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9 Oct 2018

Commotion as soldiers detain PUNCHman, others for 28 hours over missing General

PUNCH newspapers correspondent in Plateau State, Friday Olokor, has been arrested by some soldiers in Jos, the state capital.

Olokor, who had reportedly gone to eat at a restaurant, Anne Breeze Restaurant, in the Rayfield area of Jos, was picked up by masked military officials around 9.15pm on Saturday.

PUNCH Metro gathered that the soldiers, who were attached to a special quad in Maiduguri, Borno State, were recently deployed in the state by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Yusuf Buratai, over the ethnic and religious crisis in Plateau State.

The soldiers were also reportedly involved in the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a retired army General, Mohammed Alkali.

Alkali went missing on Monday, September 3, 2018; a day after some gunmen swooped on Dura-Du in the Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State and killed 13 persons.

Some people had been arrested by the military before Olokor was picked up at the restaurant together with 36 other residents of the area.

The 49-year-old said he initially thought that the soldiers were bandits, adding that despite identifying himself with his PUNCH identity card, he was thrown into a truck.

He said, “On Saturday, October 6, 2018, I went to buy potatoes and eggs at the popular Anne Breeze Restaurant. The waiters had not brought my food when soldiers (about 30 of them) in two trucks, all masked and armed, swooped on the place, shot indiscriminately and arrested everybody.

“My initial feeling was that they were either Fulani herdsmen (who had been a thorn in the flesh of the Berom ethnic group), fake soldiers in military uniform or Boko Haram insurgents, because many of them were masked.

“Passersby were not spared; women and other residents of the area were arrested. I identified myself as a journalist with The PUNCH, but they did not listen to me; they refused to see my ID card. We were 37 victims of the invasion; 28 men and nine women.”

The reporter noted that the raid was led by one Captain Rabiu of the 3 Division of the Nigerian Army Headquarters in Rukuba Barracks, Jos.

He said while two elderly men in their mid-70s, including a retired Chief Superintendent of Police, Chuwang Choji, and his son, were arrested, a serving Army General who was “drinking with a young woman” was spared.

PUNCH Metro learnt that the government, due to the crisis in the state, had imposed a curfew from 10pm till 6am.

“The invading soldiers also picked waiters at another drinking joint called Big Daddy and many other persons by roadsides who were trekking to their homes.

“Three persons who came as wedding guests from Makurdi and Keffi, including the Information and Protocol Officer of Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Abraham Ekpo, were unlucky. They were accommodated in a hotel in the vicinity of Steffans Night Club and had just decided to take a walk when they were arrested.

“As the soldiers took us away, we were told to put off our telephones. The law was that you don’t talk, you don’t move and even when faced with the call of nature, you are in trouble.

“All the men were driven to the 3 Division of the Nigerian Army in Rukuba Barracks, Jos, and kept in an uncompleted building. They confiscated all our belongings, including telephones, money, ATM cards and house keys.

“Many of the victims could not take their cars and personal property. We had no access to our families; I could not communicate with my family, editors, friends and colleagues because they took our phones,” he added.

Olokor said the soldiers insisted that the residents must reveal where the missing general was.

“All the male suspects in captivity were chained in pairs, hands and legs. If one wants to answer the call of nature, his partner must go with him, under the tight security of a soldier.

“The nine women among us, including the owner of Anne Breeze Restaurant, were kept in a separate place as a form of preferential treatment. The rest of us were in the uncompleted building, which was manned by heavily armed men of the military police.

“The room the 28 of us were kept cannot take 10 persons ordinarily. We were bitten by mosquitoes. Throughout our stay, one young soldier kept issuing threats.

 “Before we slept, they gave us the opportunity to go out to urinate; but at bedtime, that grace stopped. We had to urinate in a plastic container. A very old Plateau native urinated more than 10 times before daybreak. Baba said he was sick and on drugs which had been responsible for the constant need to urinate. On one occasion, he had to spill it on the ground as he did not get quick permission,” Olokor added.

The victim said the following day, he was called and interviewed about “five times,” adding that the soldiers took his photos and house address and those of the other detainees.

He said his pleas that he was a journalist and had only gone to eat fell on deaf ears.

“They never answered me until I met a responsible officer during one of the interview sessions. I told him that I was working on the press statement sent to me by the Deputy Director of Army Public Relations in 3 Division Nigerian Army, Col. Kayode Ogunsanya, when the invaders struck.

“He instructed that they should get my phone; he saw the details of my chat with Ogunsanya and he said I should wait.

“When Ogunsanya came, he confirmed that we had been communicating. He was dazed that despite introducing myself, they still held me. He promised to ‘do something.’

“Despite that, I and others were still held for over seven hours before our eventual freedom,” Olokor said.

The Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Plateau State, Mr Paul Jatau, condemned the action of the soldiers.

He threatened that if nothing was done to redress the wrong, journalists in the state would refrain from covering activities of the military.

He said, “We have been working with the military as partners and unfortunately they chose one of our own for maltreatment even after he introduced himself as a journalist. We condemn what they did and we have told them in a statement that if something is not done, we may ask our members to suspend coverage of the military activities.”

The Deputy Director of the Army Public Relations, 3 Division, Ogunsanya, said Olokor was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

He said, “You know there is curfew in Jos. We are looking for the retired army officer and where he went to eat was close to the scene. There was a raid in the early hours of the curfew; two bars were raided at the same time. He was unfortunate to be in one of them.

“He was picked up and taken to the barracks. When I was told that a journalist was there, I asked them to release him. I even gave him an escort that saw him off.”

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