By Taye Obateru
Citizens of Jos, Plateau State capital, do not appear to trust the military deployed to secure the state any longer following a chain of recent unsavoury developments there.
Jos-What would ordinarily haveÂ been a simple matter, last Friday, became another source of tension in Jos, Plateau State capital, creating fresh panic and sending people scampering into safety from another possible blood bath.
A man who, some say wasÂ insane, was seen with a bag by students of the Jos Campus of the Plateau State Polytechnic located around Hwolshe area and they became suspicious of him and insisted on searching the bag. The suspicion was apparently resulting from alleged threats that some parts would come under bomb attacks as a follow up to the attacks on some villages.
The trouble, which left one student dead and some others injured, arose from the refusal of the students to allow the security men handle the matter their own way borne out of distrust. The students insisted that the search on the bag be conducted openly and even when they were told that the bag of the suspect contained bread, garri and other inconsequential things, they did not believe and alleged foul play instead.
A resident of Hwolshe around where the trouble broke out justified the skepticism of the students alleging that â€œthere is widespread suspicion that the soldiers have been aiding and protecting those invading the state so people are now very vigilant.â€
Rightly or wrongly, there have been allegations of bias against soldiers in the handling of the crisis in the state. The continued attack on villages despite the heavy presence of security men and the alleged use of military uniforms by some of the attackers, hasÂ not helped matters. Such was the umbrage against the militaryÂ that there have been calls for the removal of the General Officer Commanding (GOC) ofÂ the Three Armoured Division, Major General Saleh Maina, and soldiersÂ recall from the current security duty in the state.
Those calling to the head of the GOC alleged that he had been assisting his Muslim/Fulani brethren in the violence that had enveloped the state since January 17. The allegations got to a head following the attack of Dogon Nahawa village on March 7 during which hundreds of people, mostly women and children,Â were massacred in cold blood after which Governor Jonah Jang pointedly accused the military of shoddy handling of the security duty in the state.
MainaÂ had to call a press conference to dispel the allegations against him and to re-assure the people of his impartiality in carrying out his professional duties. Addressing journalists at the Maxwell Khobe Cantonment, headquarters of the division, Maina recalled that he led the military to quell the Boko Haram uprising in Maiduguri last year. He remindedÂ that most of the victims of that operation were Muslims with which he shared cultural affinity, yet he did his job professionally.
The denial and re-assurance of the GOC has, however, not assuaged the misgivings against the military by many people especially following last Wednesdayâ€™s attack on Byei village where about 13 people were again killed. Reacting to the killings, member representing Riyom Constituency in the state House of Assembly, Emmanuel Domboyi Jugul, said the people were tired of insecurity despite the presence of security men, saying it was better for them to withdraw and allow the people to defend themselves. He added: â€œI want to say on behalf of my people that we donâ€™t need soldiers here any longer. I cannot imagine that there are four security posts in Riyom and yet this has happened to our people. Some of the villagers said they saw people in uniform among the attackers. We want the military to be withdrawn so that we can defend ourselves.â€
In the same vein, Dan Manjang, special adviser to Governor Jonah Jang on information and publicity, wondered why the killings have continued despite the security on ground. According to him, â€œIt beats our imagination because it has happened repeatedly during curfew hours. The confidence of the people has been eroded and the people would now want to defend themselves.â€
Also commenting on the latest killing, a non-governmental organization in the state, Widows and Economic Empowerment Foundation,Â said the repeated attacks had raised a lot of questions. In a statement signed by its secretary, Ngufan Uku,Â entitled, â€œHas the Nigerian Army Been Compromised?â€, the body noted,Â â€œThe ease with which these attacks take place even with military and security personnel strategic positions leaves Nigerians wondering if this is not officially sponsored.â€
â€œWe need to be proved wrong with the apprehension and prosecution of the actors. Furthermore, we will not be tired of asking the questions: How serious is the military Task Force established under the command of the GOC to ensure that peace returns to the state? Has the military been infiltrated and subsequently compromised? If it is, how do you sort out the enemy? Who are we to trust of the same people we see in the uniform around us? That is, how real are the security agents around us?â€, it added.
The various viewsÂ capture the way the soldiers deployed to maintain security in the state are perceived by some people which has resulted in their sincerity being called to question on certain issues.Â Penultimate SaturdayÂ when a trailer lorry was arrested in Riyom Local Government with about 44 persons on board and with suspicion that it was laden with arms, some of the residents of the area insisted on escorting the trailer to the police headquarters where it was searched because they were not satisfiedÂ with handing the suspects over toÂ security men. It was the same scenario that repeated itself with the students on Friday.
However, a top member of the joint security task force, who asked not to be named, described the suspicion as uncalled for, urging the people to continue to have confidence in the military. â€œIf you ask the military to withdraw, it would lead to anarchy. The allegations against the military are largely without basis and donâ€™t forget that recruitment into the military in neither based on ethnicity nor religion, but on the equality of states. So we have a mixture of religions and ethnic groups in all our formationsâ€, he stated.
As residents of the state continue to live in fear, the prayer of many is that normalcy isÂ restored to enable them go about life without the fear of the unknown which currently pervades the air.