The IDP camp bombing accident
This is sad and the hearts of all Nigerians bleed for the victims. It is one of the ugly fallouts of a situation in which Nigeria has had to go to war to maintain the territorial integrity of the country. The Nigerian Army and the Air Force have been in the forefront of the campaign to secure the borders, which has been seriously challenged by terrorists. Happily, the insurgents have been largely dislodged by the nation’s defence forces.
While the pain from last Tuesday’s accident is unbearable and the tears of all Nigerians rend the heart, this fatal error should be understood within the wider context of an ongoing war.
Already described by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigeria Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, as an ‘operational mistake,’ the accident took the lives of nearly one hundred persons including aid workers. Casualties included some displaced persons, soldiers and aid workers of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF). It is indeed an irony of fate that these men and women who risked their lives to help and save souls in the war-torn area have had their lives terminated in the circumstances of the bombing error. It is highly regrettable. Fittingly, President Buhari has expressed ‘sadness and regret over the incident’, condoled with the families of the dead and wished the ‘wounded divine succor, leading to full recovery.’ All over the country, there has, understandably, been shock, sorrow and sadness over a misjudgment that led to the nation’s troops killing the same people they had liberated from the clutches of bloodthirsty scoundrels of the Boko Haram sect.
Giving a background to the unfortunate incident, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Major-General Lucky Irabor, had said reports reached the military command that some terrorists had gathered at Kala/Balge. Their objective was to cause further mayhem in the liberated territory. The order was then given for the air force component of the military to go and address the problem through aerial bombardment. A military jet took off and soon rained bombs on the site believing that a gathering of terrorists was being attacked. Unfortunately, the target was wrong. Instead of terrorists, the bombs landed on the camp of hapless victims of war, men, women and children who were already at their wits’ end in the harsh environment of displaced peoples’ camp life. To their credit, the response of the military, the Federal and the Borno State governments have been prompt and swift.
Such accidents can be said to be part of operational hazards in time of war and by no stretch of the imagination can anybody claim that the bombing was deliberate. Definitely, it was an error, either tactical or human, avoidable though it may be. The Nigerian Air Force has conducted about 4000 sorties in the course of the fight against Boko Haram, thereby dislodging the insurgents from the notorious Sambisa Forest. Naturally, this feat deserves commendation, which cannot be denied, even with this error. Indeed, Nigerians must look beyond last Tuesday to pass judgment on the nation’s gallant men and officers who have borne the physical brunt of the war.
Having made this observation, it is only appropriate to invite the military High Command along with the Presidency to investigate the cause of the error. This of course should be routine as part of learning and strategising against the future. The error as earlier observed could have been tactical or human. Whatever it is, the results of the investigation will ensure that such mistakes are not made again.
Was there failure of intelligence? Were the proper coordinates given to the pilots? Was the weather inclement, forming a fog to limit visibility? Did the terrorists deliberately relocate to the fringes of the IDPs’ camp in order to precipitate such a tragedy? Answers to all of these will be given by the investigation and it is re-assuring that the Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole has told the nation that the ‘issue will be investigated to ascertain what went wrong’.
It is on record that the Air Force has been upgraded in recent times after many years of neglect by previous administrations. This is good for the morale of the men of the NAF. Modern equipment including sophisticated attack systems that have been procured should be properly deployed. Proper and continuous training in modern warfare should also be encouraged considering the fact that the guerilla tactics of the terrorists need to be constantly reevaluated and contained. The error in Renn is too costly. It is one Nigeria should never have to endure again.