A member from Jigawa State and Chairman, Committee on the IDPs/Refugees/Initiatives on the North-East, Mr. Sani Zorro, had drawn the attention of the House to the air strike under matters of urgent public importance.
While leading the debate, Zorro said there was the need to ascertain whether the bombing was as a result of human error or a deliberate hostile act on civilian population.
He added, “The House is mindful of the need to ascertain whether the air strike was in accordance with strict observance of the rules of engagement under air law and as enshrined under international humanitarian law, otherwise the Law of Armed Conflict.”
The House, in a separate resolution, condemned Monday’s suicide bomb attacks on the University of Maiduguri, which claimed the life of a professor and three others.
Also, the Senate urged the Nigerian military to apply caution in its operations.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly issued the warning following a point of order raised by the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, at the plenary on Wednesday.
Lawan’s point of order was based on Tuesday’s accidental bombing in Rann.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, said, “We only hope and pray that this will not happen again. We urge the military, especially the Air Force, to, as much as possible, ensure that this does not happen again.
“We are also conscious of the efforts by our gallant soldiers, especially that which they have been making in the North-East. We believe this was completely unintended.”
He, however, urged the military not to allow the sad incident to dampen its morale.
“No doubt, it was an obvious mistake,” he stated.
The senators also observed a minute silence in honour of those who died in the incident.
In a related development, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; and his deputy, Ekweremadu, in separate statements, lamented the bombing.
Saraki, in a statement on his social media handles, on Tuesday night, said, “My thoughts and prayers are with the families and victims of today’s accident in Rann community of Borno State. I pray that the souls of the victims may rest in peace. I wish the victims speedy recovery, and I pray that incidents like these never reoccur again.”
Ekweremadu, in his statement, “expressed deep grief and condolences over the erroneous bombing.”
He said, “This is shocking and sad. I am pained by the gory pictures emanating from the scene, but I commend the efforts by the authorities and the armed forces to evacuate and treat the wounded.
“I also appreciate the support of the humanitarian organisations, notably, the Medicines Sans Frontiers and the International Committee of Red Cross towards salvaging the lives of the evacuated despite suffering casualties as well.”
Ministers, APC, Buhari’s wife others react
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has described as utterly tragic the accidental bombing of a civilian community in Rann by a NAF fighter jet.
While saying that the incident was regretted and sad, it nevertheless started that the accident should not be viewed as the true reflection of the professionalism of the NAF.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated this in a statement in Abuja on Wednesday.
The minister also sent the government and his personal condolences to the families of those who died in the unfortunate bombing and prayed for quick recovery of the injured.
Mohammed, who recently led members of the Bring Back Our Girls and the media to Yola, Adamawa State, where the Air Component of the fight against Boko Haram is based and over the Sambisa Forest, said he was particularly saddened because the accidental bombing was not a true reflection of the level of professionalism that he witnessed during the visit.
He said, ‘’One of the things we went away with after spending two days at the Tactical Air Command in Yola is the strict adherence to operational guidelines and the high level of professionalism of the officers and men, especially the young pilots who fly high-risk missions day and night.
“It therefore came to me as a rude shock to learn, a few hours after leaving Yola, that one of the fighter jets has accidentally bombed civilians, including aid workers.’’
The minister urged the NAF to continue to take the necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties while carrying out its challenging task of keeping Nigerians safe.
Also, the All Progressives Congress has condoled with victims of the accidental bombing. The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said the APC offered its deep condolences to families of the IDPs and humanitarian aid workers affected by the unfortunate incident.
This was contained in a statement by Abdullahi in Abuja, on Wednesday.
He said, “Although Tuesday’s accident is regrettable, the party urges humanitarian aid agencies not to be deterred in their noble and selfless mission to bring succour to the IDPs in the North-East.”
The party urged the Nigerian military to remain focused on its ongoing final mop- up operation of Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East so that inhabitants of the insurgency-ravaged areas could quickly return safely to their normal and productive lives.
In her reaction, the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, condoled with the families and victims of the Tuesday accidental bombing by the NAF fighter jet in Rann.
