His offence was being a member of Dura-Du District in Jos South Local Government Area, Plateau State, where Major General Idris Alkali (retd.) was killed on September 3, 2018.
Alkali’s killing brought trouble to the whole community and its environs.
Alkali, a former Chief of Administration, Army Headquarters, Abuja, and former Acting General Officer Commanding 7 Division, had retired from the army on August 7, 2018, after 35 years of service.
Driving alone in his black Totoya Corolla on the fateful day, he was said to have been travelling from Abuja to Bauchi via Jos when he encountered some irate youths at Dura-Du.
The youth, hundreds in number, were said to have blocked the Eastern Bypass with stones and other dangerous objects to protest the killing of 11 residents by unknown gunmen the previous night.
The general was reportedly stopped by the angry protesters, and though he identified himself as a retired military officer who was merely driving by, he was reportedly assaulted and killed.
His killers were said to have initially buried his body in a shallow grave and drowned his car in a pond, formerly a pit used by miners in the community.
After weeks of draining water from the pond by officers at Headquarters 3 Division, the late general’s car was eventually recovered.
His body parts were also thereafter found on October 31, 2018 in an abandoned well at Guchwet village, Shen District, Jos South Local Government Area.
The Du pond where the late Gen Alkali’s car was recovered
Alkali was finally buried on November 3, 2018 at the military cemetery in the Gudu District, Abuja.
However, after learning that the general had been murdered, soldiers reportedly unleashed terror on all residents of the Dura-Du community, shooting indiscriminately and allegedly killing scores of people in the process.
According to Chuwang, he was about to walk into a bar to have some beer with a friend when soldiers shot at him.
“It was around 8pm on the day the general was killed when I saw first-hand soldiers’ anger. A friend visited me at home and said we should take a stroll. So, we went for a stroll in the Fandel area, where a protest had held in the morning,” Chuwang said.
As he and his friend were about to enter the bar, they heard gunshots and ran. But in the course of running, the father of five said he was shot in his right arm.
Severely injured, with blood flowing out of his arm, Chuwang still tried to flee the dangerous scene, but before he could run fast enough, the soldier who shot his right arm shot him in the left arm also.
“At this point, I fell down. There was a wooden bench close to where I fell, so I lay under it. But the soldier who shot at me kept approaching me, I was scared,” he said with pain in his voice.
“There were some people near a filling station, so I thought I should scream in order to alert them to come to my aid, but I thought if I shouted, the soldier might just finish me off. So I kept quiet.”
His quietness saved him. It was not long before the people he looked up to for help started running helter-skelter too. Soldiers had filled the whole place and shooting at everyone.
Chuwang said, “There was a man who was in a shop. As he saw a soldier approaching his shop, he came out to escape, but as he was running, the soldier shot at him. He fell down and died.
“The people at the filling station also started running. One of the soldiers yelled, ‘Stupid people, I thought you wouldn’t run. I thought you were not afraid of guns. Why are you now running? I will finish you right now.’”
As he lay under the bench, Chuwang prayed the soldiers would leave soon so he could get up and seek help. Luckily for him, the soldiers left for another area.
He said, “That’s when I saw people coming out. I was already swimming in a pool of blood, but some people came and pulled me out from under the bench.
“They brought a car and took me to the hospital. There were five other wounded people in the car, so I was put in the boot. We were all admitted to the Plateau State Hospital. I later lost consciousness.”
After two days of receiving treatment, Chuwang said he regained consciousness and asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of his friend who he had gone out with on the day he was shot.
“Nobody wanted to tell me anything, but one man cleared his throat and told me my friend was shot dead by the soldiers and was buried the following day,” he said.
“I was in the hospital for two months and returned home early November. I still go for treatment. My right arm is getting strong but I still feel pain on my left arm.”
Chuwang, who had not been able to go to his farm since the incident, said all he wanted was justice for him and his slain friend, as well as those who suffered from the soldiers’ brutality.
The day after Alkali was killed, Simon Gregory was going for morning Mass when he was arrested by angry soldiers.
They asked him to tell them where the late general was, but he replied that he had not even heard any news about a missing general. For the denial, the 27-year-old father of two was severely punished.
He was asked to crawl on the road, roll in the mud and ‘frog-jump’ for several metres.
“That day, I didn’t close my door because morning Mass would only take about an hour. I even put water on the stove to boil slowly so that by the time I returned, I would bathe and go to work,” the Cross River State indigene said.
