Armed soldiers believed to be men of the 1 Mechanized Division, Nigerian Army, have stormed the popular Barnawa Shopping Complex area of Kaduna metropolis and whisked away 33 persons suspected to be Boko Haram members. Thirteen of those seized were Nigeriens, including a newspaper vendor and a suya seller.
The soldiers, according to an eye witness account, arrived at the area around 9pm in a convoy of army vehicles, fully armed, and bundled suspected members of the sect into their vehicles.
Meanwhile, fresh reports indicated that sporadic gunfire and explosions rocked Damagun town, Yobe State, late yesterday.
An eye-witness, one Malam Hussein Mohammeed, told LEADERSHIP yesterday night that two vehicles had approached a police checkpoint near the police divisional office in the town around 7pm and parked about 60 metres away.
Suddenly, the occupants of the car started firing gunshots at the policemen manning the checkpoint. The gunmen also turned their attention to the police divisional office. They exchanged gunfire with the policemen on duty for several minutes.
Mohammed added that « just when the attackers were about being routed, they threw what was obviously a hand-grenade into the divisional office, which burnt down the whole structure. »
He said that the whole town was thrown into confusion, with people running helter-skelter for safety.
When contacted for confirmation of the story, the police public relations officer said he had travelled out of town, and was not in a position to confirm the story. The commissioner of police did not also pick his calls.
But on the 1 mechanised division arrest, Hakimin Barnawa, Alhaji Kabiru Zubairu, under whose domain the arrest was made confirmed the arrest of a large number of suspects.
Hakimi, however, told LEADERSHIP that he had made spirited efforts to effect the release of the innocent ones, but the effort proved abortive. Nine of the boys, he said, were okada riders who came from Malumfashi in Katsina State to operate okada within the Barnawa area.
The traditional ruler said: « One of the boys, by name Isaac, was arrested while on errand to purchase recharge card for his mother, even as those doing their lawful businesses around the area were not left out in the arrests.
« When I got the news of their arrests, and confirmed that they were taken to I Divisional Army Headquarters in Kaduna, I quickly went to see the possibility of their release but to no avail. I wrote a letter seeking their release to the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Division but was told that the order for their arrest was from the Army Headquarters in Abuja and in connection with security issues.
« One of the top military officers came to search the houses of those arrested and even mine and those of their parents, but nothing indicting was found. They (soldiers) however assured me that, upon the conclusion of their investigation, if they are not found wanting, justice would be done to them.
« The community head of the Nigeriens in Kaduna stood in for those from Niger while those whose parents are in Kaduna stood in for their children; the head of the okada riders stood in for the okada riders arrested, while I stood in for the others as surety for their release but yet to no avail. »
The Hakimi assured that he was making frantic efforts to see to the release of some of the suspects, even as he further confirmed that the suspects had been transferred from the 1 Divisional Army Headquarters to the Nigerian Defence Academy ( NDA) in Kaduna where they were still being held captive.
An eyewitness who identified himself as Mallam Babangida, an orange seller, told LEADERSHIP he was lucky to have escaped « arrest », as he had to hide behind the kiosk where he sold fruit on the other side of the road while the arrests were being effected.
The source maintained: « When we got to the 1 Division, we really suffered before we got access to the detained people. And when we got to see them, we discovered that they had not been given food for two days.
We had to beg the soldiers before they gave them food on the third day of their arrest. They told us that they were ordered from Army Headquarters to arrest them, that they are Boko Haram suspects »
The witness stressed that « a day after our first visit to the suspects, they were brought back one after the other in a vehicle, handcuffed with their photographs taken while they were led into their respective homes for further investigations but nothing was found on them ».
Babangida also said he vouched for the suspects and that they were not members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect, because they had been living peacefully with others in the area and went about their businesses lawfully.
When contacted on his mobile phone, army deputy public relations officer in charge of 1 Division, Colonel Abubakar Edun, said he had been transferred out of the division.
Efforts to further get the Nigerian army side of the story proved abortive, as one of the subordinates to Colonel Edun, one Lieutenant Lazarus, told our reporters on phone that neither he nor Colonel Edun could comment on the incident. He confirmed that Edun had indeed been transferred.
By Isaiah Benjamin