We commiserate with the families of the victims of Tuesday’s tragic bombing of an internally displaced persons’ camp in Rann, Kala Balge Local Government Area, Borno State, by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). It happened in a location 180 kilometres from Maiduguri, the state capital.
The scale of this tragedy cannot be minimized. The exact number of the dead is unknown, but is speculatively placed at “over 50.” Emergency workers speak of nearly 200 wounded and in need of urgent medical attention. Victims also include aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and personnel of Doctors Without Borders, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Two Nigerian soldiers were also wounded.
Major-Gen. Lucky Irabor, Field Commander of the anti-terrorism “Operation Lafiya Dole” in the North-East, owned up to the responsibility of the Nigerian military for the disaster. It must have been heartbreaking, indeed, for Irabor and the Nigerian High Command that an operation meant to dislodge terrorists and save lives turned out a tragedy.
It is quite appropriate that the President, Muhammadu Buhari, has expressed condolences and dispatched a high-powered Federal Government delegation which included his Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari, Defence Minister, Brig. Gen. Ben Ali, the Chief of Defence Staff, Major-Gen. Abayomi Olonishakin and the Service Chiefs to condole with the government and people of Borno State, and the international aid agencies, on this sad incident.
We cannot but express our shock and utter disappointment about this accidental bombing and the lack of a coordinated response to it. The poor response to the disaster is glaring in the speculations that are rife about the casualty figure and the number of injured. There are hardly any hard facts about the victims and their progress or treatment. The ICRC reported the woeful situation of 90 critically-injured IDPs who were being treated in the open air and in a precarious environment. Reports indicate that the movement of the injured to the better equipped hospitals in Maiduguri was not as swiftly done as was necessary.
Tough questions are already being asked about this incident and it is encouraging that the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar, has said that a committee to conduct an investigation is being raised. But, a purely NAF administrative inquiry will not do. First, Tuesday’s mission was expected to be preceded by reconnaissance flights to gather intelligence, choose and confirm the targets. Secondly, an in-house inquiry would nurse suspicions of a cover-up.
It is useful that the House of Representatives has set up a 10-member team led by Hon. Sani Zorro, former President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, to assess the situation and find out if the tragedy was the result of “human error or a deliberate hostile act on a civilian population.”
This supposed accidental bombing requires a broad-based investigation to unearth the true circumstances of the gory incident. The Federal Government should set in motion the process of identifying the victims, paying compensation to the families of the deceased and providing help for those who were injured.
No monetary compensation is adequate or can be a substitute for the loss of a loved one. It is merely a gesture which may sometimes help dependants, in the short term, to cushion their material loss. The earlier this is done, the better. The NAF has said this incident is the first of its kind in the country. May it also be the last.