Still on the Tudun Biri ugly chapter

It is over a month and two weeks now that a Nigerian Army drone accidentally bombed and killed over 100 people at Tudun Biri village. Until that disastrous incident on the evening of Sunday, December 3, 2023, a little was known about the agrarian Kaduna state community.

Within the period of the miscalculated airstrike and now, some significant and tragic events have occurred in the life of our dear nation. The sad events include the gruesome attack on some communities in Plateau state on the eve of last year’s Christmas.

Nigerians, in unison, also mourned the deaths of Rt. Hon. Ghali Umar Na’aba, Governor Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu and Mallam Isa Gusau. Na’aba was the Speaker of the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003.

Akeredolu was the immediate-past Governor of Ondo state. He died on Tuesday, December 26, 2023, same day Na’aba left this world. Gusau, until his demise, was the spokesperson of Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum, the governor of Borno state. He passed away penultimate Friday.

Also, Nigeria, joined the international community to welcome the year 2024, on the positive note; while two colossal fraud scandals uncovered at the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, together with that of the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA), top the chart of sordid tales which emanated from Nigeria, in between last December and now.

The unfortunate bombardment of innocent civilians at Tudun Biri did not happen for the first time in the country, when it did. It has been a recurring decimal.

According to reports, over 425 persons including children and women had been killed by military accidental bombings between September 2017 and 2023. In January last year, 37 people including 27 pastoralists were killed after a military jet’s bomb exploded at the border linking Benue and Nasarawa states, in Doma local government area of the latter.

A year earlier, specifically, in April 2022, a Nigerian Air Force, NAF, fighter jet reportedly killed six children, when it fired a bomb targeted at terrorists in Kurebe village of Shiroro local government in Niger state. Also, in June 2022, 13 residents were injured while one other died after a NAF fighter jet struck Kunkuna village in Safana local government area of Katsina state.

Furthermore, about 52 people were killed while 120 others sustained injuries in an accidental airstrike on an Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp in Rann, Borno state, on January 17, 2017. Then, on April 13, 2020, 17 people, including children, were killed after a NAF fighter jet bombed Sakotoku village in Damboa local government area of the same Borno.

A stop should be put to the recurrence of these miscalculated airstrikes, also called ‘intelligence mishap’ or ‘air force misfiring’, albeit euphemistically. The horror-filled incidents explicitly highlight the fact that the Nigerian military is leaving a trail of innocent blood and carcasses, as it prosecutes the ongoing counter-insurgency and anti-banditry wars across the country.

On a serious note, the Tudun Biri incident exposed a lot of things about our military, which many, hitherto, were ignorant of. To me, the number one has to do with the ineffective style and manner of intelligence gathering and operations. The second is our military officers and troops. They seem to have only a limited knowledge on operating drones and airborne combat devices.

Someone I was discussing with some few days after the tragedy maintained that the incident brought to the fore the perennial service rivalry among our security agencies, but this time between the army and NAF. The federal government and the military hierarchy have both launched inquests to unravel the circumstances leading to the horrific event. One prays that the investigations are diligently and thoroughly carried out.

But more importantly, officers found wanton should be sanctioned for deterrence-sake. Our military, without prodding, must also review its internal process of identifying, confirming and authorising airstrikes. This will help to minimise the margin of error. “Operational tools such as maps, compasses, software, and rangefinders, among others, should be updated to enhance pilots’ accuracy in hitting targets,” a security expert equally advised.

We, also, must call out the federal and the Kaduna state governments. It is regrettable that they have failed to redeem the promises they, without any cajoling, made to victims of the Tudun Biri mishap.

A story by a national daily recently disclosed that residents of the Kaduna community are still waiting to be compensated for their losses, and the reports and outcome of the various committees set up by governments at different tiers – over a month after the error drone bombing. I hope they will not wait endlessly for the governments of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Governor Uba Sani to do the needful, in terms of redeeming the assurances.

But I beseech Almighty God to purge our political elite of their deceitful attitudes, which have been impacting the lives of teeming Nigerians negatively, for years. When Tinubu declared that the subsidy regime was over during his inauguration, he promised rolling out measures and programmes that will cushion the anticipated suffering of the masses.

During a national broadcast to calm the nerves of suffering Nigerians on July 31 last year, Tinubu said his administration had ordered the release of 200,000 metric tonnes of grains from strategic reserves to households across the 36 states and FCT, to moderate prices. “We are also providing 225,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser, seedlings and other inputs to farmers who are committed to our food security agenda.

“Part of our programme is to roll out buses across the states and local governments for mass transit at a much more affordable rate. We have made provision to invest N100 billion between now and March 2024 to acquire 3000 units of 20-seater CNG-fuelled buses.

“In the same vein, we are also working in collaboration with the Labour unions to introduce a new national minimum wage for workers. I want to tell our workers this: your salary review is coming. Once we agree on the new minimum wage and general upward review, we will make budget provision for it for immediate implementation,” the president noted in the speech.

The reality on ground is that none of the promises he made has been implemented, six months after. The minimum wage review is not an issue that is even being discussed now. As for the food palliatives, we all know how their distribution was carried out. The CNG vehicles? Will they be sighted on our roads, any time soon? Only Mr. President and his cabinet members can tell us.

We recently had an ‘incorruptible leader’ many assumed will solve our national woes, with an uncommon magic wand. Known as ‘Mr. Integrity’, he promised us heaven on earth. Many thought he was the best thing to have ever happened to our dear nation. But the Nigeria he left behind, after eight years, was not anywhere better than the one he met.

In this 2024, we expect a sincere attitudinal change from our leaders. They should make their words their bonds, henceforth. Rhetorics without action won’t be condoned by citizens anymore. The Nigerian military headed by General Christopher Gwabin Musa, the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, should also be aware.

Nigerians will not be happy if lessons are not learnt after the Tudun Biri ‘carnage’. The last thing they want to hear is another accidental bombardment by troops, killing fellow innocent citizens, instead of terrorists, bandits and other criminal elements.

Both our political class and the military must know that citizens welcomed this New Year with massive hopes and great expectations for better things to come. One, however, is not sure, if they will “gree for anybody” as long as there is no radical change in their living conditions, while their safety is also not guaranteed, in this 2024.

Mahmud, deputy editor, PRNigeria, writes via [email protected].