Nigeria: Military tight-lipped after drone attack on pastoralists

By Ben Ezeamalu

Posted on Monday, 30 January 2023 10:41
Hausa-Fulani pastoralists move while their cattle while grazing near some farms in the outskirts of Sokoto, Sokoto State, Nigeria, on April 22, 2019. (Photo by Luis TATO / AFP)

The Nigerian military has declined to provide clarifications after its drones rained "bombs" on pastoralists herding their cattle home in the north-central state of Nasarawa. 

About 40 people died in the incident which occurred Tuesday night in Doma local government area, near the state’s boundary with Benue.

“It has to do with some Fulanis that had actually gone to rescue their cows and there was a bomb blast at the area where they gathered their cows to bring them back into Nasarawa State,” Abdullahi Sule, the Nasarawa State governor, said at a meeting in the state capital on Thursday.

In recent times, the Nigerian military ramped up air operations against bandits and terrorists, particularly in the north-central and north-western parts of the country where cases of killings and kidnap-for-ransom are on the rise.

While the operations have succeeded in taking out scores of criminals, the collateral damage to civilians has been intense.

Between 2014 and 2022, over a dozen cases of the Nigerian Air Force bombing civilians have been documented, killing nearly 200 people.

The attack

Tuesday night’s attack on civilians came barely five years after a Nigerian military airplane bombed an internally displaced people’s camp in the north-eastern state of Borno, killing 53 people, including six Red Cross staff.

According to Governor Sule, the herders had crossed the boundary into Benue to retrieve their cattle having violated the state’s anti-open grazing law. After paying an N27m fine, they were moving their cattle back to Nasarawa State when the attack happened.

Initial media reports said the herders were bombed by a Nigerian Air Force plane. But the spokesperson to the Nasarawa governor said the attack was not from a military airplane as speculated.

“The only thing I can confirm from what is being said is that it’s a drone. But who sent the drone, no one knows for now,” Addra tells The Africa Report.

Governor Sule told Nigeria’s Channels Television Thursday night that the drone that “bomb-blasted” the herders was from the military.

“There was an operation and during the operation, there was a drone that was sent out following some bandits and that is exactly what happened. It was in the process of bombing the bandits that innocent people were killed,” Sule said.

“In Nasarawa State as you know, we are beginning to see the return of some bandits.”

‘We are professional’

Provided with an opportunity to provide clarifications on what took place on Tuesday night, the military said it is “not going to dwell on the issue”.

“We are not going to join issues with anybody on those incidents,” Major General Musa Danmadami, the director of Defence Media Operations, told journalists at a briefing in Abuja on Thursday.

“The chief executive officers of those states have spoken on the matter. We are not going to talk much about this issue.

“But what I can tell you is that we are very professional in the conduct of our operations. They are also intelligence-driven. Also, our code of conduct and standard of operation are in tandem with international best practices.”

Danmadami said the military would continue to conduct operations in line with best practices, irrespective of what people are saying.

“For Nasarawa and Benue, the governor has spoken on the issue and we would not want to go contrary to what he has said. If there are subsequent issues on that you will definitely hear from us.”

Military operations

Last week, gunmen on motorcycles abducted six children who were on their way to school in Doma local government, where Tuesday’s incident occurred.

Sule said two of the children have been rescued and the other four remain with the bandits.

The chief executive officers of those states have spoken on the matter. We are not going to talk much about this issue.

Sule said there are several military operations ongoing in and around the state, including one from the Nigerian Air Force and another from Special Forces.

He added that it’s still unclear whether some of the targeted bandits were taken out along with the herders.

“There have been operations to ensure bandits are kicked out of Nasarawa State and indeed other states. There is a major operation in the entire north-central Nigeria,” he said.

“I don’t want to point a finger at anyone because we’re not sure what happened.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options