Abuja — The Department of State Security, SSS, and the Nigerian Army schemed to cover-up their atrocity after their personnel extrajudicially killed at least seven innocent men and wounded several others, residents of Apo area of Abuja, where the incident took place, said on Friday.
The security officials stormed a street located behind Zone E of the Apo Legislative Quarters in the early hours of Friday, went straight to an uncompleted building inhabited by homeless artisans and petty traders and immediately began shooting at random, killing at least seven and injuring 17 others, witnesses said.
The operatives then claimed the men were killed in a shootout with Boko Haram insurgents.
The injured, most of them shot on their backs, have since been admitted to the Asokoro General Hospital where they are being treated for gunshot wounds.
One of the injured, Ibrahim Danladi, a 20 year old satchet water seller, told PREMIUM TIMES at the hospital that it was untrue that anyone engaged the rampaging soldiers in a shootout.
"We are no Boko Haram," he said as he writhed in pain. "I sell pure water and none of us are Boko Haram. The soldiers just arrived suddenly and started shooting at us."
While news of the killings and pictures of the deceased spread on social media on Friday morning, the SSS released a statement saying its officials acted based on information obtained from two Boko Haram suspects, Kamal Abdullahi and Mohammed Adamu, who it claimed had earlier been arrested for terrorist activities.
"They led the security team to the uncompleted building where arms were purported to have been buried underground," Marilyn Ogar, the SSS spokesperson said in the statement. "No sooner had the team commenced digging for the arms than they came under heavy gunfire attack by other Boko Haram elements within the area."
The statement said the security team responded immediately.
"As a result, some persons were injured while 12 others were arrested in connection with the incident and are making useful statements," Ms. Ogar added.
But several witnesses and residents of the area have debunked the claim by the SSS. All those interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES said no one shot at the security team that stormed the building.
The team shot at unarmed residents, killing them instantly and then hung the Boko Haram tag on them, residents say.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the area on Friday, residents said the few uncompleted houses in the street were usually occupied by homeless artisans, petty traders and commercial tricycle operators.
Unable to afford the excessively high cost of housing in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, these squatters usually gather in scores to sleep on mats in the few uncompleted buildings on the street, after returning from their daily jobs.
"The keke-napep (tricycle) men that stay in the house (where the shooting occurred) are almost 100," Abu, a construction worker in another uncompleted building on the street, told PREMIUM TIMES. "Apart from keke-napep, some also sell recharge cards act as phone chargers on the street."
Witnesses told this paper that the owner of the house (or his representative) where the killings took place, believed to be a top army officer, visited on Thursday morning and ordered the squatters to vacate.
"He gave us one week, one week to leave his house," said one survivor, who declined to be named for fear he could be arrested or targeted by soldiers. "He threatened us saying he would bring soldiers to do anything to us if we don't leave after one week.
"But just two days later, they came to attack us," one of the tricycle operators who used to sleep in the house cut in in Hausa. He pleaded anonymity saying he feared he could be targeted by 'soldiers'.
Many of the residents of the building, who escaped being killed or arrested, have already fled the area.
Many of the occupants, already worried about where to live at the expiration of the one-week ultimatum, were asleep when the security officials arrived.
The SSS said in their statement that they arrived the place at about 3:00 a.m.
"They came in six Hilux vans. Many of us were asleep. They just started shooting and eventually killed seven of us," one tricycle operator said.
He gave the names of two of his colleagues killed by the soldiers as Salisu and Abdurahman, both of whom he said were also tricycle operators.
Ishiaku, a security guard in a neighbouring occupied home, said the soldiers should be made to pay dearly for shedding the blood of innocent people.
"They were soldiers," he said. "We just started hearing gunfire and from inside house, we could see them and their vans. The Hausa boys who sleep there never harassed anybody. How can they say they had guns?"
Alhaji, another indigent resident of the area, who is from Maiduguri and had been falsely arrested in Borno for being a Boko Haram member and later released, simply remarked at the lawlessness of the Nigerian security agencies and their penchant for killing innocents and labelling them Boko Haram insurgents.
"That is how they behave in Maiduguri. Soldiers will just go to any house or area and kill everyone there and later lie that they killed some Boko Haram people who had guns," he said.
All the witnesses spoken to said the security operatives that stormed the building were mainly soldiers in uniform.
The SSS also confirmed that it did not act alone in the raid, saying it was a joint security operation.
The street where the killings took place has several mansions owned by influential people, PREMIUM TIMES found.
Residents particularly mentioned the cream-coloured house right beside the building where the killings took place as belonging to an army colonel who had in the past expressed displeasure at the huge number of indigent artisans and petty traders in the neighbourhood.
Some of them said the soldiers' actions and involvement in Friday's killings was probably influenced by the Colonel, a claim the Army authorities denied.
"The operation is an SSS-led operation. I don't think it has anything to do with a military owner or no military owner," Brigadier General Ibrahim Attahiru, the Nigerian Army spokesperson, told PREMIUM TIMES, saying the SSS statement had explained what transpired.
"It was a joint operation, the SSS led the operation. Direct all your questions to the SSS," Mr. Attahiru added.
Efforts to get further clarification from the SSS on the incident and the claims by residents were unsuccessful.
Ms. Ogar did not respond to our telephone enquiry and a text message sent to her.
Both Mr. Attahiru and Ms Ogar declined to answer questions regarding whether any security operative was killed or injured during the operation since they claimed there was a shootout.
They also wouldn't say whether they found any weapon in the building or its occupants since they claimed they stormed the place based on intelligence that weapons were buried there.
Police dissociates self
The Nigerian Police said seven people were killed in the operation. The SSS statement had kept mum on the number of people killed in the operation.
The police, however, clarified that it was not involved in the operations.
Altine Daniel, the spokesperson of the Abuja police, referred all enquiries on the operation to the SSS.
"Please, I don't know; you people should contact the SSS," she told PREMIUM TIMES.
Meanwhile, less than 12 hours after the killings, the National Human Rights Commission has already begun investigations.
Officials of the commission, led by an Assistant Director, Dahiru Bobbo, were seen interviewing witnesses and residents of the area.