Nigerian military drone attack kills 85 civilians in error

The incident is the latest in recent errant bombings of residents in Nigeria’s north where armed groups are rampant.

People gather around a grave for victims of a drone attack
Nigeria Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Taoreed Lagbaja, centre, with other Community leaders pray at the grave side were victims of an army drones attack were buried in Tudun Biri village in Nigeria on Tuesday, December 5 [Kehinde Gbenga/AP Photo]

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu has ordered an investigation into a military drone strike that killed 85 civilians gathered for a religious celebration over the weekend, the latest in a series of errant strikes as the country fights armed groups in northern Nigeria.

In a statement released by spokesperson Ajuri Ngelale on Tuesday, Tinubu said that the “bombing mishap” was worrying and “painful”.

“The President directs a thorough and full-fledged investigation into the incident and calls for calm while the authorities look diligently into the mishap,” said Ngelale.

The attack on Sunday night in Tudun Biri village of Kaduna state’s Igabi council area took place as Muslims gathered there to observe the holiday celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. Kaduna Governor Uba Sani said civilians were “mistakenly killed and many others were wounded” by a drone “targeting terrorists and bandits”.

The National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement on Tuesday that “85 dead bodies have so far been buried while search is still ongoing”.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s Nigeria office said 120 people were killed in the attack, citing reports of its workers and volunteers in the area.

“Many of them were children [and] more dead bodies are being discovered,” Isa Sanusi, the group’s director in Nigeria, told the Associated Press.

At least 50 bodies were recovered, according to Igabi resident Mustapha Rufai. “They said they mistakenly threw a bomb on them,” he said.

The attack was the latest in recent errant bombings of residents in Nigeria’s troubled regions; between February 2014, when a Nigerian military aircraft dropped a bomb on Daglun in Borno state killing 20 civilians, and September 2022, there were at least 14 documented incidences of such bombings in residential areas.

Rebel attacks have ravaged parts of Nigeria’s northwest and central regions. The country’s forces frequently target the hideouts of armed groups with aerial bombardment but have sometimes bombed villagers.

The groups, known as bandits, have raided villages, attacked an air force fighter jet and a train, and kidnapped people of all ages, including children, for ransom.


'Accidental' killings in airstrikes by Nigerian security forces
‘Accidental’ killings in air strikes by Nigerian security forces between 2014 and 2022 [Al Jazeera]

Human rights abuses

The latest bombing caused outrage among citizens, underscoring continued allegations of human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces that have raised concerns from Western allies, including the United States.

In February, two members of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee called on the Biden administration to halt $1bn in arms assistance for Nigeria following reports on the targeted killing of children by the Nigerian military and a programme of forced abortions for women in the north, many of whom were victims of sexual violence by the group Boko Haram.

The head of the Nigerian army division in charge of operations in Kaduna was quoted by the state government as saying during a security meeting on Monday that the drone operation in the north over the weekend was a routine one.

“The Nigerian army was on a routine mission against terrorists but inadvertently [its actions] affected members of the community,” a statement issued by the Kaduna State Ministry of Internal Security quoted Major-General Valentine Okoro, head of the army division, as saying.

“Search-and-rescue efforts are still ongoing, as dozens of wounded victims have been evacuated” to hospital for treatment, Kaduna Security Commissioner Samuel Aruwan said.

The Nigerian air force issued a statement saying it did not carry out any operations in Kaduna on Sunday night but that it is not the only one “operating combat armed drones” in the region. A Nigerian army spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Local media reported that villagers fled the area, fearing more drone attacks. Activists have said that similar incidents were not investigated in the past, leaving victims and survivors without adequate compensation or justice.

Sani, the state governor, said officials were sent to the village to meet with the families of victims and that an investigation was underway.

“We are determined to prevent a repeat of this tragedy and reassure our people that their protection would be prioritized in the sustained fight against terrorists, bandits and other criminal elements,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies