The Nigerian Air Force, on Thursday, inaugurated a six-man panel to investigate the Tuesday accidental air strike by the Nigerian Air Force at the Rann’s Internally Displaced Persons camp in the Kala-Balge Local Government Area of Borno State.
The panel has two weeks to submit its report.
The PUNCH learnt that as part of its investigation into the bombing, the panel had summoned, among others, the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj. Gen. Lucky Irabor; the pilots who launched the air strike, and some air officers at the Air Component base in Yola, Adamawa State.
A top source at the NAF, who confirmed the invitation of Irabor and some NAF officers, added that the pilots, who dropped the bombs, could not yet be sanctioned since the panel had not submitted any finding to indict them.
Members of the panel are the NAF Chief of Standards and Evaluation, Air Vice-Marshal Salihu Bala-Ribah (head), Air Vice-Marshal Charles Oghomwen, Air Commodore Ayoola Jolasinmi, Group Captain Essien Efanga, Wing Commander Solmon Irmiya and Wing Commander Mohammed Muazu.
The NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa, said in a statement on Thursday that the panel would submit its report on Thursday, February 2, 2017.
Famuyiwa stated that the NAF had listed 20 witnesses, who the panel would invite but free to invite more outside the list.
He said, “The NAF has constituted a board of senior officers to investigate the accidental air strike on January 17, 2017, at Rann, Borno State. Among its terms of reference, the board is to determine the immediate and remote causes as well as the circumstances that led to the incident.
“This is with a view to forestalling future occurrence. In addition to a list of 20 witnesses given to it, the board is free to invite other persons to give evidence on oath. The Board is to submit its report not later than February 2, 2017.”
While the statement did not list the witnesses to be invited, the source told The PUNCH that Irabor, who coordinates the special operations against the Boko Haram’s terrorists in the North-East, and the pilots who launched the air strike, were among the 20 witnesses to be summoned by the NAF panel.
He said, “The NAF is not treating this incident with kid’ gloves, and it is not going to spare any indicted officer. The Operation Lafiya Dole Theatre commander is top among those to be summoned by the panel.
“Nothing yet has happened to the pilots because no report has indicted them. There are several procedures before you go to bomb a location; there are the Surveillance platforms and the Air Interdiction platforms.
“The panel will unravel whether surveillance was done at the location before the air strike. All these are necessary.
“Also, the panel will find out if the Rann location had been an IDPs’ camp known to the military or not.”
Meanwhile, the death toll in the Rann accidental bombing rose by two as additional casualties were recorded at hospitals in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
Though initial reports had put the death toll at about 100, the latest casualties has brought the figure of 52, given by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) of 52, to 54.
The Borno State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Haruna Mshelia, said hospitals in the state capital had discharged five injured survivors, confirming that two of the 80 severely-injured victims died.
He stated that the United Nations Humanitarian Air Services and the NAF provided seven helicopters for the evacuation of the victims that ended on Thursday.
Mshelia said the State Specialist Hospital currently admitted 68 of the victims after those initially hospitalised at the military hospital at 7 Division of the Nigerian Army were all moved to the hospital on Thursday.
The commissioner added that 42 victims with minor injuries were still in Rann given the fact that medical teams from the MSF, the International Committee of Red Cross and the state government and other partners had enough medical supplies and health workers to address their health needs.
Bombing not deliberate –British High Commissioner
The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, has debunked a claim by one of the survivors of the Rann bombing that the attack on the camp was deliberate on the basis that the NAF jet launched three bombs on the IDP camp.
But Speaking on a radio programme in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Thursday, Arkwright said, “I’ve seen some suggestions that it was deliberate; I’m absolutely certain that it was not deliberate.
“I think what’s also necessary is a thorough investigation by the Nigerian Air Force or the Nigerian military to determine exactly what happened, because clearly, it was a mistake. Mistakes can recur, what’s really important is that the right actions are taken to avoid such mistakes happening again.”
CAN backs investigation, PDP says bombing provocative
Also, the Christian Association of Nigeria described the accidental bombing as painful and regrettable.
The President of CAN, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, in a statement on Thursday by his Special Assistant on Media and Communication, Adebayo Oladeji, regretted that many innocent people in the IDPs camp became the victims instead of the targeted insurgents.
He said, “CAN commiserates with the victims, asks God to console and comfort all the bereaved and wishes those who are recuperating in various hospitals in the state a quick recovery.
“While we identify with the military in general and the Nigerian Air Force in particular and counsel them against being discouraged in the final phase of the war against the terrorists, CAN welcomes the setting up of a board of senior officers to investigate the accidental air strike to determine the immediate and remote causes as well as the circumstances that led to the disaster.
“It is our expectation that the military authorities will implement whatever recommendations of the panel with a view to preventing a recurrence of such an avoidable disaster.”
But the Peoples Democratic Party has described Tuesday’s bombing as provocative.
It also said the bombing of the camp in error by NAF was shocking and unacceptable.
The National Caretaker Committee of the party said this in a statement in Abuja on Thursday.
Spokesperson for the caretaker committee, Dayo Adeyeye, who signed the statement, called for the investigation of the tragic error.
He said, “This is totally unacceptable and we demand a thorough and independent investigation into the matter to unravel the mystery behind the accident.
“The excuse by the Nigerian Military that the camp was mistaken to be a gathering of Boko Haram members is a show of unprofessionalism and lack of intelligence regarding operations of such magnitude.
“We are very worried that the military after several successes against the sect in recent times will display such provocative conduct capable of rubbishing its past achievements as a professional organisation.”