President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria on Tuesday called for an investigation into a drone attack by his country’s military that killed scores of civilians on Sunday, the latest in a series of accidental bombings that have hit local populations.
Many of the victims were gathered for a Muslim celebration on Sunday night in a village in the northern state of Kaduna, when at least one drone strike hit local residents at about 9 p.m., according to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency.
As of Tuesday, at least 85 people had been pronounced dead, including children, women and older people, the agency said in a statement. At least 66 others were injured, and the search for more bodies was continuing, the agency said.
As Nigeria, a West African nation, has been fighting extremist groups for more than a decade, its military has increasingly resorted to airstrikes, with accidental bombings becoming far too common, security analysts and human rights experts say.
But Sunday’s strike was by far the deadliest. Amnesty International said the death toll was closer to 120 people.
Mr. Tinubu, who is in the United Arab Emirates for the COP 28 climate conference, called for “a thorough and full-fledged investigation” into what he called a “bombing mishap,” describing the events as “very unfortunate, disturbing and painful,” according to a statement released by the Nigerian presidency.
On Tuesday, Nigeria’s chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, visited Tudun Biri, the village hit by the strike, and admitted the army’s responsibility. He said that aerial patrols had “observed a group of people and wrongly analyzed and misinterpreted their pattern of activities to be similar to that of the bandits.”
Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, has been plagued by multiple security crises that Mr. Tinubu vowed to tackle when he was sworn in as president in May. The country’s northeast is beset by militants from the extremist groups Boko Haram and local affiliates of the Islamic State. In the northwest and northern center, armed gangs locally referred to as bandits steal cattle and carry out widespread killings and abductions, including of priests, teachers, schoolchildren and commuters.
Nigeria’s security forces have struggled to contain the violence, and Mr. Tinubu’s administration has yet to publish a comprehensive national security strategy. Nigeria’s military, the largest in West Africa and a major recipient of American security assistance, has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including forced abortions and indiscriminate killings.
Last year, the Biden administration approved a nearly $1 billion weapons deal with Nigeria, the largest ever made to the country. But several U.S. lawmakers have since called for a review of the U.S. security partnership with Nigeria in light of human rights abuses.
“Despite reports of civilian casualties from Nigerian Armed Forces airstrikes and other concerns, the flow of U.S. weapons into Nigeria has not slowed,” researchers at Brown University and the Center for International Policy, a Washington-based nonprofit group, wrote in a report published last year.
Yet any change of attitude from the United States is unlikely, analysts say, because Nigeria is seen as a reliable security partner in a region riddled with coups and Islamist insurgencies.
Isa Sanusi, the country director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, said the strike on Sunday had killed at least 120 civilians, according to his organization’s own tally.
“The Nigerian military is used to not being held to account and getting away with these atrocities,” said Mr. Sanusi. “That is making them less diligent and more reckless.”
Before the strike on Sunday, more than 300 people had been killed in airstrikes carried out by the Nigerian Air Force since 2017, according to a tally by SBM Intelligence. While the occurrence of these accidental bombings has soared over the past two years, there have been no comprehensive investigations or compensation to the victims’ families, according to the consultancy.
And these accidental killings of civilians have long ceased to cause outrage.
“Sadly, we’ve had a long line of incidents,” said Ikemesit Effiong, a partner at SBM Intelligence. “To many Nigerians, they have become normalized.”
Ismail Alfa contributed reporting from Maiduguri, Nigeria.