Nigerian Airforce Atrocities: What’s value of Nigerian life?

The impunity which the Nigerian military is known for resurfaced this week and twice, with reckless abandon. Nigerians who are yet to come to terms with the mindless atrocious acts by airmen in Ladipo market of Oshodi yesterday in which no less than 5 persons were shot dead when soldiers from the airforce opened fire on market people in a revenge mission, was faced with another negative information overload when it was reported this morning that the airforce had killed a woman and her four children in a raid on Sububu forest in Zamfara.

According to a Daily Trust report, the aircraft belonging to the Nigerian Air Force was targeting bandits at the expansive Sububu Forest located between Shinkafi and Maradun Local Governments when the unfortunate incident happened. According to the report, the fighter jets missed their targets by dropping the bombs on the Sububu village, rather than the bandits’ enclave in the forest. The first and clearest indication that there would be no investigation or accountability of the incident came when on Tuesday, the defence headquarters gleefully reported that the air force had killed about 120 bandits. As a matter of fact, in confirming the airstrikes that killed the said 120 bandits, NAF spokesperson, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet never bothered to mention the deaths of the victims. His statement only mentioned that the military carried out “precision airstrikes on the armed bandits after an intelligence and identification of the locations to avoid collateral damages.”

It is almost a similar pattern, the airforce denied the killings at Ladipo market. “Firstly, NAF personnel did not kill anyone. Moreover, it was one person that died, not three. The information we have at the moment is that the NAF operatives who are attached to OPs MESA received a distress call that a soldier was having an issue with a debtor.” This was the beginning of the denial statement by the spokesperson of the force. In the first place, this was a clear lie. Although the media reported that three people died, a video from the incident that was shared on social media showed at least five people were killed. The second big lie was that the soldiers were there on a distress call. What kind of distress call allows soldiers to fire at unarmed civilians in a crowded environment?

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It can be veritably said that Nigerians are not unused to the mind boggling brutality from men in uniform that seems to be a daily normal, especially given that the Lekki Massacre perpetrated by soldiers from the army in October last year, despite being watched by thousands on Instagram live, was denied by the government and the military despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

One cannot help but feel despair for the victims of the Sububu bombing and their families knowing that justice is an alien concept in Nigeria as a similar bombing incident on an IDP camp in Rann, Borno state in 2017 which left over 300 people dead, was barely acknowledged by the military, which never bothered to hold anyone accountable. The go-to excuse by the military for these air atrocities have been faulty intelligence but one can’t help but wonder if the value of a Nigerian life is so unimportant that a faulty intelligence can end it with a shrug.

In a meeting with senior army officials some months ago, this writer was harangued by officers for daring to describe the Rann Bombing as a massacre, and would rather that a mistake be used in place to describe it. But if such gaffes are an incident that happens once in a decade, or perhaps once in half a century, it would have been a bitter pill for one to swallow, but how do you categorize a repeat of such actions as a “mistake”, when in 2021 which is just seven months in, there has been no less than four of such “mistakes” attributed to the Nigerian Air Force?

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Actions have consequences. The refusal of the military to learn from these so called mistakes by implementing protocols that prevent them from happening or holding accountable people who perpetrate them or at worse, provide faulty intelligence is not only being borne as a brunt by the populace, but also the military itself and in very embarrassing manner, as the incident in April where the air force bombed 22 soldiers and destroyed their gun trucks after apparently mis-identifying them as Boko Haram fighters in Borno. This has been the story of the Nigerian state. The refusal to learn from mistakes and implement reforms is not only sucking in scarce resources to service outmoded and stale ideas, it is only taking precious lives of both civilians and government officials.

Despite these back to back atrocities by the airforce being in the news, it does not help that there most likely not be any accountability or punishment. For the military, it is business as usual while Nigerians go about their business wondering if they are better off being killed by the men in uniform which took an oath to protect them, or by organized non state actors. And in both situations, God help us all.

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