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Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian military of killing dozens in villages affected by herdsmen attacks,
stressing that the response of the federal government to communal violence is totally inadequate, too slow and ineffective, and in some cases unlawful.
The human rights group has also stated that clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Ondo and Kaduna have resulted in 168 deaths in January 2018 alone with the killers getting away with murder.
“The government must totally overturn its response to these deadly clashes to avoid this crisis getting out of control. They need to investigate and bring suspects to justice,” said Director Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho
“Hundreds of people lost their lives last year, and the government is still not doing enough to protect communities from these violent clashes. Worse, the killers are getting away with murder. In some cases where the Nigerian security agencies did respond to communal violence, they used excessive or unlawful force resulting in even more deaths and destruction,” Ojigho explained.

The human rights watchdog recalled that on December 4, 2017, the Nigerian Air Force sent fighter jets to fire rockets at villages as a “warning” to deter spiralling communal violence, as hundreds of herdsmen attacked at least five villages in Adamawa State to avenge the massacre of up to 51 members of their community, mostly children, the previous month in Kikan.
Amnesty stated that when its team visited the villages in the aftermath of the air raids, the team gathered witness testimony from residents who described being attacked by a fighter jet and a military helicopter as they attempted to flee.
“Launching air raids is not a legitimate law enforcement method by anyone’s standard. 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,” said Ojigho.

The Nigerian Air Force’s (NAF) director of public relations, Air Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, was quoted in local media describing the air raids as “warning shots – not shots to kill.” He said they prompted people to flee the area, and that they had had a “positive effect.”
Amnesty added that two weeks after the incident, Adesanya revised the account, adding that the herdsmen had opened fire on the aircraft.
Adesanya was also quoted as saying that the air force recorded video footage of the operations, which involved an Alpha Jet and an EC 135 helicopter.

Amnesty International called on NAF– which has received intensive training from the UK and US militaries in recent years –to hand over the footage of the incident and all relevant information to the authorities, including the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice for investigation.
“This is unlawful and excessive force on a catastrophic scale. It is yet another tragic example where Nigeria’s armed forces are found applying deadly military tactics to law enforcement situations,” Ojigho said.

“The Nigerian authorities must investigate these attacks and, where these investigations indicate criminal responsibility, prosecute those responsible and bring them to justice,” Amnesty International added.
According to the rights group, the air raids occurred in the villages of Lawaru, Dong, Kodomti, Shafaron and Nzuruwei, where Amnesty International interviewed a total of 15 witnesses.
“Locals in each village also provided Amnesty International with lists of the dead, which totalled 86 names. As the herdsmen shot people and torched homes, and the air raid resulted in fire, it was not possible to establish how much of the death and destruction was a direct result of the air attacks or attributable to the attack by herdsmen,” Amnesty International said.

“Based on witness testimony, field observations, determination of the nature of weapons used as well as analysis of photographic and satellite images Amnesty International believes that the air raids caused significant destruction, and estimates that they were responsible for at least 35 deaths and numerous injuries. Witnesses involved in the identification and burial of the victims said that 51 had gunshot or machete wounds, while the remaining 35 died as a result of the airstrikes in Dong, Shafaron, Lawaru and Kodomti,” Amnesty International said.
However, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has debunked allegations that it committed human rights abuses in Numan, Adamawa State.

According to NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, the allegations are far from the truth.

 He said: “The attention of the Nigerian Air Force has been drawn to allegations by Amnesty International of human rights abuses reportedly committed by the NAF in some villages around Numan in Adamawa State on December 4, 2017.

“In the first place, it is very unfortunate that a highly respected international organisation such as Amnesty International would make such unfounded allegations.
“At no time has the NAF been involved in settling any ‘herdsmen-farmers’ clash in the Numan general area as alleged by Amnesty International.”
Adesanya explained that “it is particularly disturbing that an organisation of the stature of Amnesty International would believe a ridiculous story that the pilot of an aircraft flying at a high speed would be able to distinguish between a herdsman and a local farmer before deciding which one to ‘bomb.’

“Indeed, at the time the NAF intervened in the crisis around Numan on  December 4, 2017, there were no two distinguishable groups clashing.
“Rather, only one group of hoodlums was seen unleashing mayhem on villages near Numan. The NAF remains a highly professional organisation, which places high value on respect for human rights, and therefore categorically states that the allegations by Amnesty International are lies.”
He further stated that “in actual fact, the intervention of the NAF in the Numan crisis of December 4, 2017, resulted in the successful dispersal of a group of hoodlums who were setting some villages around Numan on fire.
“To set the records straight, in the early hours of December 4, 2017, a NAF Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform departed Maiduguri to conduct ISR over Numan general area, Adamawa State.
“This was in response to a request by the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3 Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army, following reports of clashes around that location.

“Hundreds of people, mostly dressed in black attires and who appeared armed, were sighted ransacking and setting a village on fire. In addition, the hoodlums set large portions of farmlands ablaze.”
Adesanya further said: “Furthermore, some of the men were seen guiding livestock out of the village. Consequently, a NAF aircraft was called in to support the army and other relevant security agencies through ‘show of force’ low-level flights.

“This was aimed at dispersing the huge crowd and thereby stopping the ongoing carnage. After several low pass, the crowd was undeterred and refused to disperse.
 “Rather, the assailants started firing shots at the aircraft and continued in their dastardly act of burning houses within the settlement.

 “The aircraft therefore had to fire shots ahead of the rampaging crowd when it became obvious that they were heading for Numan to inflict further damage.
 “Sequel to the NAF’s intervention, the hoodlums started scattering and fleeing to a nearby bridge. Other low passes were conducted by NAF aircraft over the area to prevent the regrouping of the hoodlums around Numan and other villages.
 “It is important to state that the hoodlums had set several villages on fire and much destruction had taken place before the arrival of NAF aircraft. Nevertheless, the intervention of the NAF proved decisive in putting an end to the hoodlums’ rampaging activities.
 “At no time did the NAF spokesman identify the hoodlums as herdsmen as the pilots could not have possibly determined the identities of the hoodlums from thousands of feet in the air.
 “Additionally, the NAF spokesman has never revised the accounts of the events of the day with any media house.

 “It is significant to note that without the timely intervention of the NAF, nothing would have stopped the huge mass of hoodlums from burning down Numan, where they were obviously heading, if not prevented by the NAF.
 “Had they succeeded, they would have killed several individuals and burnt or destroyed more properties. It is better imagined how many more lives would have been lost without the timely and wise intervention of the NAF.”

 Adesanya added that “it is the responsibility of the NAF to defend Nigerian lives, and the NAF could not have simply watched while lives were being taken and properties destroyed.

 “It is regrettable that Amnesty International never made any attempt to find out NAF’s account of the events of the said date before making its allegations.”

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