Hundreds of youths, mostly members of the vigilante group assisting the security forces in hunting the Boko Haram insurgents, otherwise known as civilian JTF, yesterday staged a peaceful protest in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital over the decision of the military to release some suspected insurgents earlier arrested by the vigilante.
Our correspondent reported that following the latest renewed bloody attacks on various areas of the state, coupled with fears that the militants may storm Maiduguri, the vigilante intensified stop-and – search exercise inside markets, motor parks and various streets.
It was, however, gathered that while searching motorists behind the Lake Chad Training Institute along Maiduguri-Dikwa highway around 3pm, the volunteers sighted six persons inside a commercial vehicle, armed with AK-47 rifles and dressed in military uniforms but wearing turbans.
The youths suddenly apprehended the suspects on suspicion of belonging to the dreaded Boko Haram, before handing them over to soldiers at the nearby Sector 4 security check-point.
However, trouble started at about 4pm when the soldiers released the suspects, arguing that they were ‘genuine’ soldiers arrested in ‘error’.
Thereafter, a an argument ensued between the soldiers and the youth, who suspected foul play and insisted that the men arrested were indeed members of the sect and not genuine soldiers.
The peaceful protest nearly turned violent when the youth involved in the arrest of the suspects mobilised their colleagues in the neighbouring areas of Gwange, Ruwan Zafi, Customs and Abbaganaram.
The angry-looking volunteers alleged that in the past they had apprehended several suspects and handed them over to the military but were surprised that the suspects were later set free.
The protest, which lasted for over an hour crippled socio-economic activities in some areas as the aggrieved youth barricaded some streets and roads, causing serious traffic jam.
The incident caused serious tension when the youth started burning used tears, insisting that the suspects are Boko Haram members and must face the wrath of the law.
When the situation was getting out of hand, hundreds of soldiers deployed in the affected areas fired warning shots in attempt to disperse the youth, but became defiant.
The situation was later brought under control when some top military personnel waded into the disagreement, after adopting diplomatic approach to calm down the aggrieved youth.
Spokesman for the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Col. Mohammed Dole could not be reached for comment as at press time.
Meanwhile, the daring Boko Haram insurgents have continued their deadly onslaughts on innocent civilians in the state as 36 people were killed in another attack at Mafa local government area of the state late Sunday night.
Mafa, which is about 30 kilometres from Maiduguri, harboured one of the major hide-outs and training camps of the Boko Haram, which were later dislodged by the military after an emergency rule was declared by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Three policemen were also reportedly killed when the invaders threw explosives into their moving patrol vehicle.
Similarly, the whole town was set on fire, with many houses, shops, vehicles and public buildings burnt to ashes.
Several people have also sustained gunshot injuries and burns in the attack which lasted for over three hours.
The latest wave of bloodbath visited on various communities by the militants came 24 hours after similar incidents in which 92 people lost their lives in a twin bomb explosions as well as gun attack in Maiduguri, the state capital and Mainok village in Kaga local government area respectively.
Residents who fled to Maiduguri told newsmen that the incident occurred when over 50 suspected insurgents, armed with assault rifles, explosives and other sophisticated weapons, invaded the area, and begun a killing spree.
A resident of the area, Malam Shettima Kaigama, who escaped the attack and took refuge at the Gwange Ward in Maiduguri, told newsmen that the dead victims were already buried.
The escapee, who could not control his emotion, wept while speaking to reporters, saying few residents who stayed in the town have commenced extensive search for more corpses inside bushes and under rubbles of the destroyed buildings.
He described the attack as horrendous and merciless, saying the gunmen stormed the area in a convoy of 10 Hilux vehicles, shooting everyone at sight and throwing explosives on every buildings.
The state Police Commissioner, Lawal Tanko, who confirmed the incident, declined further comments on the casualty figures, saying security forces were deployed to the area to restore normalcy.
However, Senator Khalifa Ahmed Zanna, who represents the area in the Senate confirmed the attack in a BBC Hausa service report monitored in Maiduguri, saying 28 persons were killed with 15 soldiers declared missing.
“Report reaching me from the area indicates that Boko Haram members have invaded the area on Sunday night, killing 28 persons, leaving several others wounded and burnt all existing buildings. So far, the dead victims were already buried and the town deserted as residents flee to Maiduguri”, he said.
Asked on the present situation in the area, especially regarding whether any assistance was offered to the fleeing persons, the lawmaker said: “So far, there is not a single tangible arrangement to cushion their plights. In fact no arrangement was made to receive the refugees in Maiduguri as some of them trekked for their dear lives”.
Zanna further revealed that prior to the incident, residents had received threat letters on the impending attack, purportedly issued by the insurgents, which forced majority of them to flee to Maiduguri.
He added that though more security forces were deployed as reinforcement to the ones already on ground as fears of the residents intensified following the threat letters, public schools and some government offices were shut down.