The Nigerian Air Force has admitted it carried out airstrike that killed 39 civilians in Nasarawa state, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The report said NAF has finally taken responsibility for the fatal airstrike on Kwatiri, a Nasarawa village.
Recall that in January 2023 at least 27 persons were reportedly killed following the airstrike.
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) said the airstrike occurred after the herders went to get 1,250 of their cows impounded by the Benue livestock guards.
A day after the accident, Abdullahi Sule, Nasarawa Governor, said the explosion in Kwatiri was not carried out by a NAF aircraft.
He said enquiries revealed that “no air force plane flew through the area,” adding that the bombing was done by a drone whose operators were yet to be identified.
Nearly six months after the incident, the HRW report revealed that NAF has provided little information on the incident.
The human rights organisation said the military’s unacceptable delay in owning up to the killing of dozens of civilians only compounds the tragedy of the attack.
The report adds that NAF should provide financial compensation to the victims and bereaved families.
“The Nigerian air force admitted for the first time, in response to an inquiry from Human Rights Watch, to carrying out the airstrike.
“It said it was an air component of Operation Whirl Stroke, a joint military, police, and Department of State Security operation deployed in response to security problems in and around Nasarawa state.
“The air force claimed it carried out the airstrike in response to suspected terrorist activities but provided no details,” the report reads in part.
“In a response on May 17, Air Commodore D. D. Pwajok, on behalf of the chief of air staff, acknowledged that the air force carried out the strike based on credible intelligence and in synergy with other security forces and agencies in Nasarawa state.
“The letter said that air force surveillance footage showed the movement of suspected terrorists who converged around a truck suspected to be a logistics vehicle, which arrived at the location at night and was determined to be a target for the airstrike.
“The letter did not respond to key questions, including how information regarding the suspected threat was considered and verified, whether efforts were made to investigate and verify the identity of those targeted, or if any assessment was carried out before the airstrike to avoid or mitigate civilian harm.
“The absence of details raises the question of whether the air force carried out the airstrike based on mere suspicion. The letter concluded that the Nigerian air force is committed to upholding human rights and is open to further deliberations on the issue.”
Since 2017, over 300 people were reported to have been killed by airstrikes that the Nigerian air force claimed were intended for bandits or Boko Haram terrorists.