Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Hassan Abubakar, yesterday admitted that the air attack on Rukubi community in Doma local government area of Nasarawa early last year was a tactical mistake.
Pastoralists were returning from nearby Benue State with hundreds of cows they had bailed out from officials enforcing an anti-open grazing law when they were bombed.
Officials said 40 people were killed in the January, 2023 attack which also left scores wounded.
There were denials from government officials following claims that a military jet carried out the attack.
But speaking during a visit to Nasarawa State Governor Abdullahi Sule at the Government House, Lafia yesterday, the Air Marshal said the airstrike was accidental, and appealed to the state government to forgive the force.
He said NAF acted on intelligence report to the effect that some terrorists were sighted on motorcycles in a location around the Rukubi community but the operation turned out to be a disaster.
“It is not news that the general area (Rukubi) at that time had been well known for its insecurity occasioned by kidnapping and terrorism. Within the period you would recall that six primary school pupils were also kidnapped in the Doma local government area.
“This necessitated the surveillance by the Nigerian Air Force within the period. Unfortunately, the airstrike killed some civilians at the location.
“The unfortunate incident of January 2023 was in no way deliberate as no military the world over will intentionally kill those it is mandated to protect.
“Therefore, our visit to you is to solicit your kind intervention in interfacing with the representatives of victims of the accidental air strike at Rukubi,” he said.
He said there was urgent need to reach out to families of those affected by the strike to calm nerves and bring the matter to a close.
He promised to collaborate with the state government in tackling the insecurity in the state.
Responding, Governor Sule commended the Nigerian Air Force for owning up to its mistake and reaching out to families of the victims.
“When the incident happened, I did not know how to handle it. I had to invite the Miyetti Allah leadership to come in and help me calm them.
“One of them who was about 80 years old made me shed tears because he said he lost his nine children and about 80 cows in the airstrike, they all perished.
“He looked at me and said, I have nothing anymore here on earth. I do not have children or cows, what do you want me to do Mr. Governor? I looked at him and encouraged him to be patient, reminding him that he came to this world alone without any of those things and he would go back to Almighty Allah one day without any those things. That was how he stopped crying and became calm on the matter.
“So, your coming at this time is perfect and I welcome you to Nasarawa State. We will continue to support you so that at the end of the day, you can continue to provide the services of protecting the lives of the people,” he said.