•Religious, ethnic tensions grip residents as Army combs Jos for ex-top officer
By Marie-Therese Nanlong
The disappearance of a former Chief of Administration at the Nigerian Army Headquarters, Major-General Mohammed Alkali, is generating ripples after his vehicle was found in a pond in Jos, Plateau State capital. The general was said to have travelled from Abuja to Bauchi on September 3 and has not been seen since that day.
While sources say he went missing in Jos, others say he spoke with his wife and told her he had passed Jos and was on his way to Bauchi before his phones went dead. The general was said to have travelled in a Toyota Corolla car with registration number MUN 670 AA. Days after he went missing, security personnel commenced investigation to unravel the mystery surrounding his disappearance.
The Chief of Staff of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), the multi-security task force keeping the peace in Plateau, Bauchi and Southern Kaduna, Brigadier General Muhammed Bello, said they received directives from the headquarters to investigate the matter.
At the time the Army commenced the search, they beamed their searchlight on an old pond at Dura, a community in Du District of Jos South local government area but as the evacuation of water from the pond began, hundreds of women, dressed in black, protested against the exercise, expressing anger that the community had been under siege. The women queried why such investigation did not occur whenever their kinsmen was killed.
The officer in charge of the operation, Brigadier-General Ibrahim Mohammed, said they had credible intelligence that Alkali went missing in that area, and that no amount of protest by the women or any superstitious belief about the pond would stop them from the exercise.
He explained: “In an effort to search for Major General Idris Alkali, all the hospitals in Jos were checked. And we checked all records of accidents in that area. Based on credible intelligence, we now have to come to this community. We are trying to find three things. One is that General Alkali is missing. We are here also looking for his vehicle which is a black Corolla vehicle and we want to find out if he is alive or not.
“Again, we have credible information that some vehicles were actually pushed into this pond. We came here trying to see if we can salvage anything from the pond. The pond is a mining site and is deep. You can see that we have a crane, and we have used all kinds of methods and, as the last resort, we have decided that we are going to evacuate the water from the pond to see what is underneath.”
Meanwhile, the Joint Task Force constituted by the Chief of the Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, for the search, with the help of local divers, recovered Alkali’s vehicle. The General Officer Commanding, GOC, 3 Division, Major General Benson Akinroluyo, and Commander, Operation Safe Haven, Major General Augustine Agundu, were at the scene when the battered vehicle was lifted from the water.
Nobody was in the vehicle at the time it was found, but the items recovered from it included a blue and white striped shirt, a military T-shirt with the name I.M Alkali inscribed on it and boots.
The car was later moved to a military facility at 3 Div, Rukuba Barracks.
Agundu, who addressed journalists, said the military had persevered upon their intelligence gathering and the perseverance paid off with the recovery of the general’s vehicle from the pond, saying, “General Alkali may have been caught up in the crises which rocked the area”.
On his part, Akinroluyo said the military would not attack the community following the recovery of the car, adding however, “They must cooperate with us in the investigation so that the perpetrators are brought to book and to serve as deterrent.”
Also, a statement by the Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Texas Chukwu, stated that after the retired general was declared missing, the Army contacted MTN and Glo network operators which furnished them with the phone records of Alkali. The statement explained that the networks tracked Alkali’s phone to Du District. It stated that in the course of the search, sources said he may have been killed and his body and car dumped in a deep mining pit.
More vehicles in mining pit
Continuing its search of the said pond, the Army recovered two more vehicles, a red saloon car and a Toyota bus, with registration numbers, AG 645 TRR and RYM 307 XA respectively.
Although residents of communities around the pond were asked not to entertain fear of reprisal but give maximum cooperation as the military said it would carry out its job professionally and according to best practices, many have fled the area, saying they were being harassed by security forces.
As of last Thursday, several residents were said to have been arrested by soldiers and taken to the Maxwell Khobe Cantonment as local sources said dozens of military personnel stormed the communities at daybreak, arresting anyone in sight.
The Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 3rd Armoured Division, Col. Kayode Ogunsanya, confirmed that the Army was on a mission to find the missing general.
Since the incident, there have been diverse opinions as to who is behind the disappearance of Alkali? Who dumped his car and others in the pond? What has been happening in the area? Are residents aware of the situation? Who is bent on giving the dog a bad name in order to hang it?
A statement credited to the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, titled, ‘STOP BEROM CHRISTIAN TERRORISM NOW’, demonized the tribe and appealed to the Chief of the Army Staff, Buratai, to leave no stone unturned in finding Alkali dead or alive.
The statement read, “The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has raised the alarm over circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Major-General Idris Alkali since September 3, 2018. Security agents traced signals from his cell phone to a notorious pond in the Dura-Du District, a Berom community in Jos, Plateau State. The general’s car was found at the bottom of the pond but the body was nowhere to be found.
“MURIC appeals to the Chief of the Army Staff, General Buratai, to leave no stone unturned in finding General Alkali (ret.) dead or alive. Nigerian Muslims want to know what happened to him. A whole retired general cannot disappear into thin air just like that. It is a daring assault on the Nigerian Army. This is infra dignitatem. How can ordinary civilians treat a whole general of the Nigerian Army like this? We want the culprits identified, apprehended and duly punished according to the laws of the land. The army must also find their sponsors no matter how highly placed they may be.”
But a resident of Lo-Pamdyet village in the District, who did not want to be named, said, “There have been insinuations in some quarters, for instance, from one Idris Ahmed in the UK, that the military has some issues with General Alkali though the Department of Army Public Relations, through Brigadier-General Texas Chukwu, has debunked such but they should not overlook that. The Army should also explore the possibility of investigating itself to see if its hands are clean.”