“When I was accosted by the soldiers, I begged them to allow me to go home to lock my door and turn off the stove before taking me anywhere they wanted to take me to, but they said they didn’t care if I burnt down the house. Then, they ordered me to sit on the floor.
“We were 37 men they arrested that morning. They told us to remove our shorts and trousers, asked us to crawl on the floor for several metres, flogging us at the same time. We were asked to roll in the mud and lay inside the bush.”
As the punishment was ongoing, Gregory said the soldiers kept asking them to disclose where the late general was buried. But since the soldiers didn’t get the response they wanted, Gregory said they were taken to the military barracks at Rukuba, Bassa Local Government Area, where they spent eight days in detention.
He said, “We didn’t bathe throughout the period. They gave us food once a day and made two people to share one sachet of water per day. Out of 37 men arrested, they released five people and the rest of us were put in one small room.
“We never slept in the night. Every night, they would put us inside the small room. We all had wounds all over our bodies, so it wasn’t easy to sleep. There was no light in the room, which wasn’t paved.”
When Gregory’s wife didn’t hear from him, she was worried, thinking her husband was among those killed by the soldiers. But when she heard that he was in detention, with one of their church’s priests, she was a bit relieved. At least, her husband was alive.
“My wife had gone to visit her mother, so she wasn’t around on the day I was arrested,” Gregory said.
“It was such a horrible experience. There were five old men with grey hair among us. Even our priest was arrested, with the vestment on him. There was cold, but we couldn’t ask for blankets. We couldn’t even ask for extra food or water.
“They didn’t allow anyone to visit us, because they knew if our family and friends saw our condition, they might protest. So they told everyone who came to visit us that we were fine, that they were not hurting us.
“A young man among us just had surgery on his head two weeks before the arrest. He was still recovering. He asked them to permit him to go and get his drugs from his house, but they refused. There was a night he collapsed and had to be revived.”
On their eighth day in detention, Gregory and others were released at around 1am. Dropped by the roadside in the dark, they had to trek for hours to their various homes.
He said, “I trekked for over an hour to my house. Like everybody else, I was tired and weak because of hunger and the injuries I had sustained. The vigilantes in the area, who knew me very well, couldn’t recognise me when they saw me. I had to call their names before they knew it was me. I have not yet fully recovered from the experience and right now, all I want is for justice to prevail.
“What they did to us was unfair. In fact, I had friends among those killed by the soldiers. I think I am lucky I was only arrested and tortured. They killed a pharmacist friend of mine.”
Not ashamed to describe the country as a jungle, Gregory wondered why the soldiers would arrest people indiscriminately and torture them without any evidence of wrongdoing.
Looting, beatings, destruction
Meanwhile, apart from indiscriminate shooting, residents who spoke to our correspondent also accused the military of wanton theft and destruction of their properties.
Chukwuemeka Atama, an indigene of Enugu State, had lived in Jos for more than a decade, but had never experienced the indiscriminate shooting of civilians by the military – until September 3, 2018.
“My wife, our little daughter and I were in the shop when we heard gunshots. I came out to see what was happening, only to see many soldiers. I thought a war was going on. There were already dead bodies on the road,” he said.
“I told my wife to leave the shop and start running and that I would go and get our daughter. As I wanted to carry my daughter up, one of the soldiers entered and wanted to shoot me, so I had to quickly run through the back door. I couldn’t carry my daughter again.”
Luckily for the Atamas, the soldier left their daughter untouched, even handing her a bar of sweet. However, hours later after the soldiers had left the scene and the couple returned to their shop, they realised that over N300,000 they kept in a container was missing.
“I suspected the soldiers of stealing my money. They also took cigarettes and other items from the shop. But life is more important than money, so I’m thankful,” Chukwuemeka said.
James Pam might have to build his business up from the scratch again. The hotel and bar owner in Letiya, an area close to Dura-Du, had been running his business successfully for three years before the soldiers’ attacks.
When he learnt that the soldiers were shooting at residents that Monday, he quickly told his manager, Amanda, to tell clients to leave the venue immediately. Thereafter, he bought big padlocks and locked the entrance to the hotel.
“But when Amanda came the following morning to inspect the facility, soldiers had broken the padlocks and gone inside the bar. They were many, you’d think they were having a party,” he said.
“Seeing my manager, they beat her mercilessly. She had to be admitted to the hospital. They lodged in our facility for weeks. They drank all the beer in the refrigerators and the counters, which had very expensive drinks. They went to the kitchen, ate the dried fish and fried pieces of meat that were preserved there.”
