In the past couple of weeks, security operatives have come under series of brutal, calculated attacks, which have claimed almost 150 lives in different parts of the country, with the worst case being in Nasarawa State last week. As bitter reactions still trail the killings, DONATUS NADI spoke with some widows, who gathered in protest of alleged neglect by the police and the delay in releasing their husbands’ corpses.
At the Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital, Lafia, Nasarawa State, families gathered to identify their loved ones. Both men and women of all ages, ethnic and religious persuasions wept openly as the charred remains of police officers were displayed.
A four-day blockade of the Lafia-Abuja federal highway was carried out by wives of the slain officers followed the attacks, because they claimed they had heard nothing from the concerned authorities on the fate of their husbands.
This seeming insensitivity and nonchalance on something that affected them so fundamentally infuriated the women, leading to the four-day blockade of the Lafia-Abuja highway to press home their demand for the release of their husbands’ corpses.
In the ensuing protest, the President of the Senate, David Mark, was also turned back to Abuja by the angry women who refused to allow him passage even after several pleas from his aides.
When LEADERSHIP SUNDAY visited the Akwanga-Mopol 38 Base, a few mobile police officers were seen sitting helplessly at the entrance to the base with some of the slain officers’ wives clustered under a mango tree, speechless.
Baring her mind, Mrs. Veronica Peter, whose red and swollen eyes, obviously from days of weeping, said “My husband was not told exactly where he was being taken to for the special duty, and besides, someone was peacefully carrying out his traditional practice without harming anybody, why go to confront him, only to end up sacrificing our husbands in the process?”
The police authority had also been accused of deliberately concealing from the officers, the exact nature and place of this operation.
Mrs. Mary Sunday, who spoke to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY said, “My husband said the operation was around Benue, where a fight had erupted between farmers and Fulani only to learn that they were taken to go and arrest an herbalist.” She demanded that requisite medical tests be carried out to identify the dead bodies because she would want to bury her husband by herself. “I want to bury my husband myself. So, government should ensure that autopsy is conducted to enable families identify their corpses for proper burial.”
A pregnant mother of five, Mrs. Joy Danladi, who had lost her voice, told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, “Every morning, my children would ask me when their daddy would be coming back, and I don’t know what to tell them. I have not been to school and don’t have a job, and now our breadwinner is gone. What am I going to do with these children?” she asked, crying profusely.
Although the Nigerian public does not hide its dislike for the activities of some policemen who are most often regarded as the common enemy to things considered civil, that does not stop them from feeling empathy over such barbarity as was visited on innocent police officers who were carrying out their lawful duties of effecting the arrest of those the government considered to be carrying out illegal activities in contravention to the law of the land.
On May 8, 2013, over 90 people were feared killed in a gun duel involving security operatives and members of the Eggon militia group, Ombatse, in Alakyo village of Lafia East Development Area of Nasarawa State. The operatives had been drafted there to arrest the leader of the group, Baba Alakyo, and recover arms said to be in his possession.
Of the 11 trucks of security men deployed to the area, only two returned safely to Lafia with only 20 policemen, nine of whom received different degrees of gunshot wounds. One of those killed include an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Momoh, who led the team; some officers of the State Security Service (SSS), and about 15 Civil Defence Corps officers.
Mrs. Mary Samuel, an Idoma woman, who came from Otukpo to see if she could take custody of her brother-in-law’s corpse, said, “My in-law was serving in Keffi when he was asked to come to Lafia for a special operation, but was never told where.
We only suspected something was wrong when we started calling him on phone and it rang endlessly before dying out completely after several hours. Our fears were further confirmed when we heard the announcement on the radio, saying only 20 were killed; but now, we know better. How to relay the news to his sick wife is our greatest problem. That woman could just die,” she added.
Reacting in the same vein, Mrs. Justina said, “They succeeded in killing these men, and instead of them to allow us see the dead bodies, they went ahead to burn them beyond recognition,” adding that, “government must see to it that these people pay for this gruesome act.”
Meanwhile, some widows and other relatives of the slain security personnel, who have been protesting the murder of their relatives also poured into the Government House, where they registered their anger against the government and the security agencies.
The wives of the slain officers were received by Governor Tanko Al-Makura and other security chiefs in the state. Speaking on their behalf, Mrs. Rita Benjamin, widow of one of the slain personnel, Corporal Benjaimin Zakari, said, “Our husbands left to protect lives and property of other Nigerians. They didn’t return, because there was nobody to protect them. They were told that they were going to work in Makurdi, in neighbouring Benue State.
So, they did not even know where they were being taken to. They kissed their families goodbye and left happily. Today, we, their widows, children, unborn children and other relatives grieve. Oh, there is God, and we will continue to believe in Him. But we have lost confidence in both government and security agencies to protect those whose duty it is to protect Nigerians.”
She appealed to the concerned authorities to allow them take custody of the corpses of their husbands. “We are not happy with the condition their bodies are being kept. They are decomposing, increasing our trauma.”
Al-Makura expressed his grief, saying he was personally touched because some of the personnel, including ACP Momoh, who led the operation, were known and close to him. He sympathised with the widows, and pleaded that they take heart and consider the fate of their husbands as an act of God.
The governor announced the sum of N3 million to the slain ACP Momoh, N1.5 million each to the two Superintendents of Police, and N1 million each to other personnel, as part of the state government’s support to the families of the slain officers.