Friday, September 27, 2013

CONFESSION: The Squatters Attacked Us First - Army Chief

rmy chief told lawmakers the soldiers acted in self defence.
The Nigerian army on Thursday backed the fiercely contested claim by the State Security Service, SSS, that soldiers and other operatives who fired and killed at least seven squatters in an unfinished building in Apo, Abuja, last Friday, were first shot at, by the men they claim were members of the extremist sect, Boko Haram.
Army Chief, Azubuike Ihejirika, told a House of Representatives committee that soldiers merely returned fire after coming under attack, a claim that has been roundly rejected by witnesses and survivors of the attack, and residents of the area.
The House committee on Public Safety and National Security opened an investigation into the killing on Thursday, ahead of a separate probe planned by the Senate.
The men, many of them artisans, operators of Keke tricycle, and hawkers, were killed in an early Friday morning raid on the building near a sprawling quarters where members of the National Assembly live.
The SSS had earlier claimed that the joint operation with the Army followed a tipoff that cache of arms was buried in the building, and security personnel sought to “dig” them out.
The service claimed security personnel arrived the building under a hail of bullets from the men they succeeded in killing. Its first statement after the attack did not admit that operation ended in bloodshed.
But several witnesses, survivors and residents of the area have long contested those claims in interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, accusing the military personnel of executing unarmed and innocent men.
Worse, the SSS and the army have yet to produce the weapons recovered from the building. Security sources told PREMIUM TIMES there had been plans to plant weapons in the building; a plan that was put paid to after the report was published.
Lawmakers have warned that regardless of the men’s membership of the violent sect, they should have been arrested and prosecuted, and not killed in a manner many believe was an extrajudicial murder of innocent people.
“We could not sleep that night and we were even scared to come out the following morning. It is not acceptable for the SSS to shoot people whether they are Boko Haram or Keke NAPEP (tricycle) operators. They should first be arrested and investigated,” said Clever Ikisikpo (PDP-Bayelsa), whose block in Zone E of the Legislators Quarters is about 100m from the scene of the incident.
The army has faced several allegations of killing innocent people and deploying scorched-earth tactics in its pursuit of the Boko Haram fighters.
Thursday’s hearing at the House of Reps was conducted behind closed doors, and the senate has made clear it would also carry out a secret hearing.
Mr. Ihejirika told journalists after the meeting that the operation was a success as it pre-empted attack in parts of Abuja. He also affirmed earlier position that the security men were first attacked by the suspects before they were shot dead.
“I appeared before the House Committee on Public Safety and National Security on the joint operation conducted by the Directorate of State Security Services and a unit of the Nigeria Army,” he told reporters.
“We briefed them and informed them of the mission which was to recover arms and weapons and make arrests. We also briefed them on the fact that on approach to the area, the security men were fired at and they had to return fire and also make arrests.”
The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Bala Mohammed, said he was not informed about the operation as the Chief Security Officer of the city. He however said he took responsibility for it.
He said there was no decision yet to demolish the building as the outcome of the investigation should be awaited. He however said buildings that were not developed within stipulated time will no longer be tolerated within the city.
“We will ensure that all buildings that have exceeded the two-year period, approved for building, are demolished. If we cannot demolish, we will make it a Police Post. This time around, we will take a definite action,” he said.
Source: Premium Times