Amnesty International Says Nigeria Air Raids Kill 35 PeopleBy
Military jets sent to stop herders attacking Adamawa villages
Nigerian Air Force says aircraft responded to ground fire
Amnesty International accused the Nigerian military of killing 35 people last month in air raids carried out to stop an attack by herders on farming villages in the country’s northeast.
Hundreds of herders were attacking villages in Adamawa state on Dec. 4 when Nigerian fighter jets were sent to the area to fire rockets as a “warning” to halt the violence, the group said in a statement Tuesday, citing witness testimony. At least 51 people died from gunshot and machete wounds sustained from the herders’ assaults, it said.
“Launching air raids is not a legitimate law enforcement method by anyone’s standard,” Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said in the statement. “Such reckless use of deadly force is unlawful, outrageous and lays bare the Nigerian military’s shocking disregard for the lives of those it supposedly exists to protect.”
Nigerian Air Force spokesman Olatokunbo Adesanya said the aircraft opened fire after attackers shot at them. Earlier, Defence Headquarters spokesman John Agim denied that the jets had used their weapons, saying they were there for surveillance only.
“It is better imagined how many more lives would have been lost without the timely and wise intervention of the Nigerian Air Force,” Adesanya said, without giving casualty figures.
The Adamawa incident comes a year after the air force accidentally bombed a camp for people displaced by war, killing 112, including aid workers, in Borno state, where the security forces are battling Islamist militants. That insurgency has claimed at least 20,000 lives since it started in 2009.
While the tit-for-tat violence between predominantly Muslim herders and mainly Christian farmers has marred the region for generations, some analysts say it’s worsening because of the proliferation of weapons and the southward advance of the Sahara desert that’s intensifying competition for land and water.
The conflict claimed 168 lives in January alone, Amnesty said. More than 130,000 people fled their homes last year because of the violence in the area, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The herder attack is believed to have been in response to the killing of 51 members of the herder community in November in another town in Adamawa state, Amnesty said.
— With assistance by Tope Alake