Nigerian community leaders demanded the air force be prosecuted for alleged attacks on villages in the north-eastern state Adamawa, which they say killed 78 people.
Human rights campaign group Amnesty International said at least 35 people were killed in air raids in the region on December 4. The Nigerian Air Force rejects the allegation, saying it opened fire to dissuade looters and vandals and did not target people.
The allegations highlight some of Nigeria’s security challenges, which have become politically charged less than a year before an election. President Muhammadu Buhari is touring affected areas, including the state where 110 schoolgirls were abducted last month but will not visit Adamawa.
Residents of Adamawa villages described being fired on by a fighter jet and military helicopter as they attempted to flee while hundreds of herdsmen were staging a revenge attack on the communities for earlier killings over grazing rights.
“We call for national and international criminal investigation to commence prosecution of those responsible for this crime,” representatives of six villages said in a joint statement.
They said more than 78 people were killed by Nigerian Air Force jets and 20 by herdsmen.
“We want the Nigerian Human Rights Commission and international community to know the Nigerian Air Force excessively used force unlawfully in its air raids on our villages,” read the statement, presented at a news conference in the state capital, Yola.
Following Amnesty’s report, the air force denied it had bombed any locations in the region or fired at people. It said it was unaware of human casualties.
“Our position remains as captured in our earlier response to Amnesty International,” air force spokesman Olatokunbo Adesanya said.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due in Nigeria this week for a visit expected to focus on security.
Nigeria is in the final stages of buying fighter planes from the United States. The deal was halted by the previous US administration over concerns about the military’s human rights record, but was revived by the Trump administration.