In a statement by her Special Assistant on Media, Adebisi Olumide-Ajayi, the President’s wife prayed that God would continue to guide the nation’s armed forces in their bid to rid Nigeria of terrorism.
“Being deeply involved with the IDP’s and having shared both sad and happy moments with them through her NGO, Future Assured, Mrs. Buhari feels really pained by this unfortunate incident,” the statement read.
Speaking on Wednesday, Shettima said the death of scores of refugees and humanitarian workers in Rann could not be justified under any circumstance.
The governor, who described the incident as unfortunate, however, said it was a painful price that came with war.
The governor, in a statement on Wednesday, also applauded the efforts made by various stakeholders to evacuate the victims.
This is just as the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Haruna Mshelia, said 54 survivors admitted in hospitals had been stabilised.
Shettima said, “It is most unfortunate and wasn’t meant to happen. Nothing can justify this tragedy but going down memory lane, incidents of friendly fire are unfortunately as old as history of wars in the world.
“There are many incidents of friendly fires since the 1st and 2nd World Wars down to the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and other parts of the world.”
“It is gratifying that nobody made any effort to hide anything or sweep things under the carpet. In years gone by, people would have resorted to blame games. I am happy that rather than blame game, information was made public with sincerity, mistakes were accepted and focus was channelled into the evacuation and rehabilitation of victims.”
Mshelia explained that 32 persons were receiving treatment at the State Specialist Hospital; 16 victims were admitted in the 7th Division Military Hospital in Maimalari Barracks while six persons were hospitalised at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.
In its own reaction, the Arewa Consultative Forum commiserated with the families of the victims of the Rann tragedy.
The National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Muhammad Ibrahim, in a statement in Kaduna, on Wednesday, called on the Federal Government to thoroughly investigate the incident.
It stated, “ACF is saddened by the tragedy caused by the Nigerian Air Force jet that mistakenly bombed an Internally Displaced Persons camp at Rann, Kala Balge Local Government Area in Borno State.
“In as much as the ACF appreciates the effort of NAF in its aggressive operation to flush out the Boko Haram insurgents, caution and diligence must be exercised to avoid such tragedy.
“It therefore calls on the Federal Government to thoroughly investigate this unfortunate accident.”
The group also condemned the University of Maiduguri twin bomb blasts which claimed the lives of a professor and four others.
Also, the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, commiserated with the families of the victims of Tuesday’s “accidental” air strike.
The governor, who said it was strange that the military could “mistakenly” bomb an IDP camp that it created and aware of the location, called for thorough investigation by both the military authorities and the international community to ascertain what actually happened.
Criticising Buhari for jumping into conclusion that the air strike was a mistake, the governor averred that by making that statement, the President had already foreclosed investigation, which, he argued should have preceded his conclusion.
Fayose, in a statement on Wednesday by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, maintained that “it is obvious that the Federal Government is still deceiving Nigerians on its handling of the Boko Haram insurgency because it is strange that the same Boko Haram that they said had been defeated were the ones they claimed the military wanted to attack with fighter jet.”
UNICEF backs FG’s probe plan
The United Nations Children’s Fund said it supported the decision of the Federal Government to probe the bombing of the IDPs’ camp in Rann.
The agency’s Communication Specialist, Media and External Relations, Mr. Geoffrey Njoku, in a statement, in Abuja, quoted UNICEF’s Director for Emergency Programmes, Manuel Fontaine, as saying it welcomed the decision to investigate how the incident happened.
He said, “UNICEF is deeply concerned by the loss of lives in Tuesday’s tragic incident in Rann, Borno State. Our thoughts are with all those who were injured.
“UNICEF stands in solidarity with our humanitarian colleagues, and the dangerous conditions they work in. The aid workers who lost their lives were working to save others.
“UNICEF remains committed to deliver aid to the more than four million children and their families in the region, who are in desperate need of help.
“We welcome the Nigerian government’s decision to investigate how this shocking incident came to pass.”
Story by: John Alechenu, John Ameh, Olusola Fabiyi, Kamarudeen Ogundele, Olalekan Adetayo, Friday Olokor, Olaelye Aluko, Afeez Hanafi, Godwin Isenyo and Kayode Idowu. (PUNCH)