Premium Times (Abuja)

13 January 2014

Nigeria Military Targets Senator Ndume's Convoy in Air Raid

A Nigerian Senator, Muhammed Ali Ndume, on Sunday said he escaped an air assault when a military fighter jet targeted his convoy of vehicles near his country home, Gwoza, and dropped four bombs.

The military, according to Senator Ndume said it was an operational miscalculation as they were targeting some terrorists that killed eight civilians in a border village on Saturday.

The bombs reportedly missed their targets because the seven vehicles on Mr. Ndume's convoy were moving at top speed.

The four bombs, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, landed in the village of Pulka when Mr. Ndume was on his way to Gwoza Local Government Area to perform two functions.

The first, according to the senator, was to condole and commiserate with some of his constituents who were attacked by terrorists in Ardoko Village, 185km from Maiduguri, leading to the death of eight people. The second was to deliver a letter of status elevation to the Emir of Gwoza; who was elevated from a second-class to a first-class traditional ruler by the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima.

The senator said he was told by the military in Borno that the bomb attack was an operational blunder, as they did not intend to kill him.

"Though the military insisted it was a mistake, but it really underscored the seriousness of the problem of the operational lapses of the army," he told PREMIUM TIMES.

"I was on my way to Gwoza and had to stop by in Pulka village which is some few kilometers away from Gwoza to attend to some of my people that came to welcome me there. There was a military post there too and I even exchanged pleasantries with the soldiers before proceeding.

"But as we began to move through Pulka I heard a massive explosion and some others ones followed. Initially I thought it was the Boko Haram that were attacking us; we even thought it was some people waiving at us from the road side that detonated the bomb.

"When we stopped, one of the army personnel that were escorting me said 'Oga, we have to take cover, the bombs were dropped by the Airforce', so we had to immediately return to the military post that we left some few yards behind us for a cover.

"At the military base, the soldiers there tried to establish communication with the pilot of the jet but could not across. And after some minutes they said that it might be an operational blunder from the Nigerian Airforce," he said.

The military has been using air and ground attacks in in its efforts to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents in the three states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, which are currently under a state of emergency.

Mr. Ndume said he was 'deeply disappointed' by the Sunday's incident.

"Even if it was an operational hitch as they claimed, but how could an Airforce pilot fire four bombs at a moving convoy being escorted by soldiers and police on a federal highway without bothering to check with the ground forces," he said.

"It was God that saved lives because the bombs landed not far away from where young children were standing by the road side inside the village.

"I thank God for sparing my life; I could have been dead or members of convoy too would have been killed, and when the military say it was a blunder, only their story would have been heard, perhaps there wouldn't be any other person to speak for me".

Mr. Ndume said the incident must be thoroughly investigated as it is an opportunity for the Nigeria Army to really check the disposition of some of its operatives especially during military operations.

The Senator said he sent an SOS message to the Chief of Army Staff, who responded promptly expressing concern and apologies.

"But the Chief of Air Staff, who happens to be a friend and an indigene of a town near my town had not been able to get back to me after I sent him similar message. Even the Chief of Army Staff I learnt forwarded my text message to him," he said.

Officials of the Nigerian Army later said in private discussions that the Airforce admitted that they mistook Mr. Ndume's convoy for that of terrorists; a claim the senator faulted.

"For God sake how could my convoy that was moving on an open federal highway in an area that aerial to land visibility was 100 percent clear without any forest or what so ever, and I was being escorted ahead the convoy by seven armed soldiers in a military patrol van, and from behind by five armed policemen in their own van too, be mistaken for anything else?" the senator asked.

"How could a trained pilot at the slightest alert just fly over all the way from a Yola airbase and fly over to Borno to attack a target without making vital communication to confirm whether the target he has on ground was the right one before dropping bombs on it.

"The pilot has no excuse whatsoever because the nearest military from the point of attack was less than a kilometer. As a matter of fact, I even stopped at the military base to exchange pleasantries with the soldiers there whom I informed my mission and they wished me safe trip. It was less than a minute that we left them that we got that deadly attack," he said.

Mr. Ndume said he was later told by an army officer at Pulka that the Airforce may have been responding to an alert that some Boko Haram gunmen were attacking a village which was some 30 kilometers away.

"But even the army officers there blamed the Airforce for always attacking without checking out their target. They said the Airforce are always in the habit of not linking up to establish ground communication each time they carry out their air strike. They said they actually told them that some Boko Haram gunmen were escaping on foot and not driving a convoy of jeeps led by military detachment, and the area of attack was even 30km away", the senator said.

The senator showed PREMIUM TIMES some of the fragments of the bombs.

"Let this incident be an opportunity for the army to check the operational blunders of its troops. Though there are fine officers who have been doing fantastic jobs, but this should be an eye opener for them to correct themselves and hope it will never occur again.

"It is obvious, judging from what happened that the Airforce, the army, the police and the SSS are not really professionally coordinated when it comes to using sophisticated armament like jets in fighting against the insurgents. I was thinking there was supposed to be a communication base in Pulka itself so that when an air strike is initiated a perfect communication would be establish between the pilot and the ground troops. But there was nothing like that," he said.

The Deputy Director, Army Public Relations at the 7Division,Maiduguri, Muhammed Dole, later told journalists on phone that he was unaware of the bomb attack on Senator Ndume, but confirmed that "a military operation is ongoing in the Gwoza by our troops with an air support by the Nigeria Air Force."

Mr. Ndume says his joy is that he survived the attack.

"I thank God I am alive, and I am even more joyous that none of my entourage or the innocent villagers of Pulka who also escaped death narrowly were hurt or killed by the four bombs," he said. "But if it had turned out the other way round, words cannot explain the controversy it could have generated. And I believe my story would have been told wrongly".

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