By Frederick Adebayo
After one year, the Nigerian Air Force has taken responsibility for the January 23, 2023 airstrike in Akpanaja community of Doma Local Government Area of Nasarawa State which claimed 37 lives.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Hassan Abubakar, who led senior officials of the Air Force on Friday, to pay a courtesy call on Governor Abdullahi Sule in Lafia, accepted responsibility over the incident on behalf of the Force.
The service Chief said “Sometime in January last year, airstrikes were conducted in the state after intelligence revealed the sighting of suspected terrorists on motorcycles transiting near Rukubi in the Doma local government area of the state.
The entire area was well known for its heightened insecurity occasioned by killings, kidnapping, and terrorism perpetrated by terrorist elements in the state.
Because of this, the need for an airstrike became imperative but unfortunately however the airstrike killed some civilians at the location and the outcries by several locals as well as Nigerians necessitated a review of the reports of strikes, which later revealed that civilians were indeed killed during the airstrike. The need to make amends became expedient.”
It will be recalled that shortly after that incident, the deposed Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, in an interview with BBC Hausa, bluntly accused the then Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom of masterminding the bomb attack. He stated:
“The air strike that took place in Nasarawa was masterminded from Makurdi. We must hold him (Ortom) responsible since we know his position against Fulani. It’s only an investigation that will avail him of the allegations. Why won’t t there be an investigation to reveal who masterminded the bombardment? And who gives orders to the Air force to always launch these airstrikes?”
Sanusi went as far as making a rallying call asking Benue people especially his Fulani kinsmen to work against the Senate bid of Governor Ortom. He made a video which went viral campaigning vigorously against Ortom. He and 51 other elites mainly of Fulani descent, wrote a petition to the then President Muhammadu Buhari against Governor Ortom in connection with the Akpanaja airstrike. Unconfirmed reports said Sanusi and the other anti-Ortom elites pooled resources together and sponsored the 2023 election against Ortom to ensure that he was defeated during the National Assembly election.
But the former Benue governor is not one to go down without a fight, so Ortom indeed hit back at Sanusi and his cohorts. In a statement, he stated that some personalities led by Sanusi had made some allegations against him in an attempt to set him up for hatred, vilification and elimination. Governor Ortom wondered why as educated and exposed as the dethroned Emir was, he would resort to telling lies about an elected personality like himself just to suit his purpose. He added that neither himself nor the Benue State Government had the capacity to deploy a drone or any military equipment in any part of the country.
On 3rd February 2023, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union SOKAPU, in a statement, also carpeted the deposed Emir of Kano, following his comment on Ortom over the bombing in Nasarawa State
According to SOKAPU, it was preposterous and unfortunate for the former Emir of Kano and top Fulani elites to try to rope Ortom into the incident. The group described as curious and very surprising that Sanusi who had portrayed himself as a nationalist of some kind, “has reduced himself to a narrow champion of his tribesmen” in his desperate move to profile Ortom as evil before his Fulani kinsmen.
The group warned that nothing must happen to Ortom whom it described as “a great son of the Middle Belt”.
Now, a whole year has passed. The Akpanaja incident seems to have been forgotten, but families of the victims whom Sanusi and others succeeded in convincing that Ortom was the mastermind might not have forgiven the former Benue State Governor. Today, God, in His own supreme way, has prompted the Nigerian Airforce to visit Nasarawa and take responsibility for the Akpanaja attack. What is however still missing in the picture is the man who was unfortunately and wrongly accused of being behind the attack – Samuel Ortom.
I urge all men of good conscience to ask Lamido Sanusi and his group of 52 to tender an unreserved apology to Ortom for attempting to set him up against the Fulani race. Though the statement of responsibility by the military has vindicated Ortom and it is a welcome development, an apology from those who fingered the former Benue Governor in the attack is paramount. Such individuals must be made to eat the humble pie and tell him “We are deeply Sorry”.
Samuel Ortom is a voice of conscience and reason. He stood firmly for his people, was betrayed by some of them who were aided by enemies of Benue State but he never waivered. He paid the price of patriotism and lost his Senate bid. But today, those who betrayed him are worse for it. I understand that security is getting worse in that state by the day.
Let it be known that posterity will be fair to those who braved the odds to sustain the state of our national sovereignty and spoke as well as acted in defence of citizens of this great country. Samuel Ortom has already secured a place in the annals of Nigeria for his bold, firm and courageous stand towards ensuring that the country works to protect the interests of all citizens, irrespective of their backgrounds.
Adebayo wrote from Lagos.