A recent Plateau State crisis believed to have consumed an army general, Idris Alkali, who is currently missing, has exposed the underbelly of a once pristine city of Jos, writes Seriki Adinoyi
It seems the last has not been heard or seen of the perennial attacks and killings on the Plateau, which have failed to abate despite efforts made from various quarters, including governments at various levels, to bring back Plateau State to sanity.
On the trail of the crisis have been several victims including students, farmers, villagers, herders, travellers, federal and state lawmakers, and security personnel, with the most recent being a senior army officer, Major General Idris Alkali, who was in transit through Jos and got missing. The mystery behind his disappearance is yet to be unravelled.
Alkali, retired from service as the Chief of Administration, Nigerian Army Headquarters, a few weeks before he was declared missing on September 3, this year a day after gunmen swooped on Lopandet and killed 13 persons. He was said to be travelling from Abuja to Bauchi and somewhere around Jos, his family lost contact with him.
Gunmen had swooped on Lopandet community in Dwei of Du district of Jos South Local Government Area and killed at least 13 persons on Sunday evening of September 12, 2018, at a social spot in front of a hotel. The killings generated reactions in the area that eventually degenerated into violence the following day, September 13, the same day the General travelled through Jos and went missing. There were speculations that he might have run into the rioters.
Spokesman for the military Special Task Force (STF) in Jos, Major Adam Umar said the General’s whereabouts was not yet established, and that a search troop had been deployed by the Nigerian Army Headquarters to unravel his disappearance, and that it would not be proper to conclude that he had been killed, since there was no concrete and physical evidence suggesting that he was killed. He added that he could not be said to have died for now until his body is recovered. “That is why we are searching for him.”
A search-and-rescue officer in charge of the operation, Brig. General Ibrahim Mohammed, said they had it on credible intelligence that Gen. Alkali got missing around Du area of Jos South local government Area, and that the Army Headquarters had mandated them to carry out the operation.
General Mohammed added, “In the search for the missing Major General Alkali, a lot of things were done. All the hospitals in Jos were toured and checked. Besides, we have checked all the accident vehicles and scenes. And on credible intelligence, we now had to come to this community in the past one week. We are trying to find three things. One is the whereabouts of General Alkali, who is now missing. We are also looking for his vehicle, which is a black Toyota Corolla, and we want to find out if he is still alive or not.”
The troop said it was suspecting a mining pond in the area; and that the General might have been killed and pushed into the deep pond together with his vehicle.
Mohammed said, “Again, we have credible information that some vehicles were actually pushed into this pond. We’ve been here in the past three days trying to see if we can salvage anything from the pond. The pond is a mining site, and it’s very deep. We have a crane, and we have used all kinds of methods and as the last resort, we have decided that we are going to evacuate the water.”
He said soldiers have been stationed there and would try to provide protection for the community and other communities in the state.
Meanwhile, there has been a heavy presence of soldiers in the community where the incident was alleged to have happened, thus creating anxiety and panic.
Narrating the circumstances surrounding the General’s disappearance, Brigadier General Texas Chukwu, Director Army Public Relations said, “Major Gen IM Alkali (N/8353) retired from service on 7 August 2018 after 35 years, one month and three days of meritorious service to his fatherland.”
He added: “The General was entitled to keep his driver and orderly, which he still has at the time of his disappearance, and as a retired senior military officer, he has the freedom to travel anywhere without asking for permission from the Army. He is also free to travel with or without his driver and/or his orderly.”
Texas revealed further: “The wife of the missing General, Mrs. Salamatu Alkali had drawn the attention of the Nigerian Army authorities to a suspected case of the missing senior officer on September 5, 2018. According to the wife, the retired senior Nigerian Army officer left his home in Abuja for Bauchi on September 3, 2018.
“He travelled without his driver and orderly but drove himself in a black Toyota Corolla. The wife informed that when she last spoke to him on his GSM number 09056890335, he claimed to have passed Jos and was on his way to Bauchi.
“The Army also contacted the MTN and Glo networks to furnish her with the missing senior officer call records. Appropriate technical intelligence facilities were also put into use and the senior officer’s phone was tracked to somewhere in Du District, near Jos, Plateau State.
“The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) has tasked Operation SAFE HAVEN as well as GOC, 3 Division to intensify the search for the missing retired senior officer in collaboration with the Fire Service, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other relevant agencies.”
Texas added that in the course of the search for the retired military officer, sources informed that he might have been killed and his body and car dumped into a deep mining pit around Du District of Jos South Local Government Area, and that since receiving the report of his missing, the COAS has directed that no stone be left unturned to locate and rescue the officer. This suspicion was also driven by the presence of engine oil spillage on the surface of the pond water.
Though many believe he might have run into hoodlums that protested the killing of the 13 by gunmen, there are other insinuations surrounding his disappearance.
Some are of the opinion that Alkali, who happened to be a no-nonsense general might have been hunted down by the toes he had stepped on while in service.
