By Francis Okoye
The bombing of a camp for internally displaced persons by a military aircraft in Rann, Kala-balge local government area of Borno State, on January 19, 2017, was greeted with unbelief and outbursts of anger, with comments of various shades directed at the military hierarchy and intelligence command.
Beyond the bitter taste which the ugly incident left in the mouth of the nation’s leadership and that of the military, over the killing of, at least, 50 persons and leaving about 200 others injured.
The light settled on the arm of the force which rules the skies; the Air Force and, rightfully, many blamed the force’s leadership.
But, then, it beats the imagination how the Air Force, besides its constitutional role of defending the internal and external aggression of the nation which has made the NAF fully involved in the aerial bombardments of Boko Haram terrorists’ locations for access to ground troops in the war against insurgency in the North-east. Could come to deliberately, in broad daylight, would blow those it has fought and sought to take care of into oblivion.
Also, the NAF has rendered humanitarian assistance to victims of the insurgency in the North-east, especially the internally-displaced persons (IDPs) taking refuge at various camps in Borno, other parts of the North-east and the country.
Thus, in the wake of humanitarian crisis that is ravaging some parts of the North-east region of Nigeria, due to the dreadful activities of the Boko Haram insurgents, the NAF is leaving no stone unturned in its bid to support the efforts of the Federal Government and other NGOs in providing relief materials and other basic amenities to bring succour to the internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The IDPs of Bama Camp in Borno have benefitted from the NAF’s generosity, with the provision of boreholes and the construction of an emergency hospital within the camp.
Before now, Bama was the second largest city in Borno State, after Maiduguri. However, it is now very much like a desert, no thanks to the activities of the Boko Haram – killing, maiming and forcing people to flee their ancestral homes into exile.
Some of the residents and neighbouring communities who could not relocate elsewhere were harboured in IDPs’ camps set up by the government in Bama.
Like other IDPs’ camps, the story is not different in Bama, with thousands of IDPs living in deplorable conditions soliciting for intervention from not only government but other well-meaning citizens.
While playing the role of fighting in the air and contributing its special forces to fight alongside the surface forces, the NAF is also taking it as incumbent responsibilities to offer humanitarian cares to help alleviate the suffering of the IDPs in their various camps.
While protecting the people from terrorists’ invasion, the NAF was able to identify some major areas of challenge and avail itself the opportunity to render selfless service.
First was the establishing of a level-two hospital in Dalori IDPs’ camp and, now, a similar emergency hospital in Bama camp. The water project in Dalori camp was also replicated in Bama.
While commissioning the projects in Bama, the Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima expressed his deep appreciation to the NAF for its interventions through wonderful projects that address the immediate needs of the IDPs.
According to the governor, the passion of the Chief of Air Staff towards the plight of the IDPs had become a “life-saver.”
Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, who led other top NAF officers during the occasion, said that, beyond adequate security role, the NAF would continue to support the people with qualitative aids that would help to reduce their suffering.
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has established a hospital in Bama, a town in Borno State, which is home to 25,000 IDPs (mostly women and children), an area formerly occupied by Boko Haram insurgents, as part of its medical outreach.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar, gave the state governor, Mallam Kashim Shettima, a tour of the hospital, equipped to meet the health needs of the residents.
The zonal coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the coordinating agency for humanitarian services in the state, stated his belief that collaboration between sister agencies and support from the Nigerian Air Force medical team had accounted for the seamless defeat of malnutrition in the camp.
“The government of Borno State in conjunction with NEMA and the 31 NGOS worked together to erect so many tents, improve water supply and, now, construct two health facilities and an food delivery system to meet the needs of this IDP camp.”
The health facility, initiated by the Nigerian Air Force in Bama, is an extension of the Dalori IDP camp in Maiduguri, which has been conducting surgeries for sick IDPS, at no cost, where necessary.
Explaining the vision behind the Air Force’s Medical Outreach, Air Chief Abubakar, said he believed that gaining the confidence of locals in the area of operations was key to winning the counter-insurgency war.
Bama and Gwoza local councils of Borno State have the highest number of IDPS living in camps and the host communities.
Governor Kashim Shettima has assured that the state government is engaging in fruitful partnerships with the Presidential Initiative for rebuilding North East (PINE) and others, to facilitate the quick return of IDPS and closure of camps.