Another resident, also speaking anonymously, explained, “I am not a Berom man but I bought my land from locals in Latya, Du District in 2004. I moved into the house in 2012. In that community, we have people from diverse tribes within and outside Plateau. Since this incident occurred, our community has become a ghost town. Right now, most families have evacuated because of the rumour that the military is planning to mete out to these communities the treatment Zaki-biam and Odi towns suffered.
“Some are saying (mischievously and erroneously) that ‘Berom people are terrorists’ and should be wiped out because the car of the missing general was found in their community. I have a problem with this generalization. Not all Berom people are bad. Every tribe has bad people. Should we then generalize and label a tribe evil? Should we even call for the extermination of a whole community because we think that if the military does that they would only be killing the Beroms?
“What about those of us whose only sin is buying land and building in this area? And how are we really sure that some people didn’t tow the vehicle to this place to give the community a bad name and a reason to wipe it out? To those of you calling for the wiping out of the community, you are also sentencing so many innocent and decent families like my own and others to death. It is painful to watch widows and families running to my house every evening to sleep or ask if they should run away. And they are not ‘Beroms’.
“All I can say is that God sees and knows what actually happened to General Alkali. And I weep for his family as they live with this huge and painful suspense. But if we die in Latya, Lo-Pamdyet and Dura as many people are advocating, let it be known we were murdered for a sin hundreds of us know nothing about. Some of us have no other place to relocate to because we don’t have money to build houses somewhere far from ‘the much hated Berom people’. They accommodated and sold land to us to build our houses.”
In another development, Berom natives, under the auspices of the Berom Educational and Cultural Organization, BECO, Berom Women Development Association, BEWDA, and the Berom Youth Moulders Association, BYM, in a petition signed by Da Davou Davou, Ngwo Florence Jambol and Rws Choji Dalyop respectively, spoke against what they described as “unguarded statements and threats to life by the Commander of the Operation Safe Haven, Major-General Augustine Agundu.”
“The said Commander, Major General Augustine Agundu, reported to duty sometimes in July 2018, replacing Major General Anthony Atolagbe. The gloomy and dark clouds of conspiracy and plans to exterminate the Beroms and other ethnics from their ancestral and God-given lands are still looming heavy even with the presence of OPSH for over a decade”, the statement said.
“Precisely, on the 19th September 2018, the Acting District Head of Du obliged the Commander’s request for a meeting at the OPSH Headquarters. The Traditional Ruler attended the meeting with eight other community leaders under his jurisdiction. The Commander, during the meeting, commanded the District Head to produce within 24 hours the killers of one Army General purported to have been killed within his jurisdiction (Du District Community).
“The Acting District Head’s attempted to respond to the matching order but was vehemently rebuffed by the Commander. He went further to say that failure to bring the killers, the Ag. District Head would be arrested and wasted away to replace the missing Army General. He then categorically labelled the Berom traditional institutions and religious leaders as terrorists on the Plateau, responsible for the killings that have been going on for the past 18 years. “He further threatened worse consequences for the Berom in the event that the killers of the General were not brought forward.
“The Commander then left the meeting angrily as he walked out. The Du Community had since written a report to the State Commissioner of Police on these statements and threats. Few days after the said meeting, the OPSH mobilised its men and equipment to drain a pond at Dura village of Du District on the allegations that the alleged missing General’s body and vehicle were dumped inside. The Army have driven all the residents of the Dura Community away from their homes on account of its harassment, intimidation and continued further threats.
“We take serious exceptions to the allegation of killing an Army General (Major General MI Alkali). We do not know of the circumstances of his disappearance or purported death. As other people, we have read in the media, various theories alluded to his disappearance. Even the Army, in a press statement by one Brig. Gen. Texas Chukwu, gave various narrations. Other media commentators, for example, one Dr. Idris Ahmed of CUPS, has blamed the Army for the disappearance of the General in question.
“We are very concerned on the threats to life of our Ag. District Head of Du on alleged crimes he knows nothing about. The blame on and labelling of the Berom traditional institutions and religious leaders as terrorists and killers is totally refuted. Government Commissions of Inquiries and Investigation Panels Reports on the crises in Plateau State and specifically Jos and environs are evidently clear on the causes and perpetrators of these violent conflicts. The Berom live in their ancestral lands and are victims of deliberate and systematic pogrom to displace them.
“The OPSH has shown not to be neutral, objective and professional in handling the conflicts and killings so wantonly visited on the Berom. “We have had cause to complain in the past and offered concrete evidences of the Army’s biases and unprofessional conduct. This has been reaffirmed by the unguarded statements and threats of Maj. Gen. Augustine Agundu, Commander of the STF OPSH, Jos.
“We cannot accept any responsibility for any findings as outcomes of the OPSH activities in draining a pond at Dura since our people were not represented in the exercise but were rather subjected to intense harassment and intimidation to the extent of forcing them to abandon their homes. We demand justice for members of our communities killed in the various acts of wanton pogrom including Lopamdyet community in Du District”.
The petition was copied to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Commander, Special Task Force, Operation Safe Haven (OPHS), Plateau State, the Commissioner of Police, Plateau State, the Director State Services, Plateau State, the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, the Gbong Gwom Jos, Chairman Plateau State Council of Chiefs and Emirs, the President, Plateau Initiative for the Development and Advancement of the Natives (PIDAN), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.