Nigerian Soldiers, Police in Deadly Fight for Ramadan Rice; Exchange Gunfire

by Abdulkareem Haruna, PremiumTimes

At least one person was injured Thursday at the Borno State government house when soldiers and police exchanged fire as they fought over food items distributed by the government to mark the Ramadan fast.

The government has since Monday distributed large amounts of rice and Semovita to poor residents.

On Thursday, thousands of people converged at the entrance of the government building in Maiduguri, forming an lengthy queue of men, women and the aged who hoped for either a 25kg bag of rice or Semovita, or both.

As the distribution started, police barred vehicles from accessing the venue, except those on special permission.

At about 11am, a Nigerian Army truck showed up, insisting on gaining access to the venue where rice and Semovita were being shared.

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Suspecting that the soldiers were trying to help themselves to the handouts, police officers demanded they turn back immediately.

This led to an argument and an angry soldier allegedly opened fire, injuring a policeman in the leg, witnesses said.

The police responded and gunshots rent the air as thousands gathered scampered for safety.

It took the intervention of other senior security officers to arrest the situation from degenerating.

One of the army officers drafted to help control the crowd, identified only as Idris, a lieutenant, did not go free, as angry policemen who accused him of instigating the crisis, beat him up.

The commander of the operation Lafiya Dole, Lucky Irabor, a Major General, was called in by the Borno State Attorney General, Kaka Shehu Lawan, to restore order.

Calm returned after Mr. Irabor arrived alongside the state police commissioner and the director of State Security Service.

Addressing the parties in conflict, Mr. Irabor described the situation as “shameful and highly unbecoming of uniformed officers”.

“What is a bag of rice that will give you the cause to be angry? Bag of rice? It is shameful. If the world hears that it is because of bag of that made police and soldiers to be fighting, is it not shameful? Let us not behave like children: all of us have children at home. Soldiers and policemen should be seen to be matured in their dispositions at all times”.

He urged the conflicting parties to calm down.

“While everyone is clapping for good that we have been doing, let us not also do things that will make them to begin to stone us. I want you to calm your nerves, because in a family you are likely to find incidents of misunderstanding.

As a result of the incident, the government suspended the distribution of the freebies, leaving expectant beneficiaries disappointed and frustrated.

The Borno state government is expected to issue a statement later on whether the exercise will continue.

The army also said it will be addressing a press conference to further state its position on the incident.