Justice for Nasarawa air strike victims
The recent killings of about 50 pastoralists in the Ekye Development Area, Doma Local Council of Nasarawa State, is a barbaric and horrendous incident that cries out to the heavens for justice. There have been conflicting reports about the circumstances leading up to their deaths with a popular report alleging that they were killed in a military airstrike or by drone. There is also speculation that they could have been killed by a bomb blast while many people believe the deceased were victims of possible mistaken identity or wrongly-directed attack by the military. However, the Public Relations Officer of the Police Command in Nasarawa State, DSP Ramhan Nansel, has confirmed the incident.
According to Nansel, preliminary investigations revealed that the pastoralists had gone to retrieve 1,250 impounded cattle from the Benue Livestock guards on January 25, 2023, during the implementation of the state’s Anti-Open Grazing and Ranching Law. After paying a massive fine of N29 million to the guards to retrieve their cattle, they were busy loading the animals into their vehicles when something, like a drone or an aircraft, that was hovering in the air suddenly attacked them with explosives, resulting in the deaths of the pastoralists. It is bad that there has been no official update of the preliminary investigation since then.
Expectedly, the incident has sparked outrage across the country. What is curious is that the Federal Government and military have maintained ominous silence on the issue. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has condemned the killings and called on the Federal Government to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice. According to the ACF, “in a serious country, the death of one person is enough to attract the attention and intervention of the government.” The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has also denounced the killings as a crime against humanity under the Geneva Convention. The Middle Belt Forum (MBF) has called on the Federal Government to investigate the murder.
In its reaction, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA) called for an independent judicial commission of inquiry into the killing, emphasising that the government and security agencies, especially the Nigerian Air Force, must come clean on what exactly transpired that led to the mass deaths of herdsmen. The group also demanded the payment of N100 million compensation to the families of each of those “accidentally killed.”
HURIWA’s Emmanuel Onwubiko said: “The conflicting cause of the avoidable deaths of herdsmen in Nasarawa State must be looked into through the constitution of an independent judicial Commission of Inquiry.”
Certainly, the mass killing is strongly condemnable and it is important, in the interest of justice and humanity, for the Federal Government to immediately investigate it in order to bring the perpetrators to justice and/ or prevent a recurrence. While it is true that the military, through “Operation Restore Peace in the North Central region of Nigeria” has been trying to bring peace to the region, there have been reports also of many innocent fatalities as part of unintended consequences of the operation. If that is the case, such killings that have become so regular are not excusable. That is why a thorough investigation is required so that where necessary, the military can re-strategise.
It is noteworthy that the MACBAN spokesperson, Muhammad Nura Abdullahi, has rightly condemned the “silence” of the Federal Government and the military regarding the incident. The silence is unfortunate as it may be counter-productive and against the public interest. Government should not by its action or inaction be seen to be encouraging revenge missions or reprisal killings and further bloodshed.
It is instructive that President Muhammadu Buhari has not offered condolences to the victims’ families. At the very least, he, despite his heavy workload, should have expressed sympathy for the families of the victims. The government’s silence may be interpreted as condoning if not instigating murder or as evidence of ethnic profiling. The failure to show empathy therefore sends the wrong message to citizens, suggesting that the issue is not being taken seriously. Sadly, this is not the first time the president has failed to react promptly to senseless and criminal killings of hapless Nigerians across the country. The loved ones of the deceased are still traumatised and have not forgotten.
Since the Nigerian airspace is managed by the Federal Government through the Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA), the Federal Government is in a good position to immediately identify the perpetrators of this heinous act. It appears that there are attempts to cover up the killings by shifting the blame; and the circumstances surrounding the murder are suspicious as only the government has the authority to use arms and deploy lethal drones.
There should be no cover up; and if the incident is the result of an honest mistake, there should be explanation and due apology by the relevant agencies. But if it is a deliberate crime, the perpetrators should be brought to justice, otherwise, they will be encouraged to persist in their crime.
This is not the first time innocent Nigerians, either pastoralists or farmers have been killed by alleged military air strikes. Since 2014, such air strikes have killed 260 innocent Nigerians on 12 separate occasions. Is the recent Nasarawa State killing another of such strikes?
While we commend the Nasarawa State government for providing medical attention and support to the survivors of the incident and the families of the victims, there is need for a thorough investigation be conducted to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice. The devaluation of human life is one of the most pressing issues in Nigeria today. In most countries, when a citizen is illegally killed, the entire country goes into a state of national mourning, and the President directs security forces to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators within a specified timeframe.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, hundreds of innocent citizens are illegally killed in a single day without any expression of remorse or regret from public officials.
There can be no peace without justice, as peace thrives in an environment of justice. Those who believe otherwise are gravely mistaken. “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall,” said St. Augustine. He also stated that without justice, all is nothing but open robbery. Similarly, the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa once stated: “Injustice breeds intolerance, violence and social disorder, just as justice brings peace and mutual understanding. There can be no peace in a society where justice is denied or defeated. Where there is wrong, it is only justice that can right it and restore balance.”
If government claims to practise presidential democracy, then the rule of law must reign supreme in Nigeria. In this system, the judiciary holds a unique position as the guardian of justice. The respect for the rule of law, instead of the rule of force, is the foundation on which the country should claim to be civilised.