God bless the dead!

In 2015, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said “to forgive terrorists is up to God, but to send them to him is up to me.” Brazenly bold and laudable were the words of Putin and every serious nation besieged by terrorism would be considered wise to follow in the path of his resolution…Nigeria not exempted. Alas, Nigeria interpreted that speech in the reverse and, consequently, in the place of terrorists, we are sending already subdued citizens to Hades.

I call them ‘subdued’ for it encapsulates a host of other adjectives, apt in describing their predicament in life and now, for some of them, horrendous death. They didn’t choose to live like beggars and die like roaches, sprayed with insecticide.  No, they had plans for the future…their plans may not have been to build castles like the Windsor or marry off their daughters in fancy weddings like Zahra’s but in their humble homes, they were able to eat their homemade tuwo, watch the sun set, hear their daughters sing and dance happily and go to sleep on their humble beds, hearts filled with beautiful dreams.

Their simplistic but safe lives, however, took a volte face. Terrorists sacked their homes, burnt some of them alive and took others captive while a few others fled. Our government was unable to protect them or their dreams. So they became destitute, men who owned homes, women who were ‘landladies’ in their own right and children who had families. They became reduced to living insufferable lives at Internally Displaced People’s camps where basic amenities are luxury and freedom of movement, a daydream. But like the scrambled eggs that their lives became, I guess they held onto hope fervently. Nothing but hope would keep any mortal going in those filthy camps fraught with infections and characterized by malnutrition…

The scream that emanated from my inside was deafening on Tuesday last week when the perturbing news infiltrated the national atmospheric. Like freshly exorcised fiends, these questions began to run through my mind “but wasn’t it the government that created this camp, didn’t the military have its location?” I grew cold, I grew hot and words ran dry. The anguish and indignation that I felt were inexplicable. I cringed as I read various versions of headlines put forward by different media houses that day. What a way to die! I stuttered.

Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, would go down in the world’s history as the day Africa’s giant, Nigeria, made perhaps its greatest military error. According to reports, a Nigerian Air Force fighter jet bombed a camp for IDPs in Rann, Borno State, leaving over 50 people dead and about 100 people severely wounded. However, it has been reiterated that the fighter jet ACCIDENTALLY bombed the camp during an operation against Boko Haram militants.  While we are yet struggling to curb accidental discharges by members of the Nigerian Police Force which have claimed several innocent lives nationwide, 2017 presents a greater unprecedented challenge – accidental bombing. How does one even rationalize that? Innumerable times in the past week have I have tried to understand this situation but failed.

The NAF is no ‘JJC’ at launching airstrikes. As a matter of fact, its strategic bombings have been integral in the war against terrorism at North Eastern Nigeria. So, what went wrong this time?  In October 2016, a NAF fighter aircraft hit locations and logistics bases of the Boko Haram insurgents at the Sambisa Forest. According to reports, the NAF observed during and after the attacks that there was no movement of vehicles by the insurgents which indicated that they could be running out of logistics. Also, further investigation conducted by the NAF and human intelligence revealed that a large number of the insurgents were killed in the air strikes in October. If NAF could closely monitor aerial airstrikes as to ascertaining vehicular movements on ground, how come an IDP camp which must have been clearly indicated on satellite imagery was bombed not once or twice but thrice based on a survivor’s account?

I am not one that sits in front of a television set and watches soap operas. If I do; it has to be something riveting like a military video where wars and killings are the main course. In all the war films I have watched, there is always a control room with high technology gadgets and monitors displaying the target and, most of all, confirming the target after weighing any collateral damage, before bombardment is carried out.

It is imperative that the hard questions are asked so that we can rule out the possibility that this attack on IDPs was a deliberate hostile act on a vulnerable civilian population. What kind of bomb was even used by the NAF? Because, I understand that an aerial bomb is a type of explosive weapon intended to travel through the air with predictable trajectories, usually designed to be dropped from an aircraft. It could either be a smart (guided) bomb or an unguided (dumb) bomb. Usually, a guided bomb is a precision-guided munition designed to achieve a smaller Circular Error Probable (CEP). Therefore, with guided weapons, fewer air crews are put at risk, less ordnance is spent, and collateral damage reduced. However, an unguided bomb, is a conventional aircraft-delivered bomb that does not contain a guidance system and hence, simply follows a ballistic trajectory. I am guessing that the latter was used on the IDP’s camp at Rann.

Whichever it was though, an irrevocable evil has been done and the lives lost cannot be retrieved. Harrowing was the account of Alfred Davies, Nigerian coordinator for Medecins San Frontieres (MSF): “There are no words to describe the chaos. Some people had broken bones and torn flesh; their intestines hanging down to the floor. I saw the bodies of children that had been cut in two.” What a horrible way indeed to die!

Yes, I agree that airstrikes often cause the deaths of non-combatants, including civilians, but that is why international law applies the principles of military necessity, distinction and proportionality. These principles emphasize that an attack must be directed towards a legitimate military target and the harm caused to non-combatant targets must be proportional to the advantage gained by such attack.

Sighs…It may be a little placating that some other relevant Nigerians are asking some of these questions. It makes one want to hope that we may get the answers that we really deserve as a nation since the House of Representatives, a day after the bombings, began a subtle investigation into the ‘mistaken’ air strike in Rann. As always is the case in our country, a 10-man committee with a mandate to immediately visit Rann, the site of the incident to assess the situation was set up. Also, the NAF has constituted a six-man board to investigate the ‘accidental’ strike of Tuesday, last week at Rann, Borno state.

I profoundly hope that someday, not so far in the horizon, we will be able to ascertain whether the air strike was in accordance with strict observance of the rules of engagement under air law and as enshrined under international humanitarian law. Till that day, I shall pray that the souls of our beloved country men will find a resting place and those writhing in pain, will find succour.