He was alleged to have been dissatisfied with the military authorities over issues bordering on siphoning of peace-keeping funds meant for fighting war against the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents, thereby enriching themselves at the detriment of the gallant service-men and women at the centre or theatre of Operation Lafiya Dole, where officers and men of the Nigeria Army have been sent to face Boko Haram with inferior.
Another school of thought holds the view that the General had repeatedly been fighting for justice and fairness regarding the retention of the service chiefs, who ought to have long been retired but currently retained by the Presidency despite calls from various quarters, a development that has made the officer unhappy before he retired. There are fears too that his disappearance may not be unconnected with this.
With all the competing insinuations, the army became more determined to unravel the cause of his disappearance. So far, a remarkable progress has been made with the soldiers discovering the General’s car in the pond. Two other vehicles have also been found in the pond. Though his body was not found inside the car, his shoes, cloths and umbrella were in the car. The soldiers became more determined to evacuate the pond to the very last to see if his body would be found.
What is, however, curious is that the General reportedly told his wife that he had passed Jos and had already entered Bauchi State and was on his way to his farm. How then did he become a victim in Jos after he had passed? Were his body and car brought and dumped in the pond after he was killed elsewhere?
It is also curious that the General travelled such a long distance without his driver and orderly. Also, it is expected that the General should have heard that there was a crisis in Jos on that day. Why then would he choose to take through the lonely by-pass, where there was riot rather than passing through the safe city centre? It is however also possible that the General, who was on his way from Abuja may not have heard that there was a crisis in the area.
Also, over 500 women of the community came out half-naked and dressed in black attires protesting against the removal of water from the pond by the army which the military authorities resisted. Thus, the question was, if the women were innocent, why were they kicking against the evacuation of the pond? Could it be that they were aware of the General’s ordeal surrounding the pond?
Though the women said the pond is their source of water during the dry season, and that there is a deity attached to the pond such that if it dries up their husbands and children would be afflicted with the spirit of death, the discovery of the car has proved the Army right, and has further made the community culpable.
The military had allegedly threatened that the women and indeed the community will be severely dealt with should the body of the General be recovered from the community. But while the body is yet to be discovered, the Army has already laid siege to the community and arresting suspected residents.
Community sources said dozens of military personnel stormed the area in the early hours of Wednesday and arrested residents from their sleep. The soldiers allegedly forced their subjects to surrender and board a military truck wherein they were stripped naked and taken to detention, it was learnt.
Confirming the arrests, Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 3 Armoured Division, Col. Kayode Ogunsanya said “the army is on a mission to find the missing Major General Idris Alkali (retd.) whose vehicle was discovered in a pond near the community after days of search by the army authorities. The general area of Dura-Du district in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State has been cordoned off. The aim is to search for the missing Major General, dead or alive.”
The arrest has created palpable fear in and around the community, as they fear that the soldiers might massacre or inflict more harm on the residents as once witnessed in Zaki Biam, Benue State and Odi, Bayelsa State.
Though the anger of the army is understandable, they are expected to exercise civility in dealing with the issue. The army authorities had said last week that it was not considering any such actions.
But a non-governmental group, Stefanus Foundation, has raised the alarm that the Dura community has been locked down by the Army.
In a statement by its Media Officer, Rachel Noah, the foundation said, “Information from Dura community of Du, in Jos South LGA says soldiers today found another car with plate number: Bauchi-AG 645 TRR, making it the third car found in the pond, the missing general’s car was found. As a result, the report says the soldiers blocked people around Buken Academy in Doi, telling people to switch off their phones.
“In Latya, residents of the community said their area had been cordoned off and since morning, they have been under lock and key as the military is making street arrests and going from house to house in search of males, taken outside and flogged.
“Another report says Berom men and teenage boys in Lapwongit, in Dura, are also being stripped naked and flogged by the military in the name of trying to find those that killed the late General. Other sources said soldiers have been ordered to level the community due to the death of the retired general. They want to take them by surprise.
“This has become a great concern as the military seems to put so much energy in apprehending a whole community for a crime they might be innocent of, while killings in many communities are still going on with no single arrest.”
Alkali’s ordeal is just one of the many harrowing experiences of victims in the Plateau crisis that has refused to go.
Senator Gyang Dantong and an Assemblyman, Hon Gyang Fulani met similar fate some time ago, when the two met their death where they had gone to mourn with a community that was attacked and hundreds of people killed.
Students at the University of Jos have not been spared too. Many a time, they had run into the crisis and killed. Innocent travellers had many times met their untimely death when they ran into crisis in Jos. Soldiers on a peace-keeping mission had also died in this struggle to bring back peace to Jos. Many of them may not have been as notable as Gen. Alkali, and therefore their deaths not as heralded, they are not lesser Nigerians than Alkali.
As the search for the unfortunate General continues, government, observers say, must caution the military to exercise restraint in their anger, so that they don’t end up causing more atrocities than Jos residents already have in their hands.
Their courage to evacuate water from such a huge mining pond must, however, be saluted. They have had to pay huge prices in the course of their operations in Jos.
Above all, governments, individuals, and groups must put efforts together to return Jos and Plateau State in general to the ‘Home of Peace and Tourism’ that it was known for.