Leaders of northern communities in South-South and South-East yesterday called for the unconditional release of 486 traders arrested by soldiers in Asa, Abia State.
They were arrested in Abia state over two days beginning Saturday as they headed for Port Harcourt where they are mainly based and engaged in trade and menial jobs.
Spokesman of the leaders’ forum in the region, Alhaji Musa Saidu, said at the moment they are making efforts to reach out to top military authorities on the matter.
Speaking to Daily Trust in Port Harcourt yesterday, Alhaji Musa maintained that the detainees are not Boko Haram members, “but innocent artisans and traders from the North who are in the region to earn a living.
“We are not relenting in our efforts to ensure the unconditional release of these people. We are finding it difficult at present because the Army authorities in both Abia and Rivers states say they don’t have powers to free the detainees.
“We were there yesterday, but did not achieve anything. They kept telling us that they are acting on orders from above. I want to use this medium to appeal to the military authorities again to release these people. They are innocent traders who travel all the way from the North to sell their wares. Most of them trade in food stuff. They normally come from Jigawa and Bauchi states to sell food stuff. After buying the food stuff, they load their wares in trucks and use buses to come back to Port Harcourt. Others are artisans, cobblers and wheelbarrow pushers. They like to move in groups,” he said.
He added: “The Military has an intelligence unit and they should know how to carry out investigation to find out the mission of these people and if they have carried out their investigation and have found the suspects to be innocent, they should be released and allowed to go. They were arrested since Saturday and from the information we gathered, they have not taken their bath since then. They were denied access to food and medication. Some of them are now ill because they are kept in an open place. The Director of Defence Information said one of the kingpins of Boko Haram who is on their wanted list is among the suspects. If that is true, such person should be made to face the full wrath of the law. But our prayer is that innocent people should not be allowed to suffer.”
Meanwhile, in Aba, Abia State, northerners, especially traders have called on their hosts to stop associating them with the Boko Haram sect, saying not every northerner is in support of the group.
Addressing journalists in Aba yesterday, the Chief Imam of Aba Central Mosque, Alhaji Idris Bashir and Secretary of the Aba Onions Market, Alhaji Sani Jos, lamented that since the soldiers arrested the 486 northern traders travelling to Port Harcourt, the Igbos are labelling every northerner Boko Haram.
They noted that calling everybody from the North Boko Haram is like giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
“When you drive your vehicle anyhow, they (Igbos) will start abusing you by calling you Boko Haram. And this thing is making us angry. Honestly, we are not happy at all,” Alhaji Idris said.
“Due process should be followed in the screening so that those who are innocent are released immediately. And if they (soldiers) find anyone among them who is a member of Boko Haram, they should take him or her away”.
Bashir, who said the Muslim community in Aba are 100 per cent behind soldiers and other security outfits in ensuring peace in the country, urged the military to publish the name of the Boko Haram kingpin, who it said was among the 486 northerners arrested.
“We are not saying that soldiers or security agents should not do their jobs; we did not say so. What we are saying is that they should do it properly. How can they continue to hold the innocent people among them? If there is any bad egg among them, let them take those people to Abuja and continue their investigation,” he said.
On Wednesday Mr Mike Omeri, the Coordinator, National Information Centre, said the 486 people arrested by security operatives on Sunday, in Abia, were travellers.
Omeri disclosed this at a joint news conference organised by the centre in Abuja, which was reported by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
The coordinator said the arrest of the travellers was not targeted at any group of persons or individual, but done in view of the general security situation in the country.
He said when the suspects were interrogated, one of them, who had been on the watch list of the Department of State Security Services (DSS) since 2007, was identified.
Omeri said that the incident further led to the questioning of the suspects, who were travelling in “a convoy of over 30 buses with none of them having up to N1,000.
“Clearly, their mission was suspicious and had to be thoroughly investigated; we, therefore, appeal for the understanding of the public in allowing our security agencies carry out their legitimate duties.’’
Attempts by Daily Trust to speak the military over the matter failed.
Source: Daily Trust


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