The last is yet to be heard of the scourge of Boko Haram sweeping through the nation – despite assurances to the contrary by the government authorities.
After several days of suicide bombings by the insurgents, leading to several deaths, a Nigerian fighter jet has added to the ever-growing casualties of Boko Haram terrorism.
The Nigerian fighter jet misfired and killed some soldiers, aid workers of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), the Medicines Sans Frontiers and civilians in Kala Balge in Borno State.
The incident was confirmed on Tuesday to journalists in Maiduguri by the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj.-Gen. Lucky Irabor.
Although the military said they were awaiting the death toll, the Medicine Sans Frontiers (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, said that at least 52 people were killed after the fighter jet accidentally dropped a bomb on an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs’) Camp.
MSF officials, who were present at the Rann Camp in Borno State when the incident occurred, said 102 people were injured.
In a statement made available to journalists in Maiduguri, MSF said that it is offering first aid to the 120 injured persons in Rann.
MSF’s Director of Operations, Jean-Clément Cabrol, said: “This large-scale attack on vulnerable people who have already fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable.
“The safety of civilians must be respected. We are urgently calling on all parties to ensure the facilitation of medical evacuations by air or road for survivors who are in need of emergency care.”
Earlier, Irabor had said that the military authorities were still awaiting the total casualty figures.
He said that the strike was authorised by the Army following reports that Boko Haram insurgents had regrouped in a particular location in the state.
According to Gen. Irabor: “This morning, we received a report about the gathering of Boko Haram terrorists around Kala Balge area of Maiduguri. I coordinated and directed that the air component of the operation should go and address the problem.
“Unfortunately, the strike was conducted but it turned out that other civilians were somewhere around the area and they were affected. So far, it is a little bit disturbing; death has occurred. There were casualties; there were deaths and injuries but on the actual number of casualties, we would get back to you later.
“I am yet to get the number of casualties of civilians killed, but two soldiers were also affected.
“Some humanitarian staff of Medicines Sans Frontiers and workers of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) were also affected. We are sending helicopters to evacuate those that were critically wounded, including our wounded soldiers”.
In a reaction, President Muhammadu Buhari regretted the accidental bombing of innocent civilians in Borno State by military jets.
He appealed to Nigerians to remain calm, even as he pledged assistance to survivors.
A terse statement issued by presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, said that the president was saddened by the development and condoled with families of the dead while wishing divine succour for the injured.
He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari has received with deep sadness and regret, the accidental bombing of a civilian community in Rann, Borno State, by the Nigerian Air Force, engaged in the final phase of mopping up insurgents in the North East.
“President Buhari condoles with families of the dead, wishes the wounded divine succour, leading to full recovery, and sympathises with the Borno State government.
“The President pledges federal help for the state government in attending to this regrettable operational mistake, and pleads for calm, even as he prays God to grant repose to the souls of the dead.”
Also, yesterday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, declared that discussions were on course to secure the release of the remaining Chibok girls from Boko Haram’s den.
Mohammed spoke at the Air Force Base in Yola, Adamawa State, after a day and night round of search for the missing girls in Sambisa Forest.
The Minister of Defence, Brig.-Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (rtd), the convener of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili and some local and foreign journalists were involved in the trip.
Mohammed said that the success recorded by the military in the theatre of war was helping the negotiation because of the carrot and stick approach of the Federal Government to ending terrorism.
He said that a recent meeting on the Chibok girls was a near success and pledged that the government would not relent until all the missing girls were rescued.
The minister said: “The negotiations are still on, but unfortunately, unlike the search operations, we cannot take you along to the negotiation table. I want to assure you that these negotiations are going on but they are very complicated and delicate and shift from time to time.’’
Mohammed commended the military for the victories recorded in various operations at decimating the insurgents, particularly in Sambisa Forest.
He said that the capture of Camp Zairo in Sambisa, which was the headquarters and stronghold of the insurgents, was crucial to defeating the terrorists.
“Camp Zairo might occupy probably one kilometre out of 60,000 kilometres expanse of Sambisa, but it is so crucial to us in this war. It is like imagining that there is a war and the Villa is captured. That is the essence of Camp Zairo. It is not the extent of physical expanse but that we struck at the very heart of insurgency and it does not mean the end of the campaign in Sambisa Forest,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army is set for the 2017 Small Arms Firing Championship (NASAC) in Sambisa Forest with the objectives of sharpening the marksmanship skills of its personnel and to maintain presence in the liberated territory.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, represented by the Chief of Training and Operations, Maj.-Gen. David Ahmadu, disclosed this to journalists on Monday.
The competition, which comes up in March, is the first after seven years’ interregnum, and will be accompanied by concentration of fires from direct and indirect weapons systems of the Nigerian Army.
The COAS also said that the Roland Missile Weapon System in the Nigerian Army’s inventory will be test-fired during the exercise.