By Friday Olokor, Jos.
Whenever it is said that journalists are endangered species, I now know that the statement is just a euphemism. The truth is that journalists are always in war zones. And to effectively practice in a very dangerous zone like Plateau State demands prayers. From what I have seen and reported since I arrived Jos on May 1 2017, I will say Plateau State is the hotbed of antagonism. But an observer is considering writing a book entitled: ‘Plateau State and its Killing Fields’.
With my 28 hours detention by the military, I’m now convinced that Nigeria is in serious trouble. The incidents in question happened between Saturday October 6 and the night of Sunday October 7 2018.
I came back last (Sunday) night after spending about 28 hours behind bars over a former Chief of Administration in Nigerian Army, General Mohammed Idris Alkali (retd), who had been declared missing in questionable circumstances. Alkali was said to have retired a few weeks before he was declared missing on Monday, September 3 2018, a day after gunmen swooped on Dura-Du in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State and killed 13 persons.
On that Saturday October 6 2018, I went to the UBA ATM and did a cash transaction and decided to buy Irish potatoes and eggs at a popular restaurant in Rayfield area of Jos. The waiters had not brought my food when soldiers in two lorry trucks (about 30 of them), all masked and armed, swooped on the place, shot indiscriminately at sight and arrested every human being they sighted. My initial feeling during the shooting was that they were either the Fulani herdsmen (who had been a torn in the flesh of the Berom ethnic nationality), fake soldiers on military uniform or Boko Haram. Many of them were masked
Passers by were not spared, women and persons who were living in nearby houses were picked. Even my identification that I was a journalist with PUNCH Newspapers didn’t help matters as they did not even want to see my Identity Card. We were 37 victims of invasion, 28 men and 9 women. The soldiers who carried out the raid were called SPECIAL SQUAD from Maiduguri. A source said the troop were deployed by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Yusuf Buratai, from Maiduguri to handle the Jos crises, especially because of the mysterious missing General Alkali. The COAS was said to have taken the decision “because of their excellent skill in dealing with Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.” The raid was led by one Captain RABIU from 3 Division of Nigerian Army Headquarters in Rukuba Barracks, Jos who showed the Maiduguri Boys the way.
While two elderly men in their mid-70s including a retired Chief Superintendent of Police, Chuwang Choji was picked, a serving Army General who was drinking with a young woman I will describe an Eaglet beside him was spared. Choji’s son, Chollom, was not spared as they were picked in their house. The old man just returned home to face the invaders. The mistress of the drinking General never betrayed any fear or concern, over the shooting, but instead made mockery, and grinned like an ape as we fled for our lives. But unconfirmed sources among us claimed that the General tried to persuade the soldiers to exercise restraint because it was not yet time for the curfew which takes effect as from 10:00pm.
The invading solders also picked the waiters at another pub (drinking joint) and many other persons on the roadside who were trekking to their homes since it was already bedtime. A Berom man and his young fiancé who is also daughter of a politician who contested the recently held governorship primary election in Plateau State was picked. Three persons who came as wedding guests from Makurdi and Keffi, including the Information and Protocol Officer of Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Abraham Habu Ekpo were unlucky. They were accommodated in a Hotel within the vicinity of Steffans Night Club and just decided to take a walk. The casualties also included one Pam, a businessman; Michael Nigsuk, another businessman; three Yoruba guys, one Engineer from Abeokuta, Ogun State whose name I can’t remember; Ayomipo from Ondo town, Ondo State and Gabriel Sunday from Ekiti State.
As the soldiers drove us away, we were told to put off our telephones. The law was that you don’t talk, you don’t move and even when nature, for instance sneezing knocks, you’re in trouble.
The 28 of us (men) were driven to the 3 Division of Nigerian Army in Rukuba Barracks, Jos kept in an uncompleted building. They confiscated all our belongings, including telephones, money, ATM cards, car and house keys.
Many of the victims couldn’t take their cars and personal properties. We had no access to families; I couldn’t communicate with my family, editors, friends, and colleagues because they took our phones.
