People & Politics

September 26, 2013

Apo shootings: Questions arising

Dead bodies of suspected members of Islamist Boko Haram killed during a gun duel with the military are being driven away from uncompleted building near Apo Legislative quaters in Abuja on September 20, 2013. Nigerian forces battled Boko Haram insurgents in the capital Abuja on September 20 as the military sent troops to a town where the Islamists slaughtered at least 87 people, casting doubt on claims that the group’s rebellion has been contained. AFP PHOTO

By Ochereome Nnanna
On Friday, September 20, 2013, I was just rounding off my Monday page when a friend from Silverbird media group called me and disclosed that security operatives were engaged with Boko Haram members in a shootout at ApoVillage, near the Legislators Quarters, Abuja.

There was this impulse to commend the security agencies for a job well done in sniffing out Boko Haram militants in Abuja before they struck. I support our security and military officers in the fight against terror one hundred per cent and I will spare no effort to encourage them because they are putting their lives on the line to save our country from a wicked enemy.

However, details that came out of the encounter indicated that there are now two sides to the story. The Directorate of State Services, DSS, has a version which maintains that the people they confronted at some uncompleted buildings in ApoVillage were Boko Haram members.

Their story has it that these suspected terror merchants had been mustering in these uncompleted building for some time. Two lads whom operators of the Service arrested (who were paraded on television) “confessed” that occupants of these buildings were terrorists, and that some arms were buried somewhere within.

The Service further claimed that when a detachment of security operatives arrived at the scene and started digging up the buried arms they came under fire by Boko Haram gunmen and in the ensuing confusion, seven of the alleged terrorist lost their lives while more people sustained injuries. Lots of arrests were also made.

The media were able to get a contrary view of what happened. Some of the hospitalised youth said they were all law-abiding artisans and menial jobbers from all parts of the North. According to an account, the watchmen in charge of the uncompleted building collected N200 from each of them every week to give them permission to stay there. They had been there for more than two years. They also alleged that the owner of the building ordered them to vacate the site and followed up with the invitation of the security officers to clear the building of “Boko Haram” members.

The only reasonable thing to do now is to call in a third, independent authority to investigate this matter to ascertain exactly what happened. Were these people truly members of Boko Haram or did the security operatives act hastily or out of malice? By malice, I mean, was there a deliberate design to gun after those chaps because they were from a particular part of the country as some commentators are insinuating?

This should not be dismissed because the case of the Apo Six is yet to be solved. Seven years ago, a group of Igbo traders and their lady friends went for a night rendezvous and were accosted by a team of patrolling policemen in Garki, Abuja. On ascertaining that they were from the Eastern part of the country, the officer in charge of the patrol, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Ibrahim Danjuma, gunned them all down and bolted. Danjuma claimed he thought they were armed robbers! Till date, he is still on the run, while the bodies of his victims are rotting away in their untimely graves.

We must find out whether the war on terrorism has put the shoe on the other foot. Half-baked security officers with an axe to grind often resort to criminal profiling to live out their bloody, phobic fantasies. The mere fact that hundreds of youth of Muslim North extraction were crowding in an uncompleted building so near the dwelling quarters of our federal legislators could trigger this mentality of drawing automatic conclusion, without concrete proof, that they are members of the Boko Haram terrorist group.

An independent investigation will provide useful answers to some nagging questions. For instance, what were scores of young men doing in those uncompleted high-profile luxury duplexes, in a city severally scarred by terror attacks? No responsible security system will allow that to go unchecked, but it has to be professionally handled to avoid victimising harmless citizens.

An investigation will determine whether, indeed, the security men on duty came under gun attack. It will also verify whether there were buried arms. The two young men shown on television will also say more about their allegation that the illegal occupants of the houses were terrorists. At the same time, care must be taken not to make a political issue out of this matter. If the security agents made a costly mistake it must be treated according to the law.

Talking about criminal profiling, it is very counter-productive. While it pays to remain vigilant always, it will neither promote the goals of the war on terror nor will it enhance nation building. Just as it is wrong for Northern Muslims to assume that Boko Haram is fighting for the cause of their religion or the political interests of their region, it is also incorrect to assume that every Northern Muslim is a terrorist.

I have always maintained that the best way to win the war on terror is for all good Nigerians to close ranks, irrespective of religion, region or political persuasions, to face this common enemy called Boko Haram. It is an enemy that wants to destroy this country and impose an idea or system which people like me will never accept. This enemy may take many with him but he will lose with ignominy in the end. It is up to those who are sensible to do the right thing or join the losing side and go down with it.

We have also seen that since the local people in BornoState, especially the youth which pride themselves as the “CIVILIAN JTF” joined hands in the war against Boko Haram, the emergency measures imposed in the North East took a turn for the better. A war that could have lasted for years with crippling consequences for the local economy might be over (or largely so) in a matter of months.

That is the magic of people joining hands with the government to fight a common enemy. The Apo shootings should be handled so as to restore the people’s confidence in our security agencies.