After the late General Alkali was buried, Pam said normalcy returned to the town. However, they left behind untold destruction and pain for the locals.
He said, “What the general’s killers did was very bad, but that doesn’t mean the community should be punished for it. If I knew those who killed the general, I would have disclosed their identities to army. Instead of looking for information the right way, they harassed and killed people.
“Now, the whole town is deserted. Everywhere is desolate. We’ve been begging people to return home. As for me, I don’t have enough money to stock the bar now and it is quite discouraging.
“But I have made up my mind that if it is just a carton of beer that I can afford, I will buy and start my business again. I will start with one or two workers.”
Despite all that happened, Pam said he would not be able to sue the military.
“If you sue them, you are risking your life, you know this is Nigeria,” he said.
Indeed, our correspondent, who toured Pam’s facility, saw bullet hole-ridden walls and gates. There were also shattered glasses and beer bottles all over the floor, while the furniture in the place was turned upside down.
Clearing his throat on a windy afternoon that our correspondent visited the town, Labi Dep, who looked like he was in his 80s, said his 25-year-old son was among those killed by the soldiers.
“My wife and I were at home when the shooting started. There were many soldiers on the streets; you’d think a war was going on. Unfortunately, my son was outside and was shot dead,” Dep said.
“I have 10 other children and I hope God will keep them for me. We don’t ever wish to see such brutality here again. These are people who should protect us, but they are the ones killing us.”
Esther David, 38, has also been mourning since September 3 when soldiers invaded Latya. By the time they finished their ‘operation,’ her husband had been killed.
“I was in one of the shops when the soldiers started shooting. I ran but my husband was hit by a bullet. He fell and died. He was 40 years old,” she said.
“Some people were also killed in their shops. Now that my husband is gone; it will be very difficult for me to take care of our six children.”
‘Justice must be served’
A Jos-based human rights advocate, Ms Victoria Pam, described as pathetic the treatment meted out to “innocent civilians,” saying they didn’t deserve such punishment.
“It all points to the fact that this country is a jungle. One general died and communities were punished. All hell broke loose,” she said. “While the loss of the general’s life was painful and condemnable, the military ought to have exercised caution and not kill innocent people. That was definitely not the way to honour the general.”
Pam said the military should pay compensation to those affected by its brutality.
Likewise, Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Bimbo Akinsanya, said murdering civilians was not the right way to honour the late general.
He said the military should have carried out a thorough investigation and allowed the rule of law to take its course.
“We are not under military rule anymore, when a few men of might lorded over others. In a democracy, the rule of law is the last resort, and that’s what was expected of the military,” Akinsanya said.
“I condemn the murder of a general who had served his country for 35 years. But then, communities should never be punished because of the death of one man.”
The Plateau State Commissioner for Information, Mr Yakubu Datti, said he would react to the allegations raised by the residents of Dura-Du and its environs on military brutality.
But he didn’t get back to our correspondent – despite several reminders in the form of calls and text messages to his phone for over a week.
However, the Commander, 3 Division Garrison, Nigerian Army, Plateau State, Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohammed, said it was unthinkable that the residents would “lie” against the military in spite of their atrocities.
He said, “In my entire 31 years of military service, I’ve never seen a society so hostile and filled with criminals from the leaders to the followers as Dura-Du. They are liars. We did not kill anyone. In fact, those who were arrested for killing General Alkali are still in custody, we did not kill them.
“Imagine a society so hostile that after they killed the general, cut off his head and dragged his body on the streets, with everyone jubilating. We saw this with the help of MTN (telecoms company), which provided some videos of the incident.”
Mohammed said the late general had N3m in his car, with which he wanted to pay his farm workers their salaries.
“They shared this money among themselves. Those people are criminals and they have been killing people before now. We saw three other cars in the pond where we found General Alkali’s car,” he said.
Mohammed added, “They are saying we looted their shops and killed civilians; where is the evidence? Let the relatives of the dead come forward and present proofs. We complied with the rules of engagement in the communities.
“Rather than telling lies to cover up their atrocities, those people should apologise to the Nigerian Army for killing a general who served his country for 35 years.”
Mohammed said the military would like a judicial commission of inquiry to be set up to investigate the activities of the Dura-Du people.
“This is the first time I would ever see a general being killed in the way they did it. They are heartless people!” he said.