About 486 northerners arrested in Abia State by the army on Monday as terror suspects are traders and migrant workers, the leader of Northern Traders in Port Harcourt said yesterday. 
They were arrested by soldiers of the 144 Battalion of the in Asa, near Aba, Abia State and labelled Boko Haram suspects.
They were travelling in a convoy of 35 Toyota Hiace buses when they were intercepted around 2am between Arungwa Junction on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Highway and Imo Gate, the Abia/Rivers boundary.
However, Leader of Northern Nigerian Traders in Port Harcourt Alhaji Bala Matu said the suspects are patriotic Nigerians engaged in their various businesses to eke out a living in Rivers State.
Speaking in an interview on telephone, Alhaji Matu said that the soldiers just arrested patriotic and innocent people and falsely accused them as Boko Haram members.“They are traders. I am their chairman; they are under me and they are doing their own businesses. They are people that are selling ear rings, brocades, sugar cane, carrots and many other types of items.
“Even shoe makers and wheelbarrow pushers are among them. They are not Boko Haram members, they are not Boko Haram; they are genuine traders. They are patriotic Nigerians,” he said.
Matu alleged that upon being arrested by the soldiers, the handsets of the suspects were collected and switched off to prevent people from accessing them through phones.
He added that respected people such as Alhaji Buba, leader of the Fulani community, who is also one of the leaders of the northern residents in Port Harcourt that went to the barrack to ascertain what led to the arrest of the suspects, were equally detained as soon as they got there.
Matu complained that the suspects are not detained in good condition. “People who are under military detention, how will they be under good condition?” he retorted when asked about their condition.
Several calls put to one of the telephone lines of the Abia State Commissioner for Information and Strategy Dr.Eze Chimkamnayo for comments were not answered. The second telephone line was switched off.
The Army Public Relations Officer at the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu, Col. H.E.Gambo’s telephone line was switched off when attempts were made by our reporter to reach him for reaction.
But the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Theodore Orji Mr. Charles Ajunwa told our reporter on phone that the suspects were still undergoing interrogation by the soldiers, and also being fed.
“They are being fed. If you see them, they are being fed. No torture of any kind. Nobody is torturing any of them. They are okay,” Ajunwa said during a brief telephone chat with our reporter in Enugu.
Chimkanayo, who had earlier paraded the suspects before journalists in the state, said the suspects were stopped and moved to Asa. He added that investigation showed that the suspects, aged 16 years and above, were travelling from Kano, Taraba and Jigawa states.
However, Defence headquarters said yesterday that a major terrorism kingpin has been picked up from among the 486 suspects.
A statement issued yesterday by Defence spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade said, “a terror kingpin in the list of wanted terrorists by security forces in Nigeria had been detected in the ongoing screening of the 486 suspects nabbed while travelling in over 33 Hiace Hummer buses at night along Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway last Sunday.
“The identified terror kingpin has been taken into custody. Further development will be communicated to you in due course.
“So far other security agencies including the para-military have joined the screening exercise to ascertain the status of the remaining suspects,” the statement added.
Major General Olukolade said, “Those identified as possible security risk or illegal immigrants are expected to be identified for further action.”
Meanwhile, Abia State Commissioner of Police Adamu Ibrahim said that in view of the rumored attack in Ohafia army headquarters and the commercial nerve centre in Aba effort would be intensified to raid criminal hideouts that may be used as cover by bad elements to carry out their evil mission.
He however denied rumour that Boko Haram is planning to attack Umuahia as well as other commercial centre across the state.
But he said against the backdrop of security challenges witnessed across the country as well as the recent increase in kidnapping the police are redoubling their effort to curb criminal activity in the state.
The police boss advised Abians to remain vigilante and report any suspicious movement around their neighborhood to security agencies.
Source: Daily Trust


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