Eight weeks after allegations that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) gave backing to Fulani herdsmen to attack communities in Adamawa State, Amnesty International has given credibility to the allegations; but the Air Force has come out with a vehement denial of the allegations and demanded a retraction of the fresh allegations by the international agency.
Below are the allegations by Amnesty International and the NAF response:
Amnesty’s position: “On 4 December 2017, the Nigeria Air Force deployed an Alpha Jet and EC 135 attack helicopter to respond to an attack on villages in Demsa and Numan LGA by armed herdsmen. The air raids occurred as hundreds of herdsmen attacked eight villages in Adamawa state to avenge the massacre of up to 51 members of their community, mostly children, the previous month in the nearby village Kikan. On 29 November, amid fears of a reprisal attacks by herdsmen, police announced they would deploy 315 extra officers in the area.
“Witnesses from Lawaru, Dong, Kodomti, Shafaron and Nzuruwei villages, described being attacked by a fighter jet
and a military helicopter as they attempted to flee. In some villages, the air attacks happened at the same time as the
raids, while in other villages the air force arrived shortly afterwards, witnesses told Amnesty International.
“Across the five villages visited by Amnesty International, some 3,000 homes were destroyed. As the herdsmen shot people and torched homes, and the air raid resulted in fire, it was not possible to establish how much of the death and destruction was a direct result of the air attacks or attributable to the attack by herdsmen. Locals in each village provided Amnesty International with lists of the dead, which totalled 86 names.
“They said that most victims were buried in individual graves but in Dong some 28 victims were buried in a mass grave. Dong and Lawaru had the highest number of fatalities. Based on witness testimony, field observations, determination of the nature of weapons used as well as analysis of photographic, aerial and satellite images,
“Amnesty International believes that the air raids caused significant destruction. Witnesses involved in the identification and burial of the victims said that 51 victims had gunshot or machete wounds, while 35 died as a result of the airstrikes.
“The Nigerian Air Force’s director of public relations, Air Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, confirmed the air raid and
was quoted in local media describing the air raids as “warning shots – not shots to kill.” He said they prompted people to flee the area. Two weeks after the incident Adesanya revised the account, adding that the herdsmen had opened fire on the aircraft.
“Witnesses from Lawaru, Dong, Kodomti, Shafaron and Nzuruwei villages described being attacked by a fighter jet and
a military helicopter as they attempted to flee. In some villages, the air attacks happened at the same time as the raids, while in other villages the air force arrived shortly afterwards, witnesses told
“Amnesty International. In Dong, witnesses said the air force returned hours after the herdsmen had left and shot rockets at the palace.
“Amnesty International confirmed that the Air Force deployed an Alpha Jet which shot SNEB 68mm rockets at the villages during and after the attack by the herdsmen. Rockets and their remnants were found in Dong, Nzuruwei, Shafaron and Kodomti; while unexploded rockets were found in Shafaron.
“Experts identified the munitions as French-made SNEB rockets, which the Air Force is known to use for the Alpha Jets. The 68mm unguided rocket can be fired from ”pods” affixed to aircraft. These can be seen on multiple pictures and videos of Nigeria aircrafts….
“The size and colour of the SNEB rockets, olive green, matches the finish on the rockets photographed after the attack. Though not an unusual colour for ammunition, most of the SNEB rockets of the period appear to brown, rather than green.
NAF position: In a response, spokesman for the air force, Olatokunbo Adesanya, an air vice marshal, denied the allegations, giving its position.
“In the first place, it is very unfortunate that a highly respected international organization such as Amnesty International would make such unfounded allegations. At no time has the NAF been involved in settling any “herdsmen-farmers” clash in the Numan general area, as alleged by Amnesty International.
“It is particularly disturbing that an organization of the stature of Amnesty International would believe a ridiculous story that the pilot of an aircraft flying at a high speed would be able to distinguish between a herdsman and a local farmer before deciding which one to “bomb”! Indeed, at the time the NAF intervened in the crisis around Numan on 4 December 2017, there were no 2 distinguishable groups clashing. Rather, only one group of hoodlums was seen unleashing mayhem on villages near Numan.
“The NAF remains a highly professional organization, which places high value on respect for human rights, and therefore categorically states that the allegations by Amnesty International are lies. In actual fact, the intervention of the NAF in the Numan crisis of 4 December 2017 resulted in the successful dispersal of a group of hoodlums who were setting some villages around Numan on fire.
“To set the records straight, in the early hours of 4 December 2017, a NAF Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform departed Maiduguri to conduct ISR over Numan general area. This was in response to a request by the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3 Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army (NA), following reports of clashes around that location. Hundreds of people, mostly dressed in black attires, and who appeared armed, were sighted ransacking and setting a village on fire.
“In addition, the hoodlums set large portions of farmlands ablaze. Furthermore, some of the men were seen guiding livestock out of the village. Consequently, a NAF aircraft was called in to support the NA and other relevant security agencies through ‘show of force’ low-level flights. This was aimed at dispersing the huge crowd and thereby stopping the ongoing carnage. After several low passes, the crowd was undeterred and refused to disperse. Rather, the assailants started firing shots at the aircraft and continued in their dastardly act of burning houses within the settlement.
“The aircraft therefore had to fire shots ahead of the rampaging crowd when it became obvious that they were heading for Numan to inflict further damage. Sequel to the NAF’s intervention, the hoodlums started scattering and fleeing to a nearby bridge. Other low passes were conducted by NAF aircraft over the area to prevent the regrouping of the hoodlums around Numan and other villages. It is important to state that the hoodlums had set several villages on fire and much destruction had taken place before the arrival of NAF aircraft. Nevertheless, the intervention of the NAF proved decisive in putting an end to the hoodlums’ rampaging activities.
“At no time did the NAF Spokesman identify the hoodlums as herdsmen, as the pilots could not have possibly determined the identities of the hoodlums from thousands of feet in the air. Additionally, the NAF Spokesman has never revised the accounts of the events of the day with any media house.
“It is significant to note that without the timely intervention of the NAF, nothing would have stopped the huge mass of hoodlums from burning down Numan, where they were obviously heading, if not prevented by the NAF. Had they succeeded, they would have killed several individuals and burnt or destroyed more properties. It is better imagined how many more lives would have been lost without the timely and wise intervention of the NAF.
“It is the responsibility of the NAF to defend Nigerian lives and the NAF could not have simply watched while lives were being taken and properties destroyed. It is regrettable that Amnesty International never made any attempt to find out NAF’s account of the events of the said date before making its allegations. The report by Amnesty International is therefore deemed to be unfair, one-sided and apparently aimed at embarrassing the NAF. Clearly, the NAF will continue to sustain efforts at ensuring security within the nation and will not be discouraged from discharging its constitutional responsibilities of protecting the lives and properties of all Nigerians. Overall, the NAF wishes to state as follows:
“a. At no time has the NAF been involved in settling any “herdsmen-farmers” clash in the Numan general area.
“b. The NAF, either with its aircraft or by any other means, did not set any villages near Numan on fire on 4 December 2017 or at any other time.
“c. NAF’s aircraft was not used to kill anyone in the villages around Numan during the crisis of 4 December 2017.
“d. Amnesty International should produce credible evidence to substantiate its baseless allegations that NAF air attacks led to the destruction in the villages as well as loss of lives, failing which it should go to the press and retract its allegations.