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Plateau pond of deaths

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Plateau pond of deaths

Dura Du Community in Jos south Local Government Area, Plateau State until September 17, was relatively unknown. However, all that changed with the discovery of the car of a retired major general and immediate past chief of administration, Nigerian Army, Idris Alkali, in a pond. JOHNSON AYANTUNJI and MUSA PAM report how the abandoned mining pond has become a night mare for those dwelling close to it

 

Until September 17, this year, Dura Du community, Jos South Local Government, Plateau State, was relatively unknown. However, all that changed when soldiers from Rukuba Barracks invaded the community. They were on a search and rescue mission, looking for a retired Major General Idris Alkali, who had been declared missing two weeks earlier.

A few days before then the community had been in the throes of attacks by unknown gunmen. By the time the dust settled, 13 people had been killed. This infuriated the youths, who in a reprisal went on rampage, attacking anyone in sight. “Alkali, who was on his way to Bauchi from Abuja got caught up in the cross fire, since then, he has not been seen, nor heard from,” Commander Special Task Force in-Charge of Security on the Plateau, Major General Augustine Agundu, said while briefing news men.

The military’s concentration and efforts at zeroing in on the community, was informed by intelligence report that the General who retired in June, was last heard from when he got to Dura Du community.

Alkali was not the only victim of the fracas. Also killed in the melee was a pharmacist who was on his way to work at the Jos University Teaching Hospital.

As part of efforts at getting to the root of the matter, the men of the 3 Armored Division drained the water of the pond to confirm the report at their disposal.

Hear more of him Ahundu: “We started this search on September 22, when we were ordered by the Chief of Army Staff to find the missing officer.

“The officer, who retired in June 2018, after 35 years of service, was traveling to Bauchi when he ran into the mob.

“Immediately we got information about his movement, we swung into action to find him.

“The intelligence report convinced us that this pond was where he was dumped.

 

“There are about 32 abandoned mining sites in this community; for us to single this one out shows that a lot of intelligence gathering was done.

“On the first day of the operation, some women tried to stop us, claiming that the pond was their source of drinking water. They also said that the pond was their ancestral water, but we ignored them. This pond contains a lot of hidden secrets.
“There are four more cars that we have discovered inside. We are determined to unravel all the secrets in it.”

Talking about secretes, the army in addition to the missing general’s car, with the help of local divers, pulled out two more vehicles a Toyoto Hiace Bus with registration number Plateau, RYM 307 XA, an unidentified vehicles and other things. This fueled speculation that the pond which has acquired the sobriquet pond of death.

Since then, peace has taken a flight in the once serene community. First to protest were over 500 women who left their upper bosom bare, and the other half of their bodies were cladded in black.

During the protest, the women said their anger was that the military had laid siege on their community since the army suspected that Alkali had gone missing, and that their people have been repeatedly killed without the military protecting them.

Also, they said that their major reason for protesting the search was due to a superstitious belief that the pond must not be disturbed in any way because it would lead to calamity for them, including mysterious deaths and other misfortunes.

The women’s spokesperson, Mary Yakubu, said since the days of their ancestors, no one has tampered with the water, and that it was a taboo to tamper with the water because their husbands and children would die mysteriously.

Furthermore, she said that they have not known peace since the military suspected that their General was thrown into the pond with his car, saying that they have been harassed, threatened and even shot at. She said that even when suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked the community severally and killed innocent persons, the military did not take serious action.

“When thousands of innocent women and children were killed in various villages of Plateau State, no military action was taken, no arrest of a single attacker; and now that we are living in our sadness, the military, still wants to put more tension on us without protecting us.”

 

However, Major General Mohammed Ibrahim, who led the search and rescue mission, would hear none of it. He said no amount of protest by the women or any superstitious belief about the pond would stop them from the operation, saying that they had earlier informed the community about the operation before commencing.

 

Giving a detail of what their efforts before their last resort said: “In an effort to search for the missing Major General Idris Alkali, a lot of things were done and all the hospitals in Jos were toured and checked. Besides, we have checked all the accident vehicles and places.

