Sept. 23, 2013
by Atika Balal, Ronald Mutum & Musa Abdullahi Krishi
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) yesterday said it has opened an investigation into Friday’s killing of seven squatters in an uncompleted building behind legislators’ quarters in Apo, Abuja.
Circumstances of the deaths remained hazy, as while security agencies say those killed were Boko Haram members, survivors of the incident insist they were homeless artisans squatting in the building.
The quasi-autonomous NHRC yesterday said it has already began a probe to determine what exactly happened.
Spokesman for the commission, Muhammad Nasir Ladan, told Daily Trust in Abuja that investigators would submit a preliminary report today.
When asked if the report would be made public, Ladan said the interim report would be studied internally first and the public would later on be informed of the commission’s findings.
Seven people were killed and many others injured when a joint SSS-Army team raided the uncompleted building at Apo Zone E area early on Friday.
The State Security Service (SSS) said the incident was a shootout with members of the Boko Haram sect, but those injured said it was an attack on squatters following an eviction warning by the building owner.
SSS authorities said operatives were searching for weapons in the building when they came under fire, resulting in a shoot out. The agency said the search was launched following a tip off by Boko Haram elements in detention.
But the injured survivors yesterday called on the government to ensure justice was done by investigating the matter and punishing the attackers.
Speaking to Daily Trust in their hospital beds in Abuja, they insisted they were innocent and were not Boko Haram members.
Sani Abdulrahman from Safana in Katsina State, who was shot in the leg, related his experience thus: “The truth of the matter is that we were many that were sleeping in that house. What happened was that on Wednesday, we learnt that some scavengers went to the house in the afternoon when we were away and stole some cables.
“They were caught by the security man in the house who said he couldn’t handle the matter by himself and decided to call the owner. When the man came, he said they (scavengers) should be allowed to go, but he said all of us should leave the house by next Wednesday. He threatened that if we don’t leave by next week, he would bring not police or SSS men but soldiers to chase us away.”
When asked to give the name of the house owner, Abdulrahman said he did not know but added that: “He (house owner) wore suit when he came and was speaking Hausa, though not fluently. We learnt he is a retired soldier from Kaduna State, but we are not sure. He must be the one who sent the soldiers.”
Abdulrahman said barely 24 hours later, soldiers stormed the house at about 11.30pm and started shooting sporadically as a result of which many of them ran out for their lives only to be shot by the soldiers.
“We want government to do justice to us by ensuring that they investigate and punish those that attacked us and killed our brothers. If you’re a poor man in this country or if somebody doesn’t like you, he can do anything to you, but they know that we’re innocent,” he added.
Abubakar Auwal, who hails from Bichi local government of Kano State, said most of the squatters were wheel-barrow pushers, auto-rickshaw drivers, labourers and traders who sleep in the house and leave as early as 6am for their various callings.
“Government must do something about this. Look at how we become as a result of this. We were just going about looking for our legitimate means of livelihood, but they came and attacked us. We’re about 200 that sleep in the house and there is nobody like Boko Haram among us,” he said.
“In fact, it’s because we cannot afford the expensive rent that we went there. Everybody pays the security man N200 every Saturday, and the owner of the house is aware of it.”
For his part, Yusuf Abubakar from Moriki in Zamfara State, said: “It’s only Allah that will judge them because we know that we are innocent. But the government must stand up to its responsibility of protecting the lives of the citizens. If nothing is done, tomorrow they will go and do worst.”
Bashir Usman, who escaped unhurt from the house, said there were shootings in the area about two months ago but it was suspected to be carried out by armed robbers.
“This isn’t the first time. Some people came about two months ago and started shooting at night. But we later learnt it was armed robbers who came to attack a neighbouring house,” he said.
“In this our case, after the shootings and killings, some people were arrested. It was the police that came and brought both the injured and the dead out from the bush. We don’t even know where some of us ran to as we’re yet to see them.”
When our reporters visited the area yesterday at Apo Zone E, the street was deserted, but five vans and two buses loaded with soldiers and men of the SSS were seen close to the house where the shooting happened.
A taxi driver, Muhammad Lawal also from Kano, who resides in a neighbouring house, told Daily Trust that the incident scared people in the area.
“Many of us did not sleep that day. It was as if everything was happening in our house. We’re many that sleep in the house, which is not far to the one where the killings took place. Most of us are taxi drivers there and we’re more than 100,” said Lawal.
He said they had now been given a 2-day quit notice.
A sugar cane seller who was seen close to a mosque in the area said the street has been quiet since the day the incident took place, adding that people were still afraid to be seen around for fear of being arrested.
The SSS yesterday declined to answer any specific questions from our reporter on the issues being raised regarding the shooting incident.
When contacted, spokeswoman Marylin Ogar said operatives of the service were not killers but were paid to secure the lives and property of Nigerians irrespective of their status.
She noted that criticism of the service over the Apo incident were unfounded because the operation was carried out based on information from Boko Haram elements and was aimed at securing the public, failure of which would have drawn harsh criticisms.
Ogar refused to respond to questions raised by the public over the failure to show any weapons recovered from the operation. She had said in a statement on Friday that the service had information that the building was being used to stock weapons, but there has been no public display yet of any arms recovered during the operation.
Yesterday, she told Daily Trust she stood by what was in that statement.
In the statement on Friday, she said, “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.
“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.”