Nigeria: The IDP Camp Bombing Error



The military authorities should ensure it does not happen again


Last Tuesday marked another day of tragedy for the nation when a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) fighter jet mistakenly dropped bombs on some settlements harbouring internally displaced Persons (IDPs) in Rann, Kala Balge Local Government Area of Borno State. More than 50 persons died on the spot while no fewer than 200 others, including some humanitarian aid workers of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), were seriously injured. In an apt summation, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Director for Emergency Programmes, said what happened could only further compound the sufferings of residents of communities in the North-east who have had to endure for years the brutalities of the Boko Haram insurgency.


To the extent that accidents do happen and the military authorities have been proactive in handling this tragedy, we can only commiserate with the families of the deceased and the government and people of Borno State. We also call on the authorities and public-spirited individuals to come to the aid of those wounded so as to help mitigate their sufferings.


That citizens fleeing from the trauma of Boko Haram insurgency and taking shelter under the wing of their duly constituted government would experience such a calamity is sad. “This large scale attack on vulnerable people who have fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable,” said Jean-Clement Cabrol, Director of Operations of Medicine Sans Frontiers (doctors without borders), one of the international charity agencies that have been helping to provide relief to the IDPs.


In a statement, President Muhammadu Buhari “wishes the wounded divine succour, leading to full recovery, and sympathises with the Borno State government” and pledged federal help for the state government in attending to “this regrettable operational mistake.” He has also sent a delegation led by his chief of staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, to visit the scene of the accident. But that is not enough. We urge the president to undertake a personal visit to Rann as soon as possible. That is the least he should do under the circumstances, even if that would not bring back the lives lost.


In case his handlers are not telling him, President Buhari has been too distant and aloof in his dealings with Nigerians, especially those under distress. His spokesmen seem to have prepared statements on every conceivable calamity which they release intermittently. The president must recognise that he is both commander-in-chief as well as consoler-in -chief in times of grave national tragedy such as the one that befell the most vulnerable of our citizens in Borno State. He must therefore meet the nation in those places and situations where we feel a collective hurt. It is never too late to do the right thing.


Beyond that symbolism, as we have consistently highlighted on this page, the lesson that should be learnt from other jurisdictions with similar challenges like that of our country today is that defeating insurgents requires more than muscles. It demands a good deal of brain and intelligence by the military and security agencies. If there is no cooperation with the civil populace, vital information that ought to assist the military and perhaps aid the timely end to the reign of the insurgents would either be withheld or manipulated.


While we do not have the exact details of what led to this catastrophic error that claimed several lives, what is not in dispute is that the intelligence relied upon for the attack was wrong. We hope that sufficient lessons have been learned by the military authorities to ensure that things like this do not happen again.


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