 

Based on credible intelligence, we now had to come to this community in the last one week. We are trying to find three things. One is General Alkali who is declared missing. We are here to 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 for the past days 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 a last resort, we have decided that we are going to evacuate the water from the pond to see what is underneath.”

 

This is all the military needed to go out on all offensive. Last weekend, no fewer than 28 residents, including a journalist Friday Olokor, were arrested in a raid carried out by men of the Rukuba Barracks.

 

Villagers said scores of military personnel stormed the remote community at daybreak, arresting anyone in sight including women and children.

 

The soldiers forced their subjects to surrender and board a military truck wherein they were stripped naked and taken to detention, it was learnt.

Confirming the arrests, Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 3 Armoured Division, Col. Kayode Ogunsanya said the army is on a mission to find the missing Major General Idris Alkali (rtd) whose vehicle was discovered in a pond near the community after days of search by the army authorities.

 

The arrest has created palpable fear in and around the community of a possible massacre as once witnessed in Zaki Biam, Benue State and Odi in Rivers state.

The army authorities had, however, said last week that it was not considering any such actions.

 

Similarly, Kaneng Rwang Pam a mainstream and citizen journalist said there’s a worrisome military-on-civilian harassment situation along the Dwei -Latiya axis.

 

 

 

According to her, one of her nieces survived the massacre which took place some weeks ago because she runs a hair dressing salon there adding that she was also born there.

She confirmed that her nine-month pregnant step sister, Noroh, was picked up along with dozens of residents to an unknown destination by military personnel.

Also a Buken staff confirmed that the military had waylaid their school bus with staff and children saying though they were later released.

“The arrest of Noroh, whose EDD (Expected Date of Delivery) was last week, is a violation of the pillars of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 which insists on the protection of women in conflict situations.”

 

She lamented in tears the hurling of a heavily pregnant woman into a military van, as suspect in a murder case purely based on circumstances evidence is very unfortunate and “should be condemned by peace loving citizens of this country,” she fumed.

 

Again a house wife Mrs. Julcit Barde, whose husband Mr. Nansel Paul Barde who has been in the military detention for the past one week has cried out for the urgent release of her husband by the military in Jos.

 

According to her, during the search operation for the alleged missing General the military approached them, to allow them use their property in the cause of the search, which they agreed and opened the property for them to use, adding that they later turned around and picked up her husband, saying he has questions to answer and was taken to Rukuba Army Barracks, where he was not allowed access to his medication, family and lawyer.

 

She pointed out that: “In the cause of evacuating the water some of the lock up shops collapsed. We called them and they said they are very sorry about it saying military do not pay compensation.”

 

She further said according to the military,” “This man, you owned this property, you should be able to tell us something and he was whisked away to the Rukuba Barrack. Since then the children are crying they refuse to allow us access to him.’

 

According to her: “He is an innocent man who assisted the military and what he gets in return was to be arrested and detained. Is it a crime to own property close to a mining pond?”

 

Speaking in the same vein Barr. Andrew Joshua lawyer to Nansel Paul Barde condemn the act that resulted to the alledged murder of the general while lamenting the gross violation of the foundermental human rights of his client.

 

 

According to him, for aiding and helping in the cause of the military investigation, his client supposed to have been given a medal saying some of the block of shops collapsed without environmental impact assessment by the military.

 

He appealed to the COAS to ensure that the rule of law prevails and also called for compensation and open apology from the military to his client saying his client is a successful builder, a father and a husband.

 

“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 had 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 account of its harassment, intimidation and continued further threats.

 

“We take serious exceptions to the allegations of killing an Army General (Major General MI Alkali RTD). 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 unguided statements and threats of Maj. Gen. Augustine Agundu, Commander of the STF OPSH, Jos.”

 

The statement further stated that “On Sunday, 26th August 2018, people in Army uniforms went to Lopamdyet community in Du District around 5pm, mingled among the unsuspecting members of the community only to return around 8pm to open gunfire on the helpless citizens killing 15 people and wounding 11 others whom are currently receiving treatment for various degrees of injuries in Hospitals at the expenses of family members and community support. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these dastardly and wicked attacks have not been found by the security agencies, even where there exists an Army check point a few kilometres from the location.

