The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Taoreed Lagbaja in a swift action visited the Tundun Biri community where over 80 people were killed in a case of ‘mistaken identity’ on Sunday by an Army drone, he apologised and promised to take a lesson from the incident. Seun Akioye reports
We are Sorry – Lagbaja
Lieutenant General Taoreed Lagbaja , the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of the Nigerian Army arrived Tundun Biri village early. Accompanied by his principal staff officers from the Nigerian Army headquarters, it was clear the mission would be difficult, albeit one that must be conducted and fast.
The leadership of Tudun Biri was waiting. Led by the Dangaladima Zazau, who is the District Head of Rigasa, Architect Aminu Idris, they waited for the COAS. They wore a look of sadness but also of hope, their expectation matched that of the COAS and the entourage who expected understanding and forgiveness from the villagers.
“ It was a disheartening occurrence,” Lagbaja told the people as he described the fatal bombing of over 80 villagers during a drone operation by the Nigerian Army drone targeting insurgents and kidnappers which had continued to terrorise the locality.
Lagbaja, a tough, seasoned soldier would go on to betray his emotions as he conveyed the regrets of the Army High Command at the incident. The incident which has brought the Army to regrets was every Commander’s nightmare.
An intelligence report was received, a plan was hatched, it was approved by the Command and operation began. At first , it seemed successful as the ‘targets’ were hit, but instead of a praise for the team, what ensured would haunt them, for a very long time.
A Preventable Death
It was the night of Sunday December 3rd, 2023 and the villagers of Tudun Biri in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna state were in a joyful mood. It was the celebration of the Muslim festival of Maulud and the women and children were about, singing, dancing and joyful. The last thoughts in their mind would be a sudden and violent death.
Witnesses said they heard a sound like an airplane but thought nothing of it. Then the sound of an explosion. “We began to help those who were injured, mainly women and children and then we heard the second explosion, killing more people,” Musa Shehu, who lost his two wives, said.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the death toll was put at 85 while 66 people have been hospitalised. But some witnesses on the ground said the fatality was far more while the Amnesty International -a group which had constantly criticised the Nigerian Army- said the death toll is 120 victims , mostly women and children.
At first, media reports put the blame at the doorsteps of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) but the Director of Public Relations and Information (DOPRI), Edward Gabkwet was quick to distance his Air Force from the incident claiming the NAF had not conducted an operation in the area in 24 hours.
The following morning, Samuel Aruwan, Kaduna state commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs said the Nigerian Army had taken responsibility for the bombing. “ The General Officer Commanding 1 Division , Nigerian Army, Major General VU Okoro, explained that the Nigerian Army was on a routine mission against terrorists but inadvertently affected members of the community,” Aruwan said.
The Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu said that troops carrying out aerial patrols observed a group of people and “wrongly analysed and misinterpreted their pattern of activities to be similar to that of the bandits” thus the drone strike.
Intelligence gathered by this newspaper indicates that troops of the Nigerian Army had been in pursuit of armed groups around Igabi local government. Infact, they had surrounded a part of the forest but lost touch with the terrorists before requesting for air support.
Lagbaja Tenders Apology
The COAS did not mince his words as he apologised to the community and commiserated with relatives of the victims and survivors. For good measure, he recalled that the forests and general area of Tudun Biri had been infested with terrorists and armed bandits and the troops of the Nigerian Army had helped to clear the area to make it habitable. It was one of those operations that eventually turned deadly for the villagers.
The COAS stated that he was in Tudun Biri to “personally witness the site of the mishap and to convey sincere regrets and unreserved apologies on behalf of the Nigerian Army to the District Head and people of the community, as well as the Government and entire people of Kaduna State. He disclosed that he has ordered a thorough inquiry into the incident to ascertain and identify areas of deficiency that led to the inadvertent disaster, adding that the findings and overarching outcome of the investigation will guide the Nigerian Army in meticulously and professionally seeking and applying lasting solutions to identified lapses and deficiencies in both the human and Artificial Intelligence variables that will forestall future recurrence.”
The Tudun Biri community were happy and placated that the COAS visited and identified with them. Architect Aminu Idris said despite the enormity of the incident, the Nigerian Army showed integrity in accepting responsibility for the drone strike and urged its leadership to intervene in bringing uccor to hospitalized victims and the community for their losses.
But contrary to some reports that the community was targeted because it was mainly a Muslim community, Idris maintained that the community is a mixed community of both Muslims and Christians and that the victims are of both faith.
The villagers were glad to see the COAS as he shook hands with them in commiseration. But the highlight of his visit was paying his respects to the dead as he visited a mass grave in the company of the community leadership. Lagbaja, in a show of the utmost respect and grieve removed his caps as he bowed in prayers for the repose of their souls.
The Army Chief also visited the injured at the Barua Dikko Teaching Hospital Anguwan Rimi, Kaduna, where he expressed concern for the speedy recuperation of the hospitalized persons and made an immediate donation of several provisions for their upkeep.
It will not happen again
The Nigeria Army High Command has ordered an investigation into the incident, according to the Army Chief, the “the findings and overarching outcome of the investigation will guide the Nigerian Army in meticulously and professionally seeking and applying lasting solutions to identified lapses and deficiencies in both the human and Artificial Intelligence variables that will forestall future recurrence.”
Nigeria’s President, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who is currently attending the Conference of Parties 28 on Climate Change in Dubai has also ordered a thorough investigation. In a statement by his Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngalele, Tinubu called the bombing “very unfortunate, disturbing, and painful.”
Ngalele: “The President directs a thorough and full-fledged investigation into the incident and calls for calm while the authorities look diligently into the mishap.”