The Nigerian Air Force is a beneficiary of a N20m grant from the Presidential Initiative for the North-east – which has now been subsumed under the Presidential Committee for the North-east Initiative (PCNI) – a grant which it has used judiciously to aid the recovery of, at least, 3, 000 malnourished persons, mostly kids, evacuating them to Maiduguri, the state capital, for treatment and proper nutrition.
It has been nine weeks since the intervention was launched and the outlook, as well as health of these IDPs has undergone a tremendous change.
An IDP, Gohna Alkali, an IDP in the Bama camp said: “We thank the government and the Nigerian Air Force; we are no longer hungry, we now have food. We have doctors here taking care of us. They feed us thrice a day and I am beginning to get mys trenght back, just like many others who have been sick. We are grateful to God,” he said.
Similarly, in a special report of Bring Back Our Girls Movement following the return of four of its members led by Oby Ezekwesili, Aisha Yesufu, Manasseh Allen and Ibrahim Usman who were part of the Federal Government’s guided tour of Sambisa Forest in search of the missing Chibok school girls, the role of the NAF in the counter-insurgency operations in the North-east was appreciated more by the movement after the tour.
According to the group’s report, it had interacted with the leadership and the officials of the NAF, enabling it to assess the quality of the personnel in the establishment.
The movement’s delegation was, also, able to confirm that the air component of the counter-insurgency war was being prosecuted by a highly professional, capable, motivated and committed team of the NAF.
Furthermore, they said presentation by the Chief of Air Staff on the training and human capital development strategy of the NAF enabled them to appreciate its plans for the future.
“We saw that data, knowledge and information analysis play a major role in the strategy of the NAF in prosecuting the air component of the war.
“Our exposure to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform and the technical room of NAF indicated the level of adoption of technology in the prosecution of the war.
“We were presented data on the growing fleet of ISRs, fighter jets, helicopter gunships and other tools and equipment available to prosecute the air component of the war by NAF.
“We observed the coordination between the NAF and the Nigerian Army which prosecutes the ground component of the war was demonstrably strong, as we saw evidence of the manner in which they share information towards achieving results.
“We were provided data and image as evidence that the search for the Chibok Girls and other abducted citizens is a daily activity by the NAF. The data sheet showing the summary of all search operations was displayed, with the following key data points over the last eighteen months by NAF: total missions to Sambisa General Area–2,105, number of sorties— 3,534, time/hour of flight— 6,323 and cost of fuel: over N2.4bn.
“When our daily commutation, flying as low as 15,000 feet, from camp to the base were later analysed, it showed that 14 women were gathered around a suspicious location which the NAF designated as the “Tree of Life,” because it has been suspecting enemy movement around that spot. The NAF stated that it would probe the result further with their army colleagues, in order to determine the appropriate response.
“On the Night Sortie— At 2.41 AM on Tuesday, we participated in the Night Sortie which involved a similar flight search of the theatre of war like we did during the day. We were told by the NAF that until the acquisition of more equipment by our military since July 2015, the terrorists used to be most active at night time as darkness offered them advantage. It was usually during the night that they moved their captives, mostly women, girls and children, across locations. Interestingly, our night commutations only revealed one movement on the ground– an animal foraging for food.
“Our flight into the Sambisa General Area on the ISR platform showed low suspected enemy activities compared to the data of previous years. Better understanding of a key military language like the celebrated “capture of Camp Zairo” which previously to our movement and the larger public meant that capture of the entire vast land of Sambisa General Area. We now also know that the capture of Camp Zairo is significant, because it used to be the operational base of the terrorists. With its capture, the military achieved a major degradation of the capacity of the terrorists to launch attacks on our country.
“We became aware that our troops must remain in Sambisa General Area which the NAF data presented as 60,000 square kilometers and equivalent to 18 times the size of Lagos. The legitimate fear of regrouping of the enemies to re-launch new attacks means that our military’s on-air and on-ground operations must continue,” the BBOG said in its report.
As a final admission that, truly, most of the population may have erred in their translation of the data and messages coming from the activities of the nation’s military forces, it, therefore becomes a burden of the media, stakeholders and opinion shapers to correct the impression that the nation’s forces, especially, the NAF, are not doing enough and are too laid-back to defend the nation from the onslaughts of the insurgents.
“There is no contradiction about the recovery of Camp Zairo by our troops and, yet, our Chibok Girls are not recovered or rescued,” said the final aspects of the group’s report after its well documented, guided tour of the Sambisa.
Clearly, beyond an erroneous bombing which is highly regretted, the NAF has been and is still doing a lot to help the displaced of the region and help the nation keep on winning the war against insurgents and terror from the skies.