Human RightsNews

‘They Followed Wrong Intel’: Why Nigerian Army Bombed Over 100 Civilians In Kaduna

An official statement from the Nigerian army, released today, Dec. 5 and signed by its Spokesperson Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, said the group had been on “aerial patrol when they observed a group of people and wrongly analyzed and misinterpreted their pattern of activities to be similar to that of bandits,” leading them to carry out the drone strike. 

On the night of Dec. 3, a group of Muslims gathered for a celebration of the Maulud (birthday of the Prophet Muhammad) on a field in Tudun Biri, a village in the Igabi area of Kaduna, North West Nigeria. A few hours into the religious procession, at half past 10 p.m., a military drone shelled the venue, scattering the gathering and eventually killing scores of civilians at the event.

The following morning, a section of the media reported that the airstrike was a result of an accidental bombing by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). Later, NAF spokesperson Edward Gabkwet dismissed the claim, saying the agency had not carried out any air operations within Kaduna in the previous 24 hours.

“Also, note that the NAF is not the only organisation operating combat armed drones in the Northwestern region of Nigeria,” Gabkwet said. 

Then, a statement from the Kaduna State government clarified that the Nigerian Army had claimed responsibility for the drone attack in a meeting with some stakeholders. 

“The General Officer Commanding One Division Nigerian Army, Major VU Okoro, explained that the Nigerian Army was on a routine mission against terrorists but inadvertently affected community members,” said Samuel Aruwan, the state’s commissioner for internal security.

Over 120 persons, including women, children, and the elderly, died during the air attack, according to Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy group. Nigeria’s emergency management agency said on Monday that local authorities had buried 85 victims, adding that the search for more bodies was still ongoing.

An official statement from the Nigerian army, released today, Dec. 5 and signed by its Spokesperson Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, said the group had been on “aerial patrol when they observed a group of people and wrongly analyzed and misinterpreted their pattern of activities to be similar to that of the bandits,” leading them to carry out the drone strike. The statement further stated that the general area had before now been subjected to numerous attacks from terrorists operating in the area, hence the aerial patrol. 

Some soldiers close to the incident told HumAngle that the fatal air raid was a result of misleading intel from ground troops operating in Igabi.

Long before the religious procession night, troops had been on the trail of terrorists operating in and around the Igabi Local Government Area, particularly a group led by Ishiaku Buderi. Combing the forests around the Tudun Biri village on Sunday afternoon, ground soldiers had engaged the terrorists, exchanging gunfire. But the troops later withdrew after losing track of the terrorists. 

“Then we got a signal that the bandits were planning to attend the procession to abduct people at the Maulud ground,” said one soldier, whose name is withheld because he has no permission to speak to the press. “The ground soldiers had surrounded the place but later called for air support when they could not get a hold of the terrorists.”

The plan was to ambush the terrorists before they would get to the procession ground, the soldier said. His claim was corroborated by another soldier in the state. But the criminals withdrew their abduction mission at the last minute. 

“You know, these guys have informants — they must have been told that soldiers were around,” the frontline soldier continued. “But the air support got the wrong intel. They got the wrong grid reference of the location of the terrorists (as provided by the ground soldiers), so the drone came and fired based on the intel it got.” 

Asked why the army embarked on the mission instead of the Nigeria Air Force, he said: “You know we work hand in hand with the Air Force here in Kaduna. But this particular air attack was conducted by the army.”

The source also said the drone attack was conducted by air soldiers from the 167 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Kaduna. 

HumAngle gathered that the hastiness of the bombing may have also had something to do with the proximity of the community to the Kaduna International Airport, which was invaded by terrorists last year.

Nigeria’s 2023 supplementary budget confirmed that the Army had acquired the TB2 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), a long-endurance combat drone, from a Turkish defence company.

HumAngle contacted army spokesperson Onyema Nnwachuku by phone, but his line was not available. We also shared our findings with him, asking to know the official reaction of the army to the incident, but we did not receive a response. However, the released statement provides some form of additional insight. The statement also says the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lieutenant General Taoreed Lagbaja has paid a condolence visit to the community, and promising to provide “succour to the victims.”

It is not the first time the military has claimed it misfired unarmed civilians during air raids. In the most recent instance, the Air Force admitted to killing over 30 people in Nassarawa during an operation — after a six-month-long silence on the matter. 

The governor of Kaduna, Uba Sani, said the state has convened a stakeholder meeting to address the situation and prevent a repeat.

“I have ordered an immediate investigation into the tragic incident. We are determined to prevent a repeat of this tragedy and reassure our people that their protection will be prioritised in the sustained fight against terrorists, bandits and other criminal elements,” he said.

Also, President Bola Tinubu has ordered a thorough and full-fledged investigation into the recent bombing of unarmed civilians in the Tundun Biri village. According to a statement by his media adviser, Ajuri Ngelale, the president said he sympathised with the families of the victims and the Kaduna government over the bombing incident.

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Ibrahim Adeyemi

Deputy Investigations Editor at HumAngle. Ibrahim covers conflict and humanitarian crises with a special interest in terrorism financing. While his works have tackled the routine of criminality and injustice on many occasions, they have also earned him both local and international journalism accolades, including the One World Media Award, the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism, the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award, the Wole Soyinka Awards for Investigative Reporting, and recently the Kwame Karikari Fact-checking Award for African journalists.

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