There in the dungeon of 3 Division of Nigerian Army Headquarters in Rukuba Barracks, Jos, we saw over 30 persons, including a pregnant woman. These persons have been described as ‘suspects’ that will assist them getting the culprits behind the missing General. I wouldn’t know if the Morph Dungs, the ‘heavily pregnant woman’ who was said to have been apprehended recently, was the pregnant woman in question.
All the male suspects in captivity were chained in pairs, hands and legs. If one wants to answer the call of nature, his partner must go with him, under the tight watch of a soldier. It was learnt that the women we met there were only chained the first day they arrived. But they were off chains when we got there and it had been so.
The nine women among us, including the CEO of ANNE BREEZE, were kept in a separate place. Of course, they deserve soft landing and preferential treatment. But we (the 28 men) were kept in an uncompleted building which was manned by heavily armed Military Policemen. The building housing us does not even look it could take 10 persons, but 28 men stayed there. Our Anopheles friends (I won’t call them mosquitoes), welcomed us with stings, malaria-prone bites, while their wings came with uncomfortable noise. I learnt another lesson that even when people speak about cold in Jos, the cold weather in Rukuba is worse than that in Jos. Moreover, you sit on the dusty floor, unhealthy for a life.
Throughout our stay, one young officer always in mufti, kept issuing threats. I know I’m older than him, and something kept telling me that at 50 (which is on November 22 2018), I would be a General if I had enlisted into the Nigerian Army since 1998. I know I was older than him, but he was doing his job.
My problem is that soldiers feel everybody, including civilians, should obey every last order, even where it is not applicable. After giving us our phones, preparatory to freedom, he seized mine and that of another man over suspicion that I wanted to make a call, which is untrue. However, I also commend his boldness; I think his case is not pride or overzealousness, but thoroughness. People like that could sometimes be good friends, better than brothers.
At the Rukuba Barracks captivity, some of us couldn’t sleep, others snored ceaselessly. Before we slept, they gave us the opportunity to go out and urinate outside as many times. But at bedtime, that grace stopped. We had to urinate in a Coca Cola plastic container. Those who took lager beer (I didn’t) went many times. A very old Plateau man urinated more than 10 times before day break. Baba said he was sick and on drugs which have been responsible for constantly urinating. On one occasion, he had to spill it on the ground as he didn’t get quick permission.
But we commend the efforts of the soldiers. They assisted us in emptying the can of urine one after the other. Those who went for the most serious call of nature were given the opportunity. A wedding guest visited convenience more than seven times throughout our stay. The soldiers were warm, convivial and obeyed instructions that they should never beat anybody. Many of them have become my friends.
The next day, we were interviewed more than five times by Military Police who kept constant watch. I heard some of the officers say that after screening us, they should have allowed us to go if we had no link with the masterminds. Some said those who arrested us went for the wrong target; yet superior voices said our arrest wasn’t a mistake.
Several of our photos were taken; my house address in Jos was taken. But I hope they won’t do anything funny; if they do, they will hear from my lawyers. On several occasions during the interview, I told them I was a journalist with the PUNCH Newspapers and I only went to buy food. But they ignored me, until one of the interview sessions conducted by a very responsible man who is said to be the Commandant of the 3 Division of in Rukuba Barracks (I can’t confirm this, but they said he’s a General); I told him that I was working on the press statement sent to me by the Deputy Director of Army Public Relations in 3 Division Nigerian Army, Col. Kayode Ogunsanya, when the invaders struck, which was the fact. I told him I even spoke with Ogunsanya and he asked for an evidence and instructed that they should get my phone; he saw the details of my chat with him and he said I should wait. But that didn’t give me preferential treatment.
I am sure they called him and behold when Ogunsanya came, he told them that we had been communicating. Ogunsanya was dazed that despite introducing myself, they still held me. He then promised to “do something”, which I believe, he did in his capacity. At least, he confirmed that I was a journalist with PUNCH Newspapers (and not fake), even though that didn’t give me ‘amnesty’ as I and others, were still held for over seven hours before our eventual freedom.
My 28 hours detention in Rukuba Barracks have confirmed the thinking that in a room of 100 people, one man with a gun is majority. Although one is not making trouble, I will await the advice of my lawyers on going to court to press for the enforcement of my fundamental human rights.
▪Olokor, the Plateau State Correspondent of The Punch, writes from Jos.