A commercial tricycle driver, Idris Gambo, on Tuesday narrated how he survived the onslaught by Nigerian security agencies on a building in Abuja in September.
The September 20, 2013 attack by soldiers and officials of the Department of State Security Service, SSS, on the building in Apo area of Abuja led to the death of eight squatters.
The security officials said the deceased were suspected Boko Haram members, a claim faulted by witnesses and residents of the area, who said the victims were homeless artisans and commercial tricycle riders.
Mr. Gambo, popularly called Alhaji Gambo, was one of the survivors of the attack and he narrated his experience at a public hearing being conducted by the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, in Abuja.
Mr. Gambo, who is the Chairman, Routes Tricycle Association, Abuja, spoke in Hausa language.
He said he hid in a room in the building with one of the squatters while the operation was going on and that they never left the building until the security operatives left in their vehicles.
“I saw three people, they came in here while we were inside; they came like this and went that way, they did not notice that we were here,” Mr. Gambo said at Tuesday’s hearing held at the building where the killings occurred.
He said he could not, out of fear, raise his head to see or identify the shooters.
The operation, the SSS said, was as a result of an intelligence report that a suspected Boko Haram leader, Suleiman ‘R Kelly,’ was living in the building and carried out meetings with some of his members there.
Mr. Gambo said he did not leave the property with his housemate until after the shooters left in their vehicles.
“It was after they left that we went out of the building, we were hiding right here until they left, ” he said.
Having lