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Military attack in Nigeria: “I can’t find the words to describe what I saw in Rann”

20 Jan 2017

Alfred Davies is an Médecins Sans Frontières Field Coordinator in Nigeria. He was in Rann when the aerial attack occurred, and in the hours that followed. “The first bomb fell at 12.30pm and landed just a few metres away from the Red Cross office. The plane circled back around and it dropped a second bomb five minutes later.

I immediately called the rest of the team on the radio and they reassured me that luckily none of them had been injured. We met up at the tents we had erected a few days earlier. Dozens of wounded began to pour in, and the flow of people continued for hours. There are no words to describe the chaos. Some people had broken bones and torn flesh; their intestines hanging down to the floor. I saw the bodies of children that had been cut in two. The tents were strewn with wounded, and there was barely any room to move. Many people were outside, lying on mats under the trees. There was only one doctor and one nurse in our team, but each of us did what we could. Even the drivers helped us. We also had support from the Red Cross staff and military nurses. 

"The hardest thing for our team is the frustration at not having had enough resources or medical equipment to save more of the wounded."

What I saw was indescribable. In the space of one hour we counted 52 dead. I think that our distributions of essential items such as mats and blankets saved a lot of people. Because they were queuing to collect them at the time of the attack, they were not in the town centre and escaped the bombs. The hardest thing for our team is the frustration at not having had enough resources or medical equipment to save more of the wounded. A dozen people died in front of our eyes without receiving the urgent medical care they so badly needed. There used to be a hospital in Rann but it was damaged by fire last year and is not functional. The town was left with no medical facilities. 

We had to leave the tents at 6pm for security reasons. It was very hard for us to leave our patients, but the Red Cross team had already started to relieve the pressure on us and to take over. When I had a moment to myself, I went to the cemetery where the burials had already started.  There were 30 new graves - sometimes mothers and their young children were buried in the same hole. It’s a tragedy. I also visited the area where the bombs hit. They had been dropped on houses. It’s incomprehensible. I recognised the body of a mother who had been at the Médecins Sans Frontières distribution that morning. Her twins had been given packets of therapeutic food paste as they were suffering from malnutrition. Now I saw them crying, pressing themselves against her inert body.  I can’t find the words.

What allows us to carry on after this terrible and traumatising experience is knowing that we did everything we could despite not having enough resources. Three people from a private firm hired by Médecins Sans Frontières to provide water and sanitation services in the camp died in the bombing, and another was injured. This is very hard for our team because we worked very closely with them. All we could do for them was to send their bodies back to their families. What the survivors of the bombing have lived through is so hard, so violent. Rann was their safe haven. The army that was meant to protect them bombed them instead. We have to remain at their side.”