Tobi Soniyi, Damilola Oyedele, Olawale Ajimotokan, Paul Obi, Kasim Sumaina in Abuja, Daji Sani in Yola and Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti
A high level delegation led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari, was in Maiduguri yesterday to deliver President Muhammadu Buhari’s condolences to the government and people of Borno State over last Tuesday’s accidental airstrike by the Nigerian Air Force that killed 50 people and injured 200 others, including international aids workers in Rann, Kalge Local Government Area of the state.
The delegation, which included the Minister for Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Minister for Defence, Brig-Gen. Dan Ali; Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai; and Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Sadiq Abubakar, also visited and commiserated with the victims of the airstrike and their families.
The visit coincided with an announcement by Airforce chief Abubakar that NAF had set up a panel to investigate the cause of the accident.
The federal government delegation, which was received at the Maiduguri Airport by the Theatre Commander of Operation LAFIYA DOLE, Maj-Gen. Lucky Irabor, visited the state Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar GarbaI Al Amin El Kanem and the injured who were receiving treatment at the hospitals in the state capital.
Kyari told their hosts, including international aids workers, the Shehu of Dikwa, Alhaji Mohammed El-Kanem, and the injured at the hospitals that Buhari sent his condolences to the families of the dead and get-well wishes to the injured.
He said: “We are in Maiduguri at the instance of President Buhari to come over and condole with the people and government of Borno State over the unfortunate air strike accident that took place at Rann town IDPs Camp Tuesday leaving many innocent people dead and others wounded.”
He said the president had urged all Nigerians to join him in prayers for the repose of the souls of those that lost their lives and for quick recovery of those that were wounded.
Kyari assured the people that the Nigerian Armed forces would take care and ensure that such incidence did not happen again.
He prayed for the repose of the souls of those killed and wished the injured quick recovery.
He said the federal government would take full responsibility for the medical treatment of all those wounded that were receiving medical and surgical attention at the hospitals in Maiduguri and its environs.
Responding, Shettima thanked them for the condolences, adding that the people of Borno appreciated the concerns of Buhari and his support and assistance to the state.
He also acknowledged the sacrifices of the Armed Forces and federal government in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency and said with prayers, zeal, determination and commitment of the military and other security agencies, peace was gradually returning to the state.
The president had on Tuesday appealed for calm over the accident, saying he received the news of the fatal strike with deep sadness and regret.
He condoled with the families of the dead and promised medical assistance to the injured.
In a statement yesterday, Information and Culture minister, Mohammed, said the fatal strike “utterly tragic” but pleaded for an appreciation of the operational difficulties that could have led to the error, saying the accident did not project the precise level of professionalism of Airforce.
The minister had on Monday led some members of #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) to Yola, where they witnessed the military exercise as part of efforts leading to the release of the remaining abducted Chibok girls still held by Boko Haram.
In a condolence to the families of the victims of the bombing and a prayer for quick recovery for the injured, Mohammed said the unfortunate turn of event was not a true outlook of the NAF which he saw at Yola where the Air Component of the fight against Boko Haram had its base.
”One of the things we went away with after spending some two days at the Tactical Air Command in Yola is the strict adherence to operational guidelines and high level of professionalism of the officers and men, especially the young pilots who fly high-risk missions day and night.
”Among others, we witnessed pre-and post-mission briefings for the pilots, the high attention paid to details, especially concerning emergencies and weather, and the evacuation plan in case of accidents. We heard that on several occasions during their sorties, fighter pilots have had to hold their fire after observing the movement of women and children in Sambisa. We also witnessed the same careful disposition when we flew to Sambisa with the pilots.
”It, therefore, came to me as a rude shock to learn, a few hours after leaving Yola that one of the fighter jets had accidentally bombed civilians, including aid workers,” Mohammed said.
He thereafter urged the NAF to continue to take the necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties, as it carries out its challenging task of keeping Nigerians safe.
