Friday, September 17, 2021
Nigeria’s air force confirmed that there was an airstrike targeting a branch of the Islamist group Boko Haram in the northeast part of the country where civilians were reported to have been killed, a spokesman said Thursday.
The incident comes amid debate about the Nigerian government’s counterterrorism tactics, which critics say too often claim the lives of innocent people. Separatists in Nigeria recently sued two top Biden administration officials for clearing the sale of warplanes to the country in a deal initially greenlighted by the Trump administration.
Edward Gabkwet, the air force spokesman, said in a brief interview that he had received many reports that civilians were killed but could not say definitively.
“We are investigating,” he said. “We have to be sure. That environment is highly infested with terrorists.”
Mohammed Goje, a doctor who is the executive secretary of the Yobe State Emergency Management Agency, said that nine civilians, including three children, were killed in the strike on a rural community near the border with Niger. He said the dead were in their homes when the strike occurred and came from multiple families.
Those killed and the 23 people injured were farmers or children, he said. The injured were taken to hospitals and are in stable condition, Goje said.
“For us as an emergency management agency, the life of civilians is a priority,” he said. “They were children, they were farmers, they are people, and we must give them the treatment they deserve free.”
The governor of Yobe instructed hospitals to provide free care to the injured and said his office would work with the military to determine what had gone wrong.
“Government will work closely with the security forces especially the Nigeria Air Force to establish what actually happened,” Gov. Mai Mala Buni said in a statement.
Gabkwet initially denied that the air force was involved. But on Thursday, after Buni called for an investigation, the spokesman released a statement saying one of the air force pilots fired shots after observing “suspicious movement consistent with Boko Haram terrorists behavior.”
“Unfortunately reports reaching Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Headquarters alleged that some civilians were erroneously killed while others were injured,” he said in the statement.
The Nigerian government has used airstrikes in the northeast to target Boko Haram and an offshoot loyal to the Islamic State. The two groups have killed more than 30,000 people in 12 years. In 2017, a Nigerian air force fighter jet mistakenly bombed a town crowded with people who had fled Islamist militants, killing more than 50 and injuring more than 100.
Matthew Page, an associate fellow with the Africa Program at Chatham House, said civilian casualties in the fight against Boko Haram are common but rarely acknowledged by the government. The combat aircraft that Nigeria and Niger are using to fight the group, Page said, are “not effective counterinsurgency tools.”
“You’re using a meat cleaver rather than a surgeon’s scalpel,” he said.
The Nigerian air force has said it will use A-29 Super Tucano planes from the United States to conduct some of those airstrikes. Six of the planes arrived in Nigeria in July, after the Trump administration’s controversial decision to clear the nearly $600 million Super Tucano deal, ending an Obama-era ban on selling weapons to Nigeria.
Asked Thursday whether Super Tucano planes were involved in this airstrike, Gabkwet said he did not believe so but added, “All of these things will come out when the investigation is done.”
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
At least 108 out of 240 inmates who escaped from a prison in central Nigeria have been recaptured, a prison official said Tuesday.
Heavily armed gunmen stormed the Security Custodial Centre in Kabba, in Kogi State, late on Sunday, freeing scores of inmates.
It was unclear who the gunmen were but criminal gangs have terrorized central and northwest Nigeria for years.
“We have a total of 108 inmates rearrested,” Nigeria’s correctional service spokesman Francis Enobore told AFP by phone.
“But as the day progresses, the figure will definitely increase,” he added, saying “several processes have been activated to ensure all inmates are rearrested.”
At about 2245 GMT on Sunday, the spokesman had said earlier in a statement, numerous attackers “engaged the armed guards in a fierce gun battle.”
The gunmen invaded the prison, which had 294 prisoners in custody at the time, including 224 pre-trial detainees.
A soldier and a police officer lost their lives in the attack, Enobore later added.
Large prison outbreaks are not uncommon in Nigeria.
On April 5, gunmen raided Owerri police headquarters, in Nigeria’s southern Imo state, freeing more than 1,800 inmates.
In addition to fighting criminal gangs who also kidnap people for ransom and rustle cattle, Nigeria’s security forces are facing a violent jihadist insurgency in the northeast and separatist agitation in the southeast.
Related story: Militant group storm prison in Kogi and free 118 inmates
Nigeria is seeing one of its worst cholera outbreaks in years, with more than 2,300 people dying from suspected cases as Africa's most populous country struggles to deal with multiple disease outbreaks.
This year's cholera outbreak, with a higher case fatality rate than the previous four years, is worsened by what many consider to be a bigger priority for state governments: the COVID-19 pandemic. Nigeria faces a resurgence of cases driven by the Delta variant, and less than 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
At least 69,925 suspected cholera cases were recorded as of Sept. 5 in 25 of Nigeria's 36 states and in the capital, Abuja, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. Children between 5 and 14 are the most affected age group and the overall case fatality rate is 3.3%, more than double that of COVID-19's 1.3% case fatality rate in Nigeria.
At least 2,323 people have died from suspected cholera this year, but there are concerns that might be an undercount given that many affected communities are in hard to reach areas.
States in Nigeria's north where flooding and poor sanitation increase the risk of transmission are the hardest hit. The 19 states in the north account for 98% of the suspected cases.
Cholera is endemic and seasonal in Nigeria, where only 14% of the population of more than 200 million have access to safely managed drinking water supply services, according to government data from 2020, which also shows that open defecation is still practiced by at least 30% of residents in 14 states
Nigeria also continues to see regular outbreaks of yellow fever, Lassa fever, measles and other infectious diseases.
"We must remain conscious that these multiple outbreaks can further strain our health system," outgoing Nigeria CDC director-general Chikwe Ihekweazu told The Associated Press.
But he and other officials say the experience from those health crises has helped Nigeria prepare for the worst. "Prior investment in diagnostic capacity, case management, electronic surveillance systems, event-based surveillance, risk communication, logistic management systems and national/subnational workforce development have paid off significantly during COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
That has not contained cholera, however, and in some states, authorities have said COVID-19 has taken center stage.
In Kogi State, which has Nigeria's second-highest cholera case fatality rate at 24.5%, top health official Saka Haruna told the AP the rate is high because of the difficulty in accessing care in hard-to-reach areas.
Even in the capital, finding care has been challenging. Ese Umukoro said she had a "very difficult" experience when her brother, Samson, had cholera and was rejected at three hospitals before being admitted at the fourth. She asked the government to "try their best to at least give us good water to avoid that kind of sickness."
Sokoto State has Nigeria's fourth-highest count of suspected cholera cases, and its health commissioner told the AP that 22 of the 23 Local Government Areas have been hit by the outbreak.
"What is driving the infections is lack of good sanitary conditions in our villages and open defecation, aggravated by heavy rainfall," said Ali Inname.
It's a common problem. Government data from a study supported by UNICEF found access to safely managed sanitation services at just 21% nationwide.
Engineer Michael Oludare, an Oyo-based water scientist, said it is "very important" for authorities to provide basic water and sanitation. He said the poor, women, children and internally displaced people are among "those that will have problems when it comes to cholera."
Moreover, Nigeria still grapples with the challenge of inadequate vaccines and trained manpower to cover all Local Government Areas where the cholera outbreak has been recorded.
By Chinedu Asadu
Monday, September 13, 2021
The Boko Haram insurgency has lasted for over a decade. The group began launching attacks in northern Nigeria. Beyond carrying out the devastating attacks, the group also kidnapped hundreds of girls and students. We talked to one of their victims, Fatima Buba Saleh. She spent years in captivity, before she was able to escape with her child.