By Taye Obateru, Comfort Alifia & Philip Ekigwe
A night outing after a hard day’s job was what they went for, but it turned out to be a costly one; one that ended in the ricocheting of guns, a blood bath which left 10 dead and several injured. The gunmen were said to have come in a Vectra car at about 8.30pm while customers at the S.K. Beer Parlour, located at Heipang in Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, had ordered drinks and were ‘cooling down’. The three men alighted from the car, brought out sophisticated guns from under their long dresses and sprayed people in the bar with bullets before speeding off.
When the confusion died down, eight people lay dead; many others were injured. Two of the injured later died in hospital bringing the death toll to 10. One of those killed is a resident of Gombe who was said to have been on a visit to Heipang, where the Yakubu Gowon Airport is sited, for some work and went to the drinking joint to “relax” only to be caught in the fire that snuffed life out of him. His corpse was taken to a mortuary in Makurdi, Benue State from where it was transported to his home Cross River State for burial.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for the dastardly act, it is believed to be another in the seemingly unending hostilities between Fulani herdsmen and locals which have resulted in such frequent attacks on villages in Barkin-Ladi and Riyom local governments.
It would be recalled that it was during the mass burial following one of such killings that a senator representing Plateau North District, Dr.Gyang Dantong, and a former Majority Leader of Plateau House of Assembly, Gyang Fulani, lost their lives.
Monday’s attack again generated tension as villagers took over the Jos-Abuja highway to protest. The protesters barricaded the road for several hours preventing vehicular movement and holding up travelers on both sides denouncing the shooting at the drinking joint.
Although the initial report was that the attack was carried out by uniformed men who came in a Hilux van similar to those used by members of the Special Task Force, STF, maintaining security in the state, reports later confirmed that they actually drove a Vectra car and were not in uniform.
However, the identification of a member of the STF, a policeman serving within the local government, who was allegedly shot in error by one of his co-attackers during the raid on the drinking spot is raising questions.
He was reported to have been rushed to hospital with other injured persons, but was discovered to be a “stranger” when sympathizers from the village visited them. Many people thronged the Plateau Specialist Hospital on Tuesday to catch a glimpse of him and it was gathered that he was interrogated by detectives who visited the hospital to ascertain his true identity. Some of them alleged that this was a confirmation of previous allegations that the STF members had become mercenaries paid to attack the people.
Based on this, the Chairman of Barkin-Ladi Local Government, Mr. Emmanuel Loman, said the situation has again raised the need for a through investigation into the alleged involvement of members of the STF who, he said, have been severally implicated in allegedly aiding and abetting the attacks in the area. He therefore called on the Chief of the Defense Staff (CDS), Vice Admiral Ola Ibrahim, to investigate the matter.
“The fear of my people now is that this attack has again confirmed their long held suspicion against the soldiers deployed to Plateau State to safeguard lives and property. I therefore want to strongly appeal to the Chief of the Defense Staff to take over the investigation of this very attack so that justice can be done. The people deserve to know the role of the STF and the involvement of the police corporal in the killing of 10 people in my local government”, he said.
“The STF member is known to be one of those serving in STF Sector 7 in Barkin Ladi whose duty post as at the time of the attack is in a village called Tatu-Yelwa which is about two kilometers to Barkin Ladi. He became a suspect because he was found putting on the same dress like the attackers and his presence at the scene is strange to the villagers.”
Reacting to the allegation, STF spokesman, Captain Salisu Mustapha, maintained that no member of the task force could be involved in attacking those they were sent to protect, but promised that the allegation will be thoroughly investigated. “I want to assure you that the allegation will spur the STF to intensify investigation and unearth those behind the killings”.
Meanwhile, some of the injured currently receiving treatment at the Plateau Specialist Hospital bemoaned the level of insecurity that has made the country unsafe for citizens in separate interviews. To David Waziri, whose buttocks was pierced by a bullet into his pelvic, it was an unforgettable experience.
He recounted: “I went out with two of my friends, Anthony and Martins, to eat only to be caught in a rain of bullets that instantly took the life of Martins, who was a contractor with the federal airports authority. I was trying to take cover but was caught by a bullet in the buttocks. I saw three dead bodies and heard that others died in the hospital.
Government should do something to stop these unnecessary killings. I do not know the attackers and I have no idea of why they attacked but I thank God that I am alive.” He added that some of those taken to the hospital with him had died while some others had been transferred to the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) when their condition became critical.
It was equally a lucky escape for Ezekiel Peters, a commercial motor cyclist, who got shot. He told Sunday Vanguard that he took a passenger to the beer parlour and was asked to wait. He said he was about to go in to check for the passenger who did not return on time, only to behold the shooting.
“I was about going in when I spotted an Opel car with three people inside. One of them, in a black jacket, alighted from the car, unzipped his jacket and pulled out a long gun with which he sprayed the whole area with bullets. One of the bullets hit me on the thigh”, he narrated.
Unlike David and Peters who could recount their ordeals, another victim, Bitrus Bulus, was not audible enough to be heard when Sunday Vanguard approached him. The blood soaked bandages all over him and the agony on his face as he tried to talk, however, spoke volumes of his pains.
Apparently worried by the killings, the Plateau State Police Command, on Wednesday, announced a restriction of the operating hours of drinking joints in the state. A statement by the it’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Abuh Emmanuel, said the move was to check the trend of attacks on relaxation spots in the state. Those within the metropolis are now to close by 7p.m. daily until further notice while those in Barkin-Ladi and Riyom local governments are to close by 6.p.m.