Justice for Rann 97 – The Nation EditorialJuly 19, 2017

  • The Federal Government should, without delay, compensate the 97 citizens injured in the Rann accidental bombing

On January 17, a terrible collateral damage occurred in the ongoing war against terrorism. On that day in Rann, Kala Balge Local Government Area of Borno State, the Nigerian Air Force mistakenly bombed the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp there.

When the smoke cleared, 234 victims lay dead. Another two, mortally wounded survivors, died later in hospital. Another 97 survived: not in one piece, but with different levels of injuries.

It was a black day, indeed, in a nation’s fight against terror. Those IDPs, fleeing the Boko Haram terror machine, left the safety of their homes and the comfort of their loved ones. But they ended up perishing in the Rann IDP camp, a supposed haven — and from friendly fire! Sad.

A sad nation accepted the military’s explanation that the disaster was an accident. That made a lot of sense, for a government that was fulfilling its electoral pledge to vanquish the Boko Haram menace could not logically turn around to bombing the same citizens, for whose security, it was battling Boko Haram.

To further underscore perceived government’s sincerity and good faith, a panel was set up to investigate the catastrophe, so as to guard against any future mishap. That was nice and well.  What is neither nice nor well, however, was that the panel finished its work; and submitted its report and recommendations since April. Yet, neither the report nor its recommendation had been made public.

That is not good enough. Indeed, it is very bad, for it gives an already harried and harassed public the sad impression that perhaps there was something else, beyond human error, behind that sad accident.

Newspaper reports talk of the report being submitted to the Defence Headquarters. Since then, it appears to have vanished. That is not good at all. A government sensitive to the plight of its citizens cannot afford to lug that unfortunate impression of, for whatever reason, it is not coming clean on such a terrible public grief. The government’s bureaucracy cannot afford to swallow such explosive documents.

That is why the Federal Government should direct the military authorities to make public the report. Whoever deserves blame should be blamed. But that is not even the point. The main point is that the report should form part of the nation’s institutional memory to avert such disasters in the future. That is what pro-active countries do.

But beyond institutional memory is the urgent need for justice for the victims. Indeed, it is scandalous, if not outright callous, that six months after the bombing, the 97 surviving victims have not been compensated.

That is simply outrageous given the sad profile of the victims — internal refugees that have fled their communities as a result of Boko Haram terror. After all of that, they have become victims of a freak bombing, that could well disable many of them for life. And after all of these, they still have to wait, months, for compensation.

The situation is even more compounded, given that these are lowly citizens who possess neither the means nor the sophistication to sue for what is rightly theirs. If the chain is as strong as its weakest links, the government should be prompter in rushing to the defence of that category of helpless citizens. On that score, the Federal Government has failed so far.

But it doesn’t have to fail forever, on that account. That is why the authorities should hasten to compensate these victims. It is their right to be so treated. It is the government’s bounded duty to treat them so — with fairness, courtesy and equity.

Let’s bring justice and succour to the Rann 97. It is in the interest of our common humanity to do so.

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