A senior Nigerian lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, has petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking compensation for the families of about 200 Internally-displaced persons (IDPs) ‘mistakenly’ bombed in January 2017 by a Nigeria airforce jet at a camp in Rann, Borno State.
Rann, a remote community on the border of the state, came into limelight on January 17, 2017 when the jet on a mission to attack Boko Haram fighters near the Cameroonian borders, dropped its bombs on the crowded camp for IDPs there.
The Nigerian defence headquarters later blamed the attack on “lack of appropriate marking” of the camp.
The then caretaker chairman of Kala Balge Local Government, Babagana Malarima, said 236 people were killed in the bombing. He gave the death toll after several attempts by both government and the military to cover up.
Mr Malarima told the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, during a visit to the camp that the survivors and family members of the victims were demanding compensation from the Nigerian government.
Though the compensation terms were not made known then, it is estimated that, if the Islamic rules for death compensation (Diyya) is to be applied, it could be around N40 million per person, which would amount to a N9.5 billion pay out the federal government.
Two years after, the Nigerian government has not paid the victims any compensation.
It was on that note that on the second anniversary of the bombing, Mr Falana, who is the lawyer to the victims and survivors, sent a petition to the NHRC insisting that a fatal wrong was committed on the people of Rann who must be compensated.
In the petition, Mr Falana said excuses by the Nigerian military in defence of what happened do not hold water, insisting that the offence was not only grave but careless.
He also called for thorough investigation of the incident and the findings made public.
Giving some background facts of the incident, the lawyer said “On January 17, 2017, dozens of people were killed while several others were injured after a Nigerian Air Force jet was reported to have bombed a camp in Rann, Borno State, where thousands of families displaced during the offensive against Boko Haram militants were sheltering.
“A Non-Governmental Organization, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said that its staff in the area had seen at least 200 people wounded and 50 dead following the bombing and expected the death toll to rise. But the chairman of Kale-Balge Local Government Area, Babagana Malarima, said “we buried 234 persons in Rann after the bombs were dropped on the IDP camp. We have two other injured persons that died while in hospital in Maiduguri.”
“Instead of reporting the tragic incident to the Accident Investigation Bureau which is saddled with the responsibility of investigating aircraft accidents in Nigeria, the authorities of the Nigeria Air Force decided suo motu to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the bombing of the IDP camp. Although the report of the inquiry was not made public, the Nigeria Air Force blamed the bombing of the camp on an accident.
“In a statement credited to the NAF spokesperson, Air Commodore Olatunkubo Adesanya, it was said that “no NAF pilot leaves his base with the intention of going to kill the same set of people he greatly sacrifices day and night to protect.”
“Apart from expressing its deepest regrets to all concerned, the NAF promised that all necessary measures would be taken to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate incident.
“To cover up the humanitarian disaster, the NAF claimed that that the IDP camp was not properly marked! While soliciting the understanding and support of all Nigerians and members of the international community regarding the tragic incident, the panel of inquiry and the NAF Authorities have failed to address the payment of compensation to the people who were injured and the families of those who were killed in the bombing incident.
“However, it was announced that the NAF Chief of Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar had directed appropriate NAF officials to intensify humanitarian intervention schemes for Internally Displaced Persons at Rann and other parts of the North East region.
“It is our view that the finding of the military panel that the accident occurred due to the failure of the authorities to mark the IDP camp at Rann confirmed that it was a case of official negligence. However, the tragic incident cannot be blamed on failure to mark the camp in an area that is fully controlled by the army.
“According to Hughes Robert, MSF’s head of emergencies, “The whole camp is controlled by the army and no one can come in or out without being checked, so that’s a shock, as well as the fact that this was a very densely populated place that was full of civilians who already lived there and internally displaced persons who had come there.
“Having confirmed that the NAF pilots were aware of the IDP camp at Rann, the failure to mark it cannot explain the negligence of the pilots involved in the bombing incident. In any case, the marking of all IDP camps in the North East region ought to have been done by the NAF.
“When the United Nations building was attacked in Maiduguri by the Nigerian Army a few months before the bombing of the Rann Camp it was also said that the incident occurred because it was not marked! Are Nigerians to believe that the members of the Armed Forces in the 7TH division located in Maiduguri are not aware of the offices of the UN and other international relief agencies in the same city?
“Regrettably, the cry of the council chairman, Mr. Malarima for payment of compensation to the families of the deceased, as well as the injured ones has fallen on deaf ears.
“In marking the second anniversary of the unfortunate incident we are compelled to call on the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the air crash with a view to preventing the reoccurrence of such humanitarian disaster.
“In addition, the Commission should ensure that the survivors and the families of those who were killed in the bombing incident are compensated by the insurance company which insured the NAF plane.”