NAF Sets Up Investigative Panel
Describing the strike as a tragic mistake yesterday, the Airforce chief, Abubakar, said the Air Force would conduct a painstaking investigation into the accident to unravel its cause and prevent a future occurrence.
“We are putting up a high powered committee at the Air Force level, I know the theatre commander is also working hard to find out what really happened, the information we have are very sketchy,” he said, adding: “We don’t want to pre-empt the findings of this committee both at the headquarters level and the Committee that has been set up.”
According to Abubakar: “It is very tragic and unfortunate but I want to assure that as a professional service, we will continue to evaluate our procedures and processes so that we can be effective in dealing with those that are out to kill innocent people and not what really happened yesterday.”
The Air chief explained that the pilots got airborne to save lives but an error resulted in the “tragic loss of lives.”
Abubakar said: “It was a very tragic thing. Yesterday, our pilots got airborne hoping to save lives but unfortunately there was a tragic mistake which led to the loss of life of innocent people, we have been operating for eight years in the North East now, we have flown close to 6000hrs, this is the first time we are having this tragedy.
“This is very tragic and unfortunate incident, sometimes it does happen in war, I want to say that we share in the pains and sorrows of the families that have lost loved ones, I want to sympathize with those that are wounded.
“We have directed our Chief of Medical Services to provide medical facility in Maiduguri to the wounded so that they can also be treated there in addition to other medical facilities that is available in Maiduguri.”
Lawmakers Demand Investigation
Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives have demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to the accident.
The House at plenary yesterday, constituted a 10 member delegation to visit the scene of the disaster and commiserate with the victims and their families.
The delegation will also ascertain the level of response of the emergency assistance required by the victims and ascertain the extent to which adequate healthcare is being extended to them.
The Chairman of the House Committee on IDPs, Hon. Sani Zorro, who raised the matter as a motion of urgent public importance, noted that there had been claims and counter-claims among humanitarian actors and the media, surrounding the actual casualty the figure.
He, therefore, called for a detailed enquiry into the incident.
In its reaction yesterday, the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) said it remained committed to its aids delivery to the more than four million children and their families in the North-east of the country despite the fatal airstrike.
UNICEF in a statement in Abuja by its Director for Emergency Programmes, Mr. Manuel Fontaine, described the tragic loss of life in Rann as shocking, but said it welcomed the government’s decision to investigate the circumstances of the accident.
In Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State Governor, Mr Ayodele Fayose, called on the federal government to investigate the accident, chiding Buhari for jumping into conclusion that the air strike was a mistake.
“By saying it was accidental, the President already foreclosed investigation, which he ought to have ordered before jumping into conclusion,” he said in a statement yesterday by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Mr. Lere Olayinka.
On his part, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, expressed deep grief and condolences over the erroneous bombing and sympathised with the victims, their relatives and the government and people of Borno State.
He called for help from other states of the federation, well-meaning Nigerians, and both local and international humanitarian organisations to mitigate human suffering and fatality occasioned by the sad incident.
54 Victims Stabilized in 3 Maiduguri Hospitals
At least 54 victims of the strike have stabilised, the Borno State Commissioner for Health, Dr Haruna Mshelia, said in a statement yesterday in Maiduguri.
Mshelia said of the 54 victims, 32 persons were receiving treatment at the State Specialist Hospital; 16 at 7th Division Military Hospital in Maimalari Barack while six others were at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.
The Commissioner said it was still too early to give an accurate number of deaths because as at the time of issuing the update, evacuation of survivors was still ongoing using four helicopters provided by the United Nations and the Nigerian Air Force, adding that bodies were still being recovered.
He said humanitarian partners like the MSF, International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the United Nations and different stakeholders had been extremely dedicated to the emergency evacuation and medical response.
He also said the governor had deployed his deputy, Usman Durkwa, and the House of Representatives member, representing Kala-Balge, Bama, Dikwa and Ngala Federal Constituency of the state, Mr. Mamman Sheriff, and the Assembly member among other officials to Rann to assess the situation and supervise evacuation of victims to Maiduguri.