 

“Berom-land, hosting the state capital and the headquarters of few Local Government Areas has become a truly cosmopolitan area, with people from other parts of the country living within it. The killings have not spared other ethnic groups and reactions are spontaneous involving all communities. We have strongly condemned the blockage of roads, killings of innocent people by rampaging youths when the Berom and others are wantonly killed as revenge. This is on record. We have cooperated and still cooperate with government and NGOs working hard to find amicable resolutions of the conflicts and violence being perpetrated on us as a community and people.”

 

The people stressed that they have “lost confidence in the Commander of the OPSH, Maj. Gen. Augustine Agundu’s capacity to be fair, neutral and level headed and to ensure justice to our people and therefore demands that he be replaced immediately” and “Maj. Gen. Augustine Agundu should be held responsible if any untoward actions done in our community, the Acting District Head of Du, or any member of the community.

 

“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.”

 

They maintained that “The Rules of Engagement for peace building operations (Rules 91 – 100) are very impressive as they regulate the ethics and good conduct of members of the Nigerian military and in the same vein promote the image and reputation of the Nigerian Army as they engage outside the country on special operations like in UN peace keeping missions and ECOMOG and other peace keeping operations. These rules and regulations have to be adhered even in internal peace keeping operations.

 

“We make bold to say that the unprofessional conduct of Major General Augustine Agundu and the present military action in Dura Du defies all of these rules of the Nigerian military engagement and must be halted immediately.”

 

The petition was copied to the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, 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.

 

Meanwhile The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has condemned the recent resurgence of violence in Jos, Plateau State, describing it as most unfortunate and a serious setback to the developmental strides in all facets of life in the state.

 

In a statement by the Chairman of NBA, Jos branch, Bon Shalyuun Ngyou, signed by the Publicity Secretary of the association, Mr. Akila Kasham, the Bar Association said expressed her support to the effort by the Military Authorities and other security agencies in the ongoing investigation at Dura—Du, in Jos South Local Government Area.

 

It, however, called on the security chiefs, to ensure their men perform their duties in line with the rules of professional engagement and respect for the principles of human rights so that innocent persons unjustly.

 

This, the NBA Chairman, says the security operatives, must take into cognisance, adding that “in line with a cardinal principle of law re-echoed by a renowned legal luminary, Benjamin Franklin, which says, it is better for one hundred guilty persons to escape than for one innocent person to suffer.”

 

Also, the Plateau State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), has expressed concern over the way and manner the Nigerian Army is going about intimidating and harassing people in its search for the missing Maj. Gen. Idris Alkali (rtd).

 

The union, in a statement jointly signed by Paul Jatau and Peter Amine Chairman and Secretary of the union respectively, stated that the arbitrary harassment, intimidation and arrest of members of the public as part of their search is a thing of worry to it.

 

The union further observed with regrets that the army on Saturday in a statement assured the public that it will exhibit high level professionalism according to international standard in the search but what is on display contradicts the assurances stressing that the same Saturday, a member of the Union who is a reporter with the Punch Newspapers Friday Olokor was arrested alongside other persons by the army and detained for 28 hours in Rukuba Barracks as part of the search.

 

The body of the pen profession further said that it expected the Nigerian Army to conduct its intelligence and go after those they suspected and not to engage in arresting anybody in sight.

 

Continuing, the union said: “We recall that at the commencement of the evacuation of water from Dura Du pond in Jos South, the Army told the public that they have credible intelligence that the missing general’s car was in the pond and true to their word, the car was retrieved from the pond.

 

“We expect them to use the same intelligence they used to locate the car to go after the suspects as they continue the search for Gen. Alkali or his body.

 

“We are perturbed because innocent people are not spared by the crude method they have employed thereby instilling fear in them and overheating the polity.

 

“We wish to state unequivocally that while journalists support the search for the missing senior officer, indeed the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Plateau State Council will not hesitate in withdrawing its members from covering their activities if the intimidation and harassment continues.”

 

Sunday Telegraph investigation revealed that the military have vacated the mining pond having evacuated the water, recovered only three cars without any bodies as insinuated by the social Media.

 

When our correspondent visited the mining pond located at Dura Du, the community was empty, even as the pond looked scary.

 

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