Michael Olugbode and John Shiklam
Major streets in Kaduna, capital of Kaduna State, and Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, were deserted yesterday as the 24-hour curfew imposed on the two states in the wake of terrorist attacks took its toll on life and economic activities.
Many of the residents in both states kept indoors, while those who ventured out within their neighbourhood went in search of basic needs such as food and water.
But despite the curfew, violence continued to rage as there were reports of pockets of attacks on people in Kaduna, which has been seized by reprisals since Sunday when three churches were bombed in the capital city and Zaria.
In Damaturu, where Boko Haram militants and security agents engaged in a gun battle, officials of emergency agencies went out to evacuate bodies from the streets; with a source saying no fewer than 40 bodies had been taken to the Specialist Hospital, Damaturu.
Amid the violence in the two states, Pope Benedict XVI expressed worry over the attacks on the innocent and urged the terrorists to stop the orgy of bloodletting.
The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, and the Acting Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Dikko Abubakar, who where in Kaduna yesterday to assess the situation, assured the people that security agents would ensure that those hiding under religion to foment trouble would be brought to book.
On the deployment of security personnel to the state, a Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) chieftain in the state, Alhaji Ahmado Yaro, confirmed that the security deployment had increased.
Major streets in Kaduna like Ahmadu Bello Way, Independence Way, Constitution Road, Kachia Road and Sabo Express were shorn of the usual thick human and vehicular traffic.
Armed soldiers and policemen were seen patrolling the city, while security checkpoints, manned by a combined team of soldiers, the police and the Civil Defence Corps men were mounted at strategic locations in Kaduna.
Investigations, however, revealed that there was palpable tension in some parts of the metropolis as residents alleged that there were “fake soldiers” going about terrorising people, especially in the Malali area.
But police sources dismissed the allegations, stating that some people were spreading rumours, which were fuelling the crisis.
The curfew has also taken its toll on many people who were caught unawares, as some of them complained that they were finding it difficult to get food items and meet other basic domestic needs, having exhausted the food and money in their homes.
Some, however, took the risk of sneaking out to the ATM at the Barnawa branch of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc to withdraw money, but it was a futile effort as the machine had run out of cash.
Residents also complained of lack of water, electricity and their inability to fuel their generators since the petrol stations were not open for business, like other business organisations.
“The curfew is in force and people are indoors. It’s quiet everywhere,” said Nasiru Abdullahi, a resident of Tudun Wada, one of the areas where there was violence in the city.
Police spokesman, Frank Mba, a Chief Superintendent of Police, said he was “confident the curfew would be relaxed soon,” while assuring the residents that the police “have enough men to manage any eventuality.”
Also, the Kaduna State police announced the arrest of nine suspects alleged to be the masterminds behind the killings in the state.
The state Police Commissioner said yesterday that the police found in their possession 16 high calibre explosives, some cars believed to be stolen, 180 AK47 rifles, two revolvers pistols, eight AK47 rifle magazines and 110 rounds of live ammunition.
The commissioner of police implored the people to exercise restraint and live in peace with one another. He said the police would deal decisively with any troublemaker in the state. “We would not relent to arrest anybody who posses dangerous arms.”
On his part, Pope Benedict XVI, during an address from the Vatican yesterday, called for an end to the violence in Nigeria as he urged the people to embrace national reconciliation.
“I am following with deep concern the news from Nigeria, where terrorist attacks are continuing, especially against Christians,” he was quoted by the British Broadcasting Corporation as saying. “I appeal to those responsible for the violence to immediately stop spilling the blood of innocent people.”
During their visit to Kaduna yesterday, Petinrin and Abubakar who went round the city for an on-the-spot assessment of the security situation, commended the state government for the way it had handled the crisis so far.
Earlier at a meeting with the governor, Patrick Yakowa, the security chiefs expressed sympathy with the government and people of the state over the attacks and assured them that security agencies would collaborate to ensure that normalcy returns soon.
In Damaturu, however, the situation was still tense yesterday as security agencies and officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and their state counterparts began evacuating bodies.
Police Commissioner in Yobe State, Patrick Egbwuniwe, yesterday revealed that 40 persons, including 34 suspected Boko Haram members, four policemen and two soldiers were killed in the crisis that engulfed the state on Monday.
But his statement contradicted the claim by a source at the Sani Abacha Hospital, Damaturu, where the corpses were deposited, who had said eight policemen and three soldiers were brought in dead, along with several other corpses.
According to the source, no less than 47 persons, including police officers and soldiers, were killed in the crisis that left many people wounded in the city.
He said that the figure was not conclusive as many other corpses were buried by their relatives without taking them to the hospitals.
According to him, “The death toll will be officially determined by the security agencies. You can speak with the JTF officials or the police, but what we saw in the hospital here are eight policemen and three soldiers with several others.”
The crisis in the state has triggered recriminations between the state governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam, and the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) following a disagreement over a purported attack on churches.
While the governor has maintained that no church was attacked during the siege on the capital, the leadership of CAN has refuted his claim.
The governor in a statement by his Special Adviser on Press Affairs and Information, Abdullahi Bego, urged the people, particularly residents of Damaturu metropolis, to disregard the “false” text messages being circulated by those he labelled as mischievous elements who want to cause disaffection between the Christian and Muslim communities in the state.
The circulated text message, according to him, stated, “Christians were being attacked, while churches were set ablaze in Damaturu, and that Yobe was boiling, following the incident between security agents and Boko Haram in the state capital on Monday.”
But speaking Wednesday on the Damaturu attacks and bombings, the state CAN Chairman, Rev. Idi Garba, told reporters that some churches were attacked and set ablaze by Boko Haram in Jerusalem and Nasarawa wards of Damaturu.
He listed the attacked churches as the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), Regional Church Council (RCC) headquarters at Pwari, COCIN Bakin Kogi and TRACON Church.
A resident of the town, Mallam Haruna Iliya, also told journalists that there is a big effort to conceal the actual number of casualties resulting from the gun battle, adding, “Contrary to claims by government that no church was burnt by the assailants, a COCIN Church at Sawari ward close to my house was burnt down and people were killed there.”
He said: “I managed to escape with my life. They burnt the church; you can come over when the curfew is lifted and get the photographs.”
Also yesterday, the Joint Task Force in Borno State alerted the public of plans by Boko Haram to engage in series of suicide bombings. The JTF in a statement by its spokesman, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, said the sect had arranged to use stolen vehicles as conveyors of impoverised explosive devices (IED) and warned those whose vehicles had been stolen to report to security agencies immediately.
Despite efforts to restore peace in Kaduna and Yobe, the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, has promised to unleash more attacks on churches and government building.
The sect claimed that it had moved 300 suicide bombers to Kaduna and Plateau States to attack churches and exact maximum revenge for Muslims killed in Jos and Southern Kaduna.