Nigerian soldiers in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, yesterday, unleashed terror on residents at the North Bank area of the city.
The soldiers, said to belong to the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering (NASME), Makurdi, were protesting the alleged killing of one of their colleagues by suspected cultists.
Eyewitnesses said the soldiers, numbering over 30, damaged buildings and vehicles, a development that sent fearful residents scampering indoors, even as traders hastily locked up their shops and fled.
Sources told The Guardian that the soldiers went from street to street looting and harassing women and children, and that some women were sexually assaulted.
Confirming the incident, Deputy Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), ASP Matthew Oku, however, denied report that any life was lost in the disturbance.
Oku said that that at about 11:50am, the Police received a distress call that a group of persons were converging on Mainland Hotel, along NASME road.
“Police immediately went to the scene, and on getting there, met a group of people in military uniform. We noticed the soldiers had a problem with inhabitants of the area. The soldiers alleged that the civilians injured one of their personnel.
“There was trouble in the area. People were attacked and injured including policemen who were there. No life was lost. The Police are still investigating the matter to ascertain what really happened. Normalcy has, however, returned as Commissioner of Police, CP Dibal Yakadi and other senior government officials visited the scene,” said Oku.
According to CP Yakadi: “Some people in military uniform attacked locals in the North Bank and destroyed property. But we are on top of the situation now.”
The Police PPRO, who disclosed that no arrests had been made, as at the time of filing this report, urged members of the public not to take the law into their hands, but maintain peace, as the Police would do everything possible to bring the perpetrators to book, no matter how highly placed they are.
President of the North Bank Development Association, Ibrahim Ndabagi, called on appropriate authorities to make the perpetrators pay for their crimes.
Ndabagi said: “They harassed our women, stole our property and beat up young innocent people for no just reason. They were even moving into a commercial bank when youths mobilized and chased them away.”
The ensuing protest by the youths held travellers hostage for over five hours on the Makurdi/Lafia/Abuja expressway, in long queues of vehicles.
Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Terkimbi Kyange, who ran into the protest, described the incident as unfortunate and unacceptable, saying the House would take up the matter and ensure justice is done.
“How can soldiers, meant to protect life and property, carry out such a heinous act? Imagine the level of destruction done and they have forced people, especially women and children, to live in fear,” Kyange said.
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber blew himself up at Rumirgo town, Borno State, yesterday, injuring four persons.
The incident comes barely 24 hours after Service Chiefs in Maiduguri vowed to end the Boko Haram insurgency in a matter of months.
The injured persons, according to Markus Apagu, Chairman of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), were taken to an undisclosed hospital in Uba, and Mubi in Adamawa State for treatment.
“We were shocked and terrified by this suicide attack at the market checkpoint. The attacker blew himself up, shattered our post, damaged two of our patrol vehicles and injured four persons,” Apagu said.
Confirming the incident in Maiduguri, yesterday, the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman, said the bombing claimed only the life of the attacker.
He said the insurgents were on the run and were attacking soft targets such as markets, motor parks and other public places.
The blast, according to Apagu, failed to stop commercial activities at the market, which serves over a dozen communities and villages in the Askira/Uba council area of the state.