Amnesty decries air raids that killed Christian villagers in Nigeria

(MSF/Handout via Reuters)Injured people are comforted at the site after a bombing attack of an internally displaced persons camp in Rann, Nigeria.

Amnesty International has denounced the Nigerian government's response to communal violence that is taking place between Fulani herdsmen and Christian villagers, saying it has been totally inadequate, too slow, in effective and in some cases unlawful.

On Dec. 4, 2017, the Nigerian air force reportedly dispatched fighter jets to fire rockets at villages in the country's north-eastern Adamawa State as "warning shots" in an attempt to deter spiraling communal violence.

"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 Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

The air raids took place in the villages of Lawaru, Dong, Kodomti, Shafaron and Nzuruwei, where Amnesty interviewed 15 witnesses. A total of 86 names of victims had been provided by locals in the villages, with 51 victims having gunshot or machete wounds, and 35 dying as a direct result of the air raids.

Most of the victims were buried in individual graves, but 28 victims in Dong were buried in mass graves, according to the witnesses. As many as 3,000 homes have been destroyed across the five villages as a result of the air strikes.

Amnesty reported that the air strikes were carried out at the same time as the raids by the herdsmen, while in other villages the air force arrived shortly afterwards.

"The Nigerian authorities must investigate these attacks and, where these investigations indicate criminal responsibility, prosecute those responsible and bring them to justice," Ojigho said.

Data collected by World Watch Monitor during its visit in Dong and Lawaru last month indicated that at least 79 Christians were killed and many other were injured, while an undetermined number had been reported missing.

More than 3,000 villagers have reportedly fled to other Numan villages and neighboring Gombe State following the incident.

The attacks carried out by the herdsmen are believed to be a reprisal for the massacre of over 60 Fulani women and children in three villages in Numan Local Government Area (LGA) on Nov. 19 by youths belonging to the Bachama tribe, which is predominantly Christian.

Villagers and local leaders told Amnesty that they have relayed information on the impending attacks to the security agencies and reported that they have seen armed herdsmen gathering in the area.

In response, the police announced on Nov. 29 that 315 extra officers would be deployed in the area, but the villagers said that they did nothing to prevent the violence on Dec. 4.

Dawson K. Tufano, a retired court judge from Dong village, said that the security forces withdrew from the area just before the arrival of the attackers, paving the way for the large number of well-armed assailants to storm the villages.

"While our local vigilantes were in a fierce battle with the herdsmen, aircraft came from nowhere and started throwing bombs on our villages, abetting the herdsmen to kill several people, while many others were injured as houses and properties were completely razed due to the Air Force bombings," Tufano narrated.

The survivors in Dong and Lawaru said they believe that the attacks were aimed at wiping out all the Christians in their villages, which are mainly comprised mostly of Christians from the Bwaite tribe, also known as Bachama.

Since the beginning of 2018, at least 168 people have been killed in clashes between nomadic herdsmen and local farmers in Adamawa, Katsina, Delta and Ekiti states.

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