Responding to inquiries from The PUNCH, the Acting Director, Defence Information, Air Commodore Wap Maigida, allayed fear of civilian casualties during the deployment of the fighter jets against bandits in the forests.
Earlier on Thursday, the Press Attaché, US Embassy, Jeanne Clark, in reaction to a statement by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), that the Federal Government had secured approval to deploy the jet fighters which were acquired from the US, against bandits who had just been designated as terrorists, acknowledged the security challenges confronting Nigeria.
The US, however admonished the government of Nigeria and the military to address insecurity while respecting human rights
The military had been reluctant to deploy the aircraft outside the North-East because of the conditions attached to the sale of the aircraft which bordered on human rights.
Clark in her statement said the US government was, however, pleased that the Nigerian Air Force had used the A-29 Super Tucanos successfully against Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province.
She stated, “We are pleased the Nigerian Air Force has used the A-29 Super Tucanos successfully against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. The sale of the A-29 Super Tucanos is governed by the US Arms Export Control Act, the Foreign Assistance Act, and other applicable statutes, and their use must conform with international norms as articulated in the United Nations Charter.
“The AECA applies to sales to all of our allies and partners and it generally cautions against uses that encroach on traditional law enforcement roles. We are proud to partner with the government of Nigeria towards shared goals.”
A top source within the military told The PUNCH that the military had been engaged in talks with the Americans regarding the use of the aircraft.
The Nigerian Air Force officer who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said agreements had been reached on how to best deploy the weapons and ensure that civilian casualty is minimised.
A top military officer said, “We now have the green light to deploy the Super Tucano aircraft. Based on the gazette issued by the AGF, all persons kidnapping and killing in the North-Central and North-West are terrorists. Of course, there is a need to separate armed robbers from terrorists.
“So, our operations will centre on forests and known bandits camps. The US will continue to assist with training to prevent the bombing of IDP camps and other civilian habitations.”
Super Tucano operations will be intelligence-driven, it will be used only on terrorists – NAF
In a chat with The PUNCH on Thursday, the Acting Director, Defence Information, Air Commodore Wap Maigida, said the fighter jets would be used for intelligence driven operations.
When asked if measures were in place that would ensure that innocent citizens in bandits’ captivity would not be affected during operations, the air force spokesman said, “The Armed Forces of Nigeria has respect for human rights and we would only use it (Super Tucano) on terrorists. We understand the aircraft is a very strategic aircraft and it would be used for highly intelligence driven operations. Anything we are hitting would be terrorists. I can tell you the pilots have gone through rigorous training to be able to use the equipment. We are assuring Nigerians that those fighter jets would be well utilised.”
In the past, the Air Force during some missions against mistakenly bombed civilian targets.
On 17 January 2017, a Nigerian Air Force jet mistakenly bombed an IDP camp near the Cameroonian border in Rann, Borno State killing at least 115 people including six aid workers while more than 100 others were injured. On April 09, 2020, a military air strike on Shokotoko village in Damboa LGA, Borno State resulted in numerous civilian casualties. On September 17, 2021 no fewer than nine people were killed and 23 others injured in an air strike at the Buhari village in Yobe. On November 12, 2021 air strikes launched by a Nigerian military fighter jet at Fulani herdsmen settlements in the Takum Local Government Area of Taraba State, reportedly killed about 1,500 cows belonging to the herdsmen.
A former Army Intelligence Officer, Col Hassan Stan-Labo (retd), in an interview with one of our correspondents, urged the military pilots to be cautious while going on these operations, stressing that if the supreme price must be paid by some victims in the interest of the country, so be it.
He said, “The key word here is caution on the part of the pilots. Nigerian combat pilots are some of the best trained in precision bombing. These pilots will bring all these expertise to play in the course of execution. However, wars are never fought and won on the platter of sentiments and emotions.
“The enemy should never be given the freedom to alter your battle plans or strategy by whatever guise including the use of victims as shield. If it becomes necessary that the supreme price must be paid by some victims in the national interest, then so be it. They like soldiers have given their today for our tomorrow. They died as heroes.”
Declare Miyetti Allah, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore terrorist groups – Ortom
Meanwhile, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, on Thursday reiterated his call on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) to move a step further and declare all the Fulani socio-cultural organisations terrorists.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Nathaniel Ikyur, the governor applauded the President for heeding his call to finally label bandits wreaking havoc on citizens across the country as terrorists, but said “this is not enough.”
The governor called on the President to be bold enough to go a step further and declare Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, and Fulani Nationality Movement as terrorist organisations just as it has done to other groups”
“Though the Federal Government’s measures on bandits now seems strong, the security challenges will only be adequately addressed if similar hard position is taken on Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, MACBAN and the Fulani Nationality Movement who have vowed and continued to cause mayhem in Benue State and other parts of the country because of the anti-grazing laws.”
“For us in Benue State, the law has come to stay. It is irrevocable. In fact, we have maintained our position that Benue State has no grazing routes, reserves or areas so whatever. It was enacted in good faith for peace and order in the state. It was done among other things to end the incessant farmers/herdsmen clashes in the state,” the statement read in parts.
Ortom also tasked the President to do all that is necessary to revamp the ailing economy and save citizens from poverty saying “Nigerians have absorbed enough hunger and misery in the hands of the All Progressives Congress (APC) misrule. Or is it possible that Mr. President is not aware that Nigerians are dying from his misrule.”
Ortom dismissed the President’s tagging of the PDP as failure, saying that “as a critical stakeholder of the PDP, this is completely false. If anyone has failed, it is the Buhari-led APC federal government that has failed by taking Nigeria from top to bottom.”
He however declared that “the PDP is ready to rescue Nigeria from the insecurity and economic horror placed on Nigerians by the APC, stressing that the party is better prepared with laudable programmes on the welfare of Nigerians and to rebuild the nation from the APC tale of woes.
He added that from all indications, the APC administration has since ran out of ideas pointing out that “they have exhausted all their lies and have nothing more to tell Nigerians.”
When contacted on the telephone, the Spokesman for Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Alhassan Saleh, said it is the governor that should be declared a terrorist.
Saleh said Ortom had also been known to protect terrorists and hence should not be taken seriously.
He said, “He (Ortom) is the one who is supposed to be declared a terrorist because he is in the camp of terrorists.
“We don’t have time for such a confused governor. Who takes him seriously again? He is habouring terrorists and killer gangs in his government. We don’t have any relationship with the bandits.
“So he is the one to be declared a terrorist sponsor. How many of his security advisers have been killed. He has not explained that. When they killed Gana Terwase, the terrorist he groomed, he was virtually crying in public.”
The General Secretary of MACBAN, Usman Ngelzerma, said he would provide a response soon.