Damaturu residents count losses after army, police clash
Last Wednesday’s clash between soldiers and policemen who are fighting the Boko Haram insurgency in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, has shattered the relative peace enjoyed in the state for two years. Our correspondent observed that residents now live in fear.
As residents observed their early morning prayers and prepared for their normal businesses, little did they know that hell would be let loose and the town would become a war zone of sorts, few minutes past 6am.
Exactly 6:17am, the sound of gunshots between soldiers and the police took over the atmosphere, forcing residents to go into hiding as they recalled the ugly days of deadly Boko Haram attacks.
Daily Trust on Sunday noticed that even before the incident on Wednesday, tension was building up between the two security agencies, but on many occasions, their senior officers intervened and nipped the situation in the bud.
In August 2016, the two security agencies engaged each other in a gun battle in Gaidam town. That was shortly after the one in Tarmuwa, which claimed the life of an inspector while some were wounded.
In May 20, 2017, a mobile policeman, Ajujumbu Kennedy of Mopol 41, was also allegedly shot dead at the Kandahar beer parlour. His colleagues accused soldiers of carrying out the act. It was alleged that two rivals - a policeman and a soldier - got into a fight over a prostitute identified as Fadila.
The incident on Wednesday was said to have started on Tuesday when a man allegedly interfered with the convoy of a police mobile squadron. The man, who was manhandled, turned out to be an army officer.
Sources told Daily Trust on Sunday yesterday that soldiers, who decided to revenge, took away the mobile police commandant and detained him.
Angered by the arrest, the mobile policemen went to a military formation at the Presidential Lodge to free their commandant.
The crisis, which began about 6:17am, lasted till 11am following the intervention of senior officers of both security outfits and the Yobe State Government.
A police source, who did not want to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said that soldiers went to the squadron commander’s residence, located close to the Presidential Lodge, and picked him. He said the commander was taken along with his escorts to the Sassawa military base, an outskirt of the town, where he was detained. He, however, added that a senior army commandant from the Oro 3 Operational Theatre, Damaturu, who was not comfortable with the arrest, went to the military base and brought the commandant to Damaturu.
“Already, the policemen, who were angry, had mobilised and started ransacking every military location to free their commandant. Consequently, they discovered that he was at the Oro 3, along Potiskum road and stormed the area. They started shooting indiscriminately and soldiers responded,” he said, adding that the commandant sustained bullet wounds while trying to control his men.
“Initially, the bullets were fired into the air, but they started aiming at one another when both sides recorded casualties,” he said, adding that the shooting continued as the wounded squadron commandant was rushed to the Damaturu Specialist Hospital.
When our correspondent visited the hospital, he saw the wounded commandant, Dauda Buba Fika, at VIP8, Amenity Ward.
“He was just brought out of the operation theatre, where two bullets were removed from his body,” one of the hospital staff revealed.
A source in the hospital also revealed that four security operatives lost their lives while many others, including hapless civilians, sustained various degrees of injury in the gun battle. He said that one of the policemen was brought to the hospital dead while the other two and a soldier died on arrival due to excessive bleeding.
But there was no confirmation of the above from both sides.
It was further gathered that apart from the intense trauma the residents suffered, angry security operatives variously molested them, halting socio-economic activities in the town.
Hoodlums also took advantage of the situation to steal from traders at the Bayan Tasha market.
Daily Trust on Sunday observed that the major roundabout in Damaturu, which also serves as an intersection leading to Maiduguri, Gujba and Gashua, was blocked by soldiers for hours. This development grounded the movement of vehicles to and from the Yobe State capital.
A cameraman of Channels Television, Alhaji Bunu, who was on his way to the venue of a press briefing along Gashua Road at the instance of the commissioner of police, was stopped by the police. They shot at one of his back tyres and forced him out of the car. In addition to taking away his camera, they inflicted injuries in his right palm. He narrowly escaped a gunshot aimed at him by the mobile policemen.
“They took away my camera and money while I narrowly escaped, their bullets. I complied with every instruction given to me. They started hitting me with gun after collecting the money. I started running when I realised the danger of their action. It was then that they shot at me. Thank God that I survived it,” he said.
Mr. Marshell Alaji said he had to abandon his car at the central roundabout to escape the flying bullets. “I ran into one small house where I found many people taking refuge. Some minutes later, another deafening sound struck. When we went out, we saw some military men struggling to detonate a grenade very close to the Alheri Supermarket. It was a terrible experience for residents of Damaturu, who thought that the era of insecurity had gone,” he said.
Halima Ali, a civil servant in Sabon Fegi, said she was rattled by the gunfire from the mobile policemen and soldiers “over a simple matter that ought to have been sorted out amicably.”
“In all honesty, I thought it was the Boko Haram militants that launched an attack. Everybody was scared. When the shooting began I dashed into a nearby house for safety and could not even go out at all,” she recounted.
The Network of Yobe Civil Society Organisation (NYCSO) condemned the clash, saying it instilled fear in the minds of residents.
Speaking on Wednesday in Damaturu during an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the secretary of the organisation, Dauda Muhammed Gombe said, “The fracas has renewed fear in the minds of residents who have been enjoying relative peace for almost two years. The peace we hitherto enjoyed has been disrupted. Government establishments, financial institutions and businesses were all shut because of the unfortunate action of the security operatives.
“We are appealing to the leadership of both security agencies to investigate the matter and take disciplinary measures on the culprits so that issues like this would be averted in future,” he said.
He advised the security operatives to do everything possible to retain the confidence of people in the town. He also called on the people to continue to support the security operatives.
In a four-paragraph statement jointly signed by the army and the police, they confirmed the clash, describing it as unfortunate.
Also, according to a statement by the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, Colonel Kayode Ogunsoya, “The attention of this headquarters has been drawn to an unfortunate incident between some soldiers and policemen in Damaturu this morning.
“A joint committee of the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force has been set up to investigate the incident. This headquarters wishes to assure members of the public that the situation has been brought under control and normalcy has been restored.”
In a meeting between the Yobe State Government and the two security agencies, Deputy Governor Abubakar D. Aliyu, who stood in for Governor Ibrahim Gaidam, condemned the incident. He urged them to work together so as not to jeopardise peace in the state. Speaking to newsmen after the meeting, the commander of the 27th Taskforce Brigade, Buniyadi, General Aminu Bande, said, “For now, the cause of the clash is not the issue because it will affect the work of the investigation team. The committee will ensure that the officer found guilty is seriously dealt with.”
The Commissioner of Police, Yobe State command, Sumonu Abdulmaliki, said they had made progress in resolving the crisis, adding that investigation would continue.
“The meeting ended well. We will ensure that issues like this are averted in the future,” he said.
From Hamisu Kabir Matazu, Damaturu