Kaduna military airstrike: How Nigerians Through Social Media Gaslighted Victims Account 

Horror struck that day. Mallam Jabir Ibrahim had been called by villagers in Tudun Biri in the Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, informing him about an incident that had just happened. He immediately rushed to the community to see for himself what they had told him on the phone. He’d seen body parts scattered around and injured people being tended to on getting to the village.

He saw agonised villagers. 

Jabir, a farmer and politician, was still wrapping his head around what had happened when he was informed that it was a military airstrike. Immediately, he posted four images on his X account, formerly known as Twitter, showing dead people in an uncompleted building merged together on the floor.

Villagers had told him the incident happened while they were marking the Maulid celebration to commemorate the birth of Prophet Mohammed on the night of December 3, 2023. They disclosed that a military bomb killed 120 people.

 “Yesterday night, over 120 innocent villagers were mistakenly bombed at Tabarau village, close to the Nigerian airforce here in Kaduna”, he posted on his X account.

Months after its publication, the post had received more than 413,000 views. It has also generated over 1,100 comments, 3,100 reposts, and 2,200 likes.

He was caught off guard by his countrymen’s fierce reaction. Jabir was caught in the crossfire of a disinformation campaign that brought attention to Nigeria’s online scene, where clumsy attempts to tell compelling stories are occasionally made, particularly when it comes to political and security topics.

- Advertisements -
NNPC Mega Filling Station
Nigerian Air Force Jet

This is not the first time there has been an incident of civilians being killed in accidental air raids by Nigerian security forces.

At least fourteen incidents of the air force targeting residential communities have been documented since February 2014, when a bomb was dropped by a Nigerian military aircraft on the town of Daglun in Borno mistakenly to be Boko Haram camp, northeastern Nigeria, killing dozens people.

Rarely does the Nigerian military acknowledge that it has killed civilians in military operations—basically, during an airstrike. These misguided attacks have resulted in hundreds of injuries and at least 400 civilian deaths over the past eight years.

Jabir was faced with those questioning his post about the incident and those lamenting the killing of civilians in the airstrike.

Some criticised the military for not doing enough to safeguard civilians during military operations, while others assert that Jabir uploaded photographs that did not depict bomb casualties and that he provided inaccurate information.

An account that regularly posts pro-military information @DejiAdesogan, had questioned Jabir in response and asked if he had seen images of aerial bombing before; another account believed to be a military officer wrote, “Mistakenly bomb? And you went to the village, boss? Probably you need to see more bombed victims”, another account said, ““Propaganda. Let’s portray our country in a good light. Over 120, yet the bodies aren’t up to 20. Get the facts right.””

Jabir was compelled to return to the community as a result of the deluge of comments challenging his post. In order to prove to people that he was telling the truth about what had happened he said in an interview, “I had to go back and record a video interview with the villagers who had witnessed the incident happen.”

Jabir never mentioned the branch of the Nigerian Armed Force that had carried out the bombing, but the Nigerian Air Force issued a statement two hours following Jabir’s post, disputing claims it had carried out an attack that killed and injured people and stating that it had not conducted any air operations in Kaduna State on the previous day.

The Air Force statement spurred more controversy online about the incident, untill the Nigerian Army eventually acknowledged that civilians had been killed in an airstrike and called it an error more than four hours after Jabir’s post on X.

The Kaduna State government also released a statement confirming that the Nigerian Army had mistakenly bombed civilian gatherings during a routine mission against terrorists.

Nonetheless, the military issued two conflicting accounts of the incident. The airstrike was an error, according to an early statement from the Nigerian army in Kaduna. Following this came a claim that suspected bandits had merged with civilians in a statement from Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters.

Partisan social media conversations in which attitudes and ideological perspectives are far more significant than facts or witness testimony are only one of many instances in which some Nigerians attempt to protect officials from accountability and support them in their endeavours. The Kaduna episode is just one of many.

However, this strategy is not new, nor is it exclusive to the way Nigerian online communities respond to occurrences that could cast the government in a negative light or that their opposition uses to advance political agendas.

But the approach works well, argues Afolabi Ajakaye, a research analyst with Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).

 “trolling and gaslight works well to help ensure that their positions are communicated and to help whip up supporters in a positive frenzy.”

The approach, according to him, was used a lot by political operatives before social media and now, where online accounts are more associated with political support, it has become a more expected practice. 

In order to maintain face, place the responsibility on the victims, or deflect attention from the occurrence, Nigerian authorities have also been known to deploy counterattack strategies on social and traditional media platforms—or, in some situations, to act indifferently. 

For example, during the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari in April 2022, a number of X users affiliated with the Nigerian government harassed Chinelo Megafu Nwando, a Nigerian doctor, on social media after she was shot during a terrorist attack on the train she was riding in Abuja-Kaduna. In the train attack, Chinelo perished.

“I’m in the train. I have been shot please pray for me.” (sic) She tweeted exactly at 9:43 pm on Monday 28 March.

Then, X users started questioning the authenticity of the Chinelolo post and endorsing the train system as the safest mode of transportation provided by the Buhari administration.

The late Chinelo was thought to be criticising the government’s efforts to reduce insecurity and its investment in rail transit.

October 2020, however, would be the worst month for official disinformation campaigns. Nigerian youths were protesting against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious police unit linked to bribery and extrajudicial killings, when security officers in Lagos State opened fire on them, killing them instantly.

The government’s strategies were validated in November 2020, a month after the massacre at the Lekki #Endsar protest. An investigative report by Jean Le Roux of DFRlab revealed how two networks of Nigerian Twitter accounts were promoting content that supported the government and seemed to be organising an online suppression campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the countrywide protests tagged #EndSARS against SARS and human rights violations committed by the Nigerian Police Force.

In an effort to deny allegations that the military had opened fire on protesting residents at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, bogus information about the demonstration and the Lekki killings was disseminated online.

Despite eyewitness footage from Instagram live-streaming the gunshots, the Buhari administration and military refused to acknowledge that soldiers had fired live bullets at the protesters at Lekkitollgate. A CNN investigation further confirmed the shooting of live bullets by the Military at Lekki Tollgate. 

At the height of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2014, the government denied a suicide attack that occurred in Lagos. They also refused to acknowledge that the terrorist group, whose main base is in the northeastern part of the country, had penetrated Nigeria’s commercial nerve core despite late Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claiming responsibility for two explosions on June 25 at a fuel depot in Lagos.

There are an estimated 200 million people living in Nigeria and more than 160 million are thought to be internet users according to the National Bureau of Statistic (NBS) as of December 2023, of whom 30 million are social media users. A new front in conversation and debate has formed as a result of social media sites’ increasing popularity in Nigeria over the past several years, as policymakers compete for the attention of the millions of active social media users in the country.

Online debate has not stopped growing, but it appears that social media platforms are becoming more and more filled with inflated, inaccurate, and deceptive claims. Tribal and religious sentiment has also grown as a result of the declining economy and the increase in violence that residents face before, during, and after the general election of 2023.

This Jabir confirmed. He was taken aback not only by trolling he faced, but also the question that arised of the ethnicity and religious background of the victims.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest stories

Most Read

Signup To WikkiTimes Newsletter