19 August 2012

Nigeria: Insecurity - How JTF Abused Residents

While trying to put a check on the state of insecurity in some states in the North, the Joint Task Force (JTF) members have, however, come under serious scrutiny as members of some northern communities and social institutions have passed a vote of no confidence on them. LEADERSHIP SUNDAY's MIDAT JOSEPH, Kaduna; ACHOR ABIMAJE, Jos; Salisu Ibrahim, Kano, and SUNNY NWANKWO, Maiduguri, write on the issue.

As the insecurity issues in the country rage on, the Federal Government, in its bid to tackle the menace, deployed the Joint Task Force (JTF), a combined body of the military, the police and the State Security Service (SSS), to identified trouble zones in the country, especially in the North, where the dreaded Boko Haram sect has its stronghold.

However, the joint security body has not only left the affected areas more dangerous for their residents, but there are allegations that the body has also left behind some tales of sorrow and pain, like in the case of 48-year-old Yusuf Gambo, a tailor with 25 years of career experience.

Before now, Gambo's hands were fully functional. In fact, Gambo made use of his God-given hands to design adorable attires for his clients, while being able to take good care of his family members. His dreams, however, were cut short when his two hands had to be amputated, following alleged extra-judicial brutality against him by men of the JTF.

He narrated how his encounter with the soldiers attached to the JTF led to his present predicament: "I was on my way to the market after the bomb blast at a certain church, not knowing that security had taken over the Nnamdi Azikiwe express road. On sensing that all was not well in the town, I decided to return to my house, located at Bakin-Ruwa, along the express road.

"It was while on my way home that I stumbled on military personnel, who shot at me, and I ran for cover. Later, the soldiers traced me to where I was taking cover. On sighting the soldiers, I rose my hands up to surrender.

"But I was not carrying any weapon and my hands were raised up, but despite that, one of the soldiers still shot at my two hands.

Immediately he shot me, he left me weeping for help. I ran towards a yoghurt factory, and some good Samaritans who knew me went and informed my uncle, who later came and rushed me to a private hospital at Rigasa community to stop the blood from the wounds."

The hospital could not stop the bleeding; hence, he was rushed to another hospital to save his life. "After that, I was again rushed to another hospital in Kano, where my two hands were amputated after a medical examination that showed that the hands could not function again."

Lamenting to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY on his predicament and the bleak future before him and his family members, Gambo said: "I am married with one wife and five children. I feed my family through this tailoring. Now, I cannot do my tailoring work again. I just need assistance from the government now to feed my family."

A resident of Bakin-Ruwa in Kaduna, Gambo's fate is presently in the hands of his creator, while he hopes the Federal Government would do something to alleviate the suffering of his family members.

While Gambo was a victim of a trigger-happy soldier, Bayo Alabira, a former correspondent with the People's Daily newspapers, was another victim of the JTF, when he was given the beating of his live by members of the special military task force stationed in Jos.

He was discharging his primary duties around Zololo junction in Jos North Local Government Area of the state capital when he encountered the task force men.

Alabira said he was admitted at Sauki Clinic, opposite the NUJ Secretariat, along Hill Station Junction, Jos, where the doctor treating him said he had lost a lot of blood and would need some pants of blood for his condition to become stabilised.

According to Alabira, who narrated his ordeal in the hands of the STF members to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, he left his house in the morning to monitor the situation only to see some hoodlums brandishing cutlass on the road. He alleged that instead of members of the STF to stop them from causing mayhem, they rather descended heavily on him and started beating him.

Alabira added that immediately the JTF men saw him hanging his camera on his neck; they became very aggressive, saying this is a journalist, they always write against our activities in the state. He further said the soldiers did not allow him to explain himself, noting that about four of them came down on him, hitting his head with their guns. And in the process, they broke his head making blood to gush out.

Continuing, he said when he told them that he was hypertensive; the soldiers further dragged him to their vehicle and continued their assault on him.

As a result of the beating, Alabira is now nursing internal injuries, a broken head and blood-stained eyes.

Aminu Yusuf of The Nation newspapers was not spared in the military assault when he also had a rough encounter with some members of the JTF in the course of discharging his duties as a journalist.

Yusuf told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that he was returning from Riyom, where he had gone to see the situation in the refugees' camp there. His car, however, developed fault close to the JTF check-point and they came to him, asking him to carry the car on his head.

According to Yusuf, he told them that how could he carry the car on his head, but to his surprise, they started beating him, and in the process, they smashed his Blackberry phone on the ground and his camera was thrown away by an angry JTF member.

