Nigerian Air Force killed at least 35 people in attacks on villages in the northeastern state of Adamawa in December, Amnesty International claimed in a report released today.
Air Force spokesman Olatokunbo Adesanya denied the Air Force had bombed any locations in the region or fired shots targeting people, saying it had opened fire to dissuade looters and vandals. Adesanya said he was unaware of any human casualties.
Residents of the villages described being fired upon by a fighter jet and military helicopter as they attempted to flee, at the same time as hundreds of herdsmen took part in a revenge attack on the communities for earlier killings, Amnesty said.
On Dec. 4, air force fighter jets fired rockets at villages to deter communal clashes as a cycle of violence and revenge attacks gripped Adamawa state, Amnesty said.
“The helicopter and the jet started releasing bombs. Houses started burning. Children started running for their lives,” an unnamed farmer from the village of Shafaron told Amnesty.
The report described the “devastating cumulative effect of the herders and Air Force attacks, with at least eight villages heavily damaged or completely destroyed by fire.”
Burned husks of vehicles and blackened houses reduced in parts to rubble were shown in an accompanying video from Amnesty. Satellite images depicted large swathes of settlements ravaged by fire.
Eighty-six people died, with the Nigerian air force responsible for at least 35 deaths, and some 3,000 homes were destroyed in the five villages visited, said Amnesty.
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.
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.
They said that most victims were buried in individual graves but in Dong some 28 victims were buried in a mass grave.
Dong and Lawaru had the highest number of fatalities. Across the five villages visited by Amnesty International, some 3,000 homes were destroyed.
Satellite and aerial imagery secured and analysed by Amnesty International confirm the devastating cumulative effect of the herders and Air Force attacks, with at least eight villages heavily damaged or completely destroyed by fire.
“Launching air raids is not a legitimate law enforcement method by anyone’s standard,” said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty’s country director for Nigeria, in Tuesday’s report.
“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,” she said.
Two weeks after the incident, Amnesty claimed that NAF spokesman, 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.
The region is a flashpoint for violence between Muslim herders and Christian farmers over rights to grazing land and agriculture. This month at least 168 people have died across five states in such clashes, said Amnesty.
The report is the latest challenge to the military on human rights and the attacks suggest a deadly crisis between herders and farmers is spiralling out of government control.