•Soldiers shoot villagers protesting deaths, three wounded
From Gyang Bere, Jos
Life has turned sour and meaningless for Ngo Laraba Audu, an 86-year-old widow who recently lost her only male child, James Audu, in a controversial manner.
The deceased died while trying to rescue his cousin from an abandoned well.
Ngo Laraba, a mother of two boys and three girls, lost her husband, Audu Pam, three decades ago. Suspected Fulani herdsmen killed one of her sons during the attack on Sopp village in 2012. Her second son suffocated while he was trying to rescue his cousin from an abandoned well on Friday, October 20, 2017.
Trouble started when operatives of the Special Task Force (STF) in Sopp, Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State, contracted Daniel Davou, an indigene, to dig a, well that had been abandoned for 32 years in the community, to enable them get water to drink and bathe.
Daniel couldn’t do the work, so he hired a 22-year-old man, Jacob Musa, on the fateful day. The well is located closed to a military checkpoint at Sopp.
The reporter gathered that the well was harbouring snakes, frogs and other reptiles. Some chemical substance was then thrown in the well to kill the animals so that the workers could dig without any incident.
The well, which was allegedly dug in 1985, had water in it, but it was not fit for use. Jacob, who had agreed to do the job, reportedly brought a water pump to enable him draw the bad water from the well. He would then dig further to access fresh, potable water.
The pipe of the pump machine wasn’t long enough and could not go down the well. He then went inside the well to fix the pipe properly. But he never came out alive.
He suffocated inside the well, which already had a lot of chemical gas at about 10am that day, without anyone’s knowledge. It wasn’t until about 4pm that operatives of the Special Task Force, known also as Operation Safe Haven, at the checkpoint realised that Jacob had died inside the well.
When 40-year-old James Audu, who was relaxing after returning from the burial of one of his uncles in a neighbouring village, was told that Jacob fell inside a well and that there was no one to rescue the young man, James quickly volunteered to save his cousin.
He stood up without looking back and walked to the site of the well, which was about 100 metres from his house. He promptly climbed inside the well, unaware that some dangerous chemical preparation had been poured inside. The gas and the fumes from the water pump machine had already turned the well into a death zone, unknown to him.
Unfortunately, James was not informed that Jacob had died inside the well. He thought Jacob just fell inside, as he saw the latter’s body floating on the water inside the well. As soon as James entered the well, he was overwhelmed by the poisonous fumes inside the well. He was also trapped by the gas and suffocated.
As soon as James’ death was announced, pandemonium broke out in the community, as the youths and women protested against the military, alleging that the well was poisoned and that the men were forced into the well.
The protest caused chaos in the entire local government area. When the crowd was advancing towards a tent belonging to the military, three persons were inflicted with gunshots injuries, including a 16-year-old secondary school student, Simi Musa, younger sister of the late Jacob.
James, who was a bricklayer and peasant farmer, left behind his aged mother, his wife, Nvou, 30, and four children, Phelomena, 13, Sile, 11, Mancha, 8, and five-year-old Nehemiah.
His mother could barely talk when the reporter located her family house in Sopp village. The traumatised woman was yet to come to terms with the news of her son’s passing.
“I don’t know where to start from now,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that my son would die just like that. It was as if death was calling him when he left home hurriedly to rescue his brother, Jacob, who was working inside the abandoned well.
“If I knew he was going to die when he left home that evening, I wouldn’t have allowed him to step out of the house. This is the child that I see as my consolation. He was the only pillar that strengthened me and the family. He is gone and I don’t know how I will survive now.”
Her husband, Audu Yakubu, died after a brief illness when James was five years old. Since then, she had taken up the responsibility of raising all the children.
The bereaved octogenarian said she would prefer to die now rather than live a sorrowful and traumatic life with no one to fend for her. She is currently a shadow of her former self, looking sad and weary.
Meanwhile Simi, who was shot during the protest, is receiving treatment at the Plateau Specialist Hospital, Jos, where she has undergone some surgeries due to severe gunshots from the military.
Spokesman for Operation Safe Haven, Captain Umar Adams, said the well was not poisoned and that the youth were contracted to dig the well.
“There is an old well in the community that was constructed in 1985 but it was abandoned for many years. Apart from the fact that we carry out security activities to ensure that we avert crisis and promote unity, we sometimes carry out acts of social responsibility.
“Our troops in Riyom said the well had been left to waste. They said, why don’t we revive it so that at least everybody can benefit from it since there is scarcity of water in the community? That was why our troops decided to look for well drillers. Two young men volunteered and said they could do it because that was their job.
“I cannot tell how those boys got inside the well with their working tools and, sadly, they died inside the well, which attracted protests in the area and the protesters were trying to disarm some of our members.”