He added that he had lodged official complain to the senior officer of the JTF, but up till now, according to him, nothing has been done.

But in a swift reaction, the Media Officer of the special task force on Jos crisis, Captain Salisu Mustapha, denied any knowledge of such development.

According to Captain Mustapha, nobody reported any case of abuse to them, adding that if there was anything like that, they would have looked into it with a view to ensuring that justice was done.

In Kano, the Civil Society Forum, in a periodic assessment of security challenges in the state, reported that some actions of the JTF, following the attack in Kano by the Boko Haram sect, breached the people's fundamental rights.

The forum said in a statement signed by Nasiru Kura and Bala Abdullahi that, while the disturbing developments that affected socio-economic activities in the state were sad, police actions and security measures put in place to deal with the menace had equally generated a lot of concern.

According to the forum, witness accounts and reports of individuals and collective actions on measures taken by security personnel were of grave concern.

The forum said: "These actions relate to alleged or suspected incidents of extra-judicial killings, various acts of intimidation, harassment and extortions by security personnel and sundry actions which impose collective punishment on entire communities. In the opinion of members, if not checked or moderated, these actions are capable of undermining public confidence and trust in the security operations, and pose grave dangers to social harmony."

Continuing, it stated that "from accounts of relations and neighbours of the deceased, a contingent of security personnel with a helicopter hovering over the premises with searchlights in the dead of the night attacked the residence of one Alhaji Uzairu of Yakasai quarters, a trader, who lives in Hotoro, and killed him, his pregnant wife and a housemaid. As if these killings were not enough, their bodies were removed and have been withheld."

There are also various reported incidences of the JTF's brutalities and maltreating of people going about their normal businesses outside the curfew hours. Such was the case of some medical doctors working with the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, who were ordered at a police checkpoint to come out of their ambulance and were made to engage in frog jumps.

A similar incidence was also reported at a Mariri checkpoint, where some passersby were seen being made to lie on the ground and ordered to face the scorching sun.

At different checkpoints, motorcycle riders, whether commercial or private, were indiscriminately being made to dismount and walk long distances, dragging their motorcycles along, the report said.

While the forum called on the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Alhaji Mohammed Dikko Abubakar, relevant security agencies and the National Human Rights Commission to conduct an urgent investigation to establish the facts relating to the killing of Uzairu, his pregnant wife, and their housemaid, and make the findings public, it also urged the National Human Rights Commission to carry out its statutory mandate to assist with the documentation and investigation of all reported acts of extra-judicial killings and excessive use of force, intimidation and harassment of the public in Kano arising from the incidents of January 20, 2012.

However, when contacted on the issues raised, the spokesman of the Joint Task Force, Lt. Ikedichi Iweha, said there was no iota of truth in all the allegations of extra judicial killings.

He said JTF had no case before it of any harassment, while adding that, "we have been conducting our work with utmost professionalism, and we will continue to do so."

But in recent time, residents of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, have severally accused the JTF in the state of human rights abuses by way of subjecting them to their whims and caprices, torturing those who dared to disobey them as common criminals. At some other times, life is surrendered to uncertainty, where fear and pain dominate the most part of the day in the state.

It would be recalled that few months ago, some aggrieved parents, led by one Alhaji Dala Abatcha, were in the media spotlight airing their anger, while accusing the JTF of killing their 11 children under the pretence that the victims were members of the Boko Haram sect.

According to the parents, the victims, whose ages ranged between 16 and 23 years, were allegedly picked in their homes at midnight by members of the JTF before killing them.

One of the bereaved fathers, who alleged that three of his sons were among the 11 acclaimed Boko Haram victims, alleged that, "the military men stormed my house at about 12:50am, and told me that they wanted to take my children for interrogation. Then, I allowed them to go with the soldiers. But later, we were told that my children were killed in a gun battle with security operatives."

In the same vein, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Maiduguri branch, had once accused the military on the way and manner they violated the people's human rights. According to the NBA, "It is now a daily feature on our major roads to see crowds watching innocent citizens, who are supposed to be protected by the military, being brutalised, and their constitutionally guaranteed rights being violated with impunity by men of the force."

Meanwhile, all efforts made to get the comment of the JTF spokesman in the state, Lt.-Col. Sagir Musa, on the allegation was not successful. But an officer from the JTF circle, who pleaded anonymity, described the allegations as baseless and unfounded. He said the JTF in Maiduguri had never and will never arrest or kill anybody that is not identified as a terrorist. "We are here in Borno to make peace return to the state, not to violate human rights as being claimed by some residents," the officer said.

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