Damaturu — Despite repeated calls on residents of Damaturu town of Yobe State by the state government and security personnel not to leave the town following the wild rumors making the round that Boko Haram fighters had planned to launch a deadly attack on security formations and other civilian places, a good number of the residents, especially those living in the less privileged areas of the town, were yesterday seen leaving in droves for safe places.
Just three days to the Eid el-fitr celebration, population of the town is now estimated to have reduced by more than sixty percent and is consistently becoming slimmer as fear continues to conquer the courage of residents that have chosen to stay in the hostile environment. Many of the emigrants from areas seen as flashpoints said they were leaving because of "rampant arrests by the JTF men, while others said they were apprehensive over rumors that Boko Haram fighters had threatened to launch an attack during Eid-el-fitr holiday.
Baana Modu, a resident of Powari area, said in the last three days over 70 young men were arrested in their places considered to be a black spot. "Soldiers broke into our homes and handcuffed three of my siblings, my father pleaded with them to release them until he fainted. They did the same thing in our neighborhoods; the soldiers move about with a sack of handcuffs; they break into people's houses and arrest youths, and nobody knows where they are taking them to", he said.
Another fleeing resident of Pindigari area told our reporter that the behavior of the military men have changed since the suicide car bombing at Shagari Low Cost junction, saying "Before they were friendly until recently when a suicide bomber exploded and killed some of them; so they now begin to demonstrate their military training on innocent lives. As a law abiding citizen I have nothing to do other than to pick my family and leave the town so that the army and the Boko Haram fighters would have empty space to use as a battle field; so I would not allow myself to be killed by the JTF men or Boko Haram fighters.
It was gathered that houses and shops in the affected areas of Powari, Pindigari, Babbar Tsangaya, Hausari and Pompomari among many others were under lock and key by yesterday evening as only hungry looking animals were roaming about.
Hoodlums and other miscreants now use the situation to burgle houses and shops at commercial areas of the town. At Bayan Tasha area, for example, more than ten shop owners came out early morning yesterday only to find their shops were burgled.
Malam Muhammad Kabir, who sells handsets at the area, said he was called on phone by some of his colleagues when he was about leaving the town to inform him that his shop was broken and all the goods inside were looted. "I found my shop broken and looted; the night robbers have stolen properties worth millions of naira from the eighteen shops they burgled", he said.
Another shop owner, Alhaji Haruna Maitakalma, told our correspondent that he only found a bag on the floor of his shop out of over N400,000 investments. "It appeared to me like a dream when I found my shop opened this morning, I have bags and shoes worth N450,000 but only one bag was found inside. In fact, we are confused", he said.
Our correspondent, who visited the town's two major parks located on Potiskum Road, reports that there was absence of commercial taxi caps and buses with several passengers waiting. "Not more than six vehicles loaded from these parks since yesterday; over 2000 passengers have booked for seats but there were no vehicles", said an NURTW official.
"The problem is that, if any driver would come to pick passengers here, he must double the transport fare because people are no longer coming to Damaturu, and those going out cannot afford to pay them double. That is why most of the people migrating prefer to get empty trailers from Maiduguri", he said.
A driver at the motor park complained of mob action by the passengers who don't have money to pay. "A driver, who conveyed some passengers to Potiskum, had his tyres depleted after they refused to pay him his money; so no driver will risk transporting them to anywhere".
Speaking on the fleeing residents that boarded trucks from Maiduguri bypass, Malam Ibrahim, a tyre repairer along Potiskum-Maiduguri bypass, said he had counted more than 70 loaded trucks moving out of the town to various destinations such as Gashua, Nguru, Potiskum and other adjourning towns and villages.
But the situation is different at highbrow areas of the town like at Commissioners Quarters as there is no any sign of migration, and one fascinating thing that was how some crippled persons were seen yesterday playing football on the major street of the area.
Muhammad Murtala, one of them, said he was not afraid to come out and play no matter the crisis. "Sometimes we stayed outside even when there were shootings and bombings; we came from a far distant place to play here and the security personnel are not chasing us away" he said.
At Sabon Pegi, where the personal residential house of Governor Ibrahim Gaidam was located, there was heavy security presence but a trailer was seen loading house belongings of an emigrant that refused to grant interview to Daily Trust
A visit to the state secretariat showed empty buildings with offices under lock and key as only a few people were seen roaming about the compound.
A senior government staff said "All the policy makers in the state have left for lesser hajj, not even the governor is around; the commissioners are not around, state assembly members are also not around, the SSG, head of service and local government chairmen have all left with their families".
He said "The press release issued by the government spokesman is not enough, because most of these people leaving have no access to newspapers; it would sound convincing when the governor himself appears on the television and radio to assure these fleeing residents of security determination to protect them; people were watching them when they all left, and many believed that they were aware of the attack that was why they ran away".
Daily Trust gathered that a good number of the people left are now living in the neighboring villages and towns with many of them squatting with relations while some of them begging on the streets. "You need to come to Potiskum to see how these people are suffering", Abuba Modu said
Yobe State Police Commissioner Patrick Egbuniwe yesterday told Daily Trust that "We have put every measure in place to make sure that everybody is safe but freedom of movement is a constitutional right; we cannot infringe on the right of people; but I advise that people should stay and remain calm".