By Lawrence Audu
The Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Hasan Abubakar has assured that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) would continue to discharge it’s mandate of defending the territorial integrity of the nation while protecting the lives and properties of citizens professionally.
Abubakar gave the assurance in Lafia, Nasarawa State where he met with families and victims of the accidental air strikes that occurred on 24 January 2023 near Rukubi in Doma Local Government Area (LGA).
At the meeting, the CAS stated that having reviewed the incident reports concerning the air strikes that were undertaken in January 2023 in pursuit of terrorists near Rukubi, innocent civilians may have erroneously been killed or injured in the process.
In expressing regret over the incident, Air Marshal Abubakar noted that the unfortunate incident was not deliberate but had targeted suspected terrorists and cattle rustlers in view of the heightened level of insecurity in the area at the time. He went on to state that the primary responsibility of the NAF remains safeguarding the lives and properties of all Nigerians and would therefore not deliberately engage in acts that put the lives of Nigerians at risk.
Speaking further, Air Marshal Abubakar told the families and victims that the interface reflects NAF’s commitment to conflict resolution and reconciliation and a step towards addressing grievances, fostering understanding as well as rebuilding trust between the NAF and the civilian population.
Earlier, Air Marshal Abubakar had met with the Governor of Nasarawa State, Engineer Abdullahi Sule where he solicited his support in interfacing with the representatives of the victims, which according to him, will assist in answering some important questions, promote accountability, transparency and allow the NAF to learn valuable lessons to mitigate similar incidences, going forward. The need for accountability and transparency, the CAS continued, signals NAF’s commitment to taking responsibility as well as underscore NAF’s humanitarian concerns for civilians negatively affected by ongoing air operations. According to the CAS, “Our efforts to mitigate civilian casualties as well as take responsibility in the event of accidental strikes are not just a reflection of our values as a Service, but also strategically imperative to our operations.”
In response, Governor Sule expressed delight over the visit and commended the CAS for revisiting the earlier report of the incident and for his efforts at making amends. According to him, “This is the first time a military organization is owing up to mistakes committed over a year ago, and I must commend you immensely. The fact that you have come personally and want a closure on this matter is the peak of professionalism worthy of emulation and commendation.” At the meeting between the CAS, victims and the Emir of Lafia, His Royal Highness Justice Sidi Bage Muhammed I, the Emir praised the CAS for the initiative to make amends saying, “That you have come here to meet with us and accept responsibility for what happened a year ago is exemplary and something our leaders must imbibe. We have wholeheartedly accepted your apology.”
Recall that on 24th January 2023, air strikes by NAF aircraft were undertaken after intelligence revealed the sighting of suspected terrorists on 10 motorcycles transiting through Utagudu, near Rukubi in Doma LGA.
In a statement, the Director of Public Relations and Information Air Vice Marshal Edward Gabkwet noted that the general area was well known for its heightened insecurity occasioned by killings, kidnappings and terrorism as perpetrated by terrorists’ elements in the State.
Within the period, 6 primary school pupils were also kidnapped in Doma LGA. Unfortunately, the strikes accidentally killed some innocent civilians at the location, which necessitated the visit of the CAS to Nasarawa State.