I saw bodies of children cut into two, says witness
2 more die, five discharged
From Molly Kilete, Abuja, Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri and Mark Pippah
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has constituted a Board of Inquiry (BoI) to investigate an air strike which bombed an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp at Rann, Kala Balge Local Government Area of Borno State, on Tuesday, January 17.
52 people died in the ill-fated air raid.
Those expected to appear before the BoI, include the Air Component Commander, the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineers as well as personnel of Operation Lafia Dole, among others.
The six-man NAF board, headed by Air Vice Marshal Salihu Bala-Ribah, the Chief of Standards and Evaluation, also has Air Vice Marshal Charles Oghomwen, Air Commodore Ayoola Jolasinmi, Group Captain Essien Efanga, Wing Commander Solomon Irmiya and Wing Commander Mohammed Muazu as members.
The board will, among others, determine the immediate and remote causes and circumstances that led to the incident, with a view to forestalling future occurrence.
A statement by NAF’s Director of Public Relations and Information, Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa said: “In addition to a list of 20 witnesses given to it, the board is free to invite other persons to give evidence on oath. The board is to submit its report not later than February 2, 2017.”
President Muhammad Buhari, on hearing the news of the accidental attack, sent a delegation, headed by the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, to Maiduguri, to commiserate with government and people of the state.
The delegation, which had the Minister of Defence, Masur Dan-Ali, Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai and the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadiq Abubakar, while in Maiduguri, visited the injured in various hospitals in the state.
At the Government House Maiduguri, Governor Shetima, while receiving the delegation, thanked the federal government for its concern even as he pointed out that such incidences often happen during war.
Meanwhile, two, out of about 80 wounded victims of the airstrike evacuated to Maiduguri hospitals, have died. Five of the remaining survivors have also been discharged.
Borno Commissioner of Health, Dr Haruna Mshelia, in an update released to journalists, yesterday, also said evacuation of those injured has ended. He added that 73 wounded persons are still hospitalised.
He said the State Specialist Hospital now has 68 patients, after receiving those initially hospitalised at the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army Hospital and added that five people are receiving treatment at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.
In a related development, a field coordinator with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Alfred Davies has recounted how broken bones, torn flesh and bodies of children littered the internally displaced the IDPs camp in Rann, after a NAF fighter jet “mistakenly” dropped bombs in the camp.
Speaking with TIME magazine, Davies said in an hour they counted 52 persons dead. He also said MSF’s distribution of relief materials such as mats and blankets saved a lot of people because they were queuing up at their tents at the time of their attack. He explained that they were in Rann to “evaluate people’s nutritional status and assess their needs, including if they had access to enough safe water.”
The coordinator said after months of trying to gain access to Rann, they finally got there on January 14 and found out that the people living in Rann had “nothing. The first bomb fell at 12:30pm and landed just a few meters away from the Red Cross office. The plane circled back around, and it dropped a second bomb five minutes later,” Davies said.
“Dozens of wounded persons began to pour in and continued for hours. There are no words to describe the chaos. Some people had broken bones and torn flesh; their intestines hung down to the floor. I saw the bodies of children that had been cut in two. The tents were strewn with wounded persons, and there was barely any room to move. Many people were outside, lying on mats under the trees. There was only one doctor and one nurse in our team, but, each of us did what we could. Even the drivers helped us. We also had support from the Red Cross staff and military nurses.
“I did not see the plane and I don’t know exactly what type of bomb it was. We found small metal slivers on the bodies. What I saw was indescribable. In the space of one hour, we counted 52 dead.” He said at the burial ground, over 30 new graves were dug and filled up with mothers and their children.
“I recognised the body of a mother who had been at the MSF distribution that morning,” Davies said.
In its reaction, the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign group has expressed sadness over the accidental air strike and called on government to identify those affected in the attack with a view to compensating them and their families.
The group, in a statement by its co-coordinators, Oby Ezekwesili and Aisha Yesufu, described the incident as a monumental tragedy, even as it called on government to fully equip the military, saying NAF has only four fighter jets in the counter-insurgency operation.
Ezekwesili criticised President Muhammadu Buhari over his response to the incident. Buhari cancelled Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting and sent a high-powered delegation to commiserate with the victims and sympathise with the Borno State government.
Commenting on the fatal incident, on Wednesday, via series of messages on her Twitter handle, @obyezeks, she described Buhari’s response as “insensitive. Visit the victims of Rann now. Leaders soon discover that the happier their citizens are, the greater their respect abroad, vice versa. Your citizens are in deep grief. Yesterday’s (Tuesday) tragedy was devastating. Make it a turning point moment,” she tweeted.
On the ongoing mass killings in Southern Kaduna and other states of the federation by herdsmen, Ezekwesili tweeted: “You have failed to demonstrate sensitivity to the grief of your citizens.
“Visit Southern Kaduna now. Visit Enugu, Onitsha, Aba now. We expect more from our C-in-C. You need to change this now. It’s time to start being emotionally present when your citizens grieve. Speak up. Visit. You are C-in-C,” she tweeted.