The Senate yesterday instituted an investigation into the killing of squatters in an uncompleted building near the legislators' quarters in Apo, Abuja on Friday.
Seven people were killed on the spot in the shooting by security agencies who said they came under fire and returned it while digging out hidden weapons at a Boko Haram hideout. One of the several injured victims died in hospital on Monday.
Circumstances of the deaths remain a subject of controversy, as survivors of the incident insist they were non-violent, homeless artisans squatting in the building.
The Senate yesterday asked its committees on National Security and Intelligence, and Judiciary and Legal Matters to "investigate the circumstances that led to the killings at Apo and report back in one week."
It took the decision following a motion on matters of urgent public importance moved by Senator Sahabi Alhaji Ya'u (PDP, Zamfara).Ya'u said in the motion that he was disturbed about the various accounts of the incident which left eight persons, "mostly tricycle operators and most of whom are indigenes of Zamfara, Katsina and Kano states, dead and about 16 with various degrees of serious injuries."
Survivors of the shooting said they had been given a quit notice by owner of the building just a day before the incident, and that he had threatened to unleash the military on them if they failed to vacate.
Senator Ya'u said yesterday witness accounts have raised serious issues of human rights and the use of security forces towards settling personal scores, and urged the Senate to institute an independent investigation "to unearth the circumstances and facts behind the killings."
During a debate on the motion, Senator Clever Ikisikpo (PDP, Bayelsa), who said the incident happened not too far from his house, argued that the constitution guarantees every Nigerian the right to life "and no one should be deprived of it. It is uncalled for, for a group of SSS to shoot and kill innocent people."
In his remarks, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu appealed to his colleagues not to delve into the details of the incident and allow for investigation by the committee.
Senator Sadiq Yar'Adua (APC, Katsina) warned the Senate of the dangers of not taking action on the killings.
"If we don't take action against this callousness, probably some of our enemies will go and tell the police and the SSS that there are terrorists in this chamber and they will come and kill us all. Enough is enough," he said.
Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume (PDP, Borno) wondered why the SSS did not cordon the area and arrest the suspects instead of killing them.
Senator Sani Saleh (APC, Kaduna) said that the SSS was gradually becoming more of a combat unit instead of its traditional role of a covert, intelligence-gathering agency.
Although, in his motion Ya'u had urged the Senate to condemn the killings and also observe a minute's silence in honour of the deceased, Senate President David Mark said that should wait until the investigative committee submitted its findings.
Mark also said the Senate condemned all acts of terrorism and extra-judicial killings, and ordered that the investigation be done behind closed doors.
The Senate probe is coming days after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also announced it had opened investigations into the Apo incident. A preliminary report was due to be submitted to the commission on Monday, a spokesman had told Daily Trust.
The State Security Service (SSS) authorities had said operatives were searching for weapons in the Apo building, following a tip off, when they came under fire, resulting in a shoot out.
"The operation was sequel to information obtained from two (2) Boko Haram elements Kamal Abdullahi and Mohammed Adamu, who had earlier been arrested for terrorist activities. They led the security team to uncompleted buildings where arms were purported to have been buried underground," SSS spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar said in a statement on Friday.
"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, which prompted immediate response from the security team."
But questions have been raised since then on if truly the squatters had any Boko Haram links and whether the security teams actually came under any fire. The SSS is yet to display any weapons that might have been recovered from the building.
Zamfara seeks thorough probe
Meanwhile the Zamfara State Government yesterday demanded a thorough investigation to ascertain the facts of the Apo incident.
Information Commissioner Ibrahim Birnin Magaji told Daily Trust the state government would not "fold its arms" and watch security forces killing its youths who left their homes for legitimate businesses.
"We do not have any high-profile criminals capable of joining Boko Haram. Even the incessant attacks in the state are being carried out by aliens not indigenes of the state," he said.
"Wherever Zamfara indigenes happen to be they serve the best interest of the good people of the environment. Zamfara is a Sharia-practising state, which is very difficult to find unmerciful and badly behaved person claiming to be from the state."
He said it had been a tradition for youths in the state to go to other states in search of businesses especially after graduating from the state government's skills acquisition programmes.
Birnin Magaji said it was not a crime for law-abiding Nigerians to stay in the Federal Capital Territory as squatters while running their lawful businesses.