A couple of days back, I watched a film of a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) jet striking some settlements in Zamfara State, and saw people on ground running to escape the shelling. The film shown on NTA was apparently supplied by the NAF to prove that its fighters have been pummeling bandits ravaging the state. As usual, the NAF public relations office also came up with a press statement after the air show, alluding that scores of bandits had been killed in the air strikes. I often wonder how they come up with such casualty figures because we hardly see ground troops mopping up during such air strikes.
So many Nigerians have not found this recurring show of efficiency by the Air Force convincing. I belong to this school of thought. It’s so difficult believing that our dear NAF, with their television shows, have really been pummeling the real bandits in Zamfara State. For some time now, this has been the style of the Air force. So, I decided to talk to two retired military senior officers on these controversial air strikes. My fears were confirmed. One of the retired officers said: “They (Air Force) are not behaving as professionals of late. In situations like this one in Zamfara State, ground troops must work with the Air Force when air strikes are carried out. It is not like the Nigerian Air Force going to strike soldiers of another country. We are trying to take out terrorists from specific areas and there must be ground troops to complement the air strikes.”
The shows of force shown on television by the Air Force are indeed very childish. This is why I find compelling, the claims of the Zamfara State Council of Chiefs that the NAF had largely been striking innocent villagers. Honestly, President Muhammadu Buhari must dig in with an independent team. I am convinced that the NAF strikers have a lot of questions to answer. The probe panel set up by the Chief of Air Staff looks incapable of doing an impartial job.
Last Sunday, the Emir of Bungudu, Alhaji Hassan Attahiru, who also serves as the spokesman of the traditional rulers in Zamfara State, restated the position of the council that NAF concocted names and figure of neutralised bandits in recent offensives. Attahiru said the traditional rulers had accepted NAF’s challenge to provide the names of innocent civilians killed during air strikes on supposed hideouts of bandits. For the Zamfara State Council of Chiefs, NAF continues to kill many innocent villagers in misdirected air strikes. They noted: “The air strikes undertaken by the military do not hit the main camps of the bandits. Reports from Mutu in the Tsafe Local Government Area, Tangaram in the Anka Local Government Area and Dumburum in the Zurmi Local Government Area, among others, are that the areas shelled were not the actual hideouts of the bandits and the victims were innocent civilians.”
It is preposterous that NAF could not even get the locations attacked correctly. Recall that some days back, NAF reported that its fighter jets destroyed the bandits’ logistic base in Ajia, Birnin Magaji Local Government Area and killed many of them. But the Emir of Bungudu insisted that the airmen missed their targets and killed innocent people, adding: “There is nowhere called Ajia in Birnin Magaji. They just concocted names and figures. Who identified those killed as bandits?” The NAF is yet to respond to this specific allegation that “Ajia Village” is fictitious.
Many are looking forward to the promise of the traditional rulers to further buttress their position with incontrovertible evidence of dead innocent civilians. “We are compiling a verifiable and evidence-based comprehensive report that will include a list of innocent victims. Our outcome will shock Nigerians,” said the Emir of Bungudu.
The tactical loopholes noticed in the aerial attacks, as pointed out by the Emir of Bungudu, calls for concern. It also tallies with earlier observations by the retired senior officers I spoke to. The Emir of Bungudu observed that whenever the Air force carried out aerial attacks, there were no ground troops to complement air raids and mop up the fleeing bandits. This, he said, allowed bandits to escape and mix with innocent people living in fear and at the mercy of the fleeing hoodlums.
The military must understand that Zamfara traditional rulers don’t hate them. They just want them to do their jobs professionally and end the killing of innocent people. It’s that simple. Just as Emir Attahiru stated, “we will be the happiest people in Nigeria to see these bandits flushed out of our state. What we complained about is that they (military) should tread with caution. We are not interested in any blame game. If they can review and adopt new tactics, one month is enough for them to restore normalcy in a situation they have been on for almost one and a half years.
“The army has been telling us all this while that it has thousands of troops on the ground. Why is it taking them (the troops) so much time to neutralise these bandits and allow banditry and kidnapping to fester to this level in Zamfara State? If truly they have located and bombed the bandits’ enclaves as they want to make us believe, we won’t be where we are.”
The truth that must be told is that there is no result to show for all the air strikes by the NAF in Zamfara State in almost two years. Rather, the bandits are growing in number/strength and are inflicting more pain on the people of the state. This is because NAF raids are largely superficial. It is either NAF is striking the bush or innocent civilians. The Zamfara operation is one big mess. As at press time, eight local government areas in the state are dominated by bandits after all the air strikes.
The Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar must rise to overhaul the operations of the NAF in Zamfara State. Technology, intelligence, quality equipment and quality manpower are vital for precise air strikes. These are the things lacking in this war against bandits in Zamfara State. The Air Chief, with proper support from Buhari, must do the needful to end this debacle in Zamfara State.
Still on killings, last Sunday, killer herders moved into Numa village, Andaha Town, of Akwanga Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, killing 15 people and injuring scores. They were murdered while celebrating at a party late in the night. As usual, IG Mohammed Adamu promised to bring the killers to book. That is the usual rhetoric. There will be no result to show for his avowal. What a country!
On the flip side, the Arewa Consultative Forum that has all along avoided chastising President Buhari over his ineptitude on security, despite the unending killings in the North, looks set to change its colour. The forum has now realised that “the increasing insecurity in the North, especially in Zamafara, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Taraba states, has made life unbearable for the people,” and wants the federal government to take drastic measures that will restore normalcy, peace and harmony in the affected states.
If the ACF had all along mounted pressure on Buhari, perhaps, the entire North would not be in this sorry state. Now, the socio-economic and political lives of millions of people in this region have been destroyed by the painful and shocking activities of bandits, killer herders and Boko Haram. The timid ACF and other pressure groups in the North must consistently challenge Buhari to perform his constitutional responsibility of securing lives and property in this region in particular and Nigeria in general. This is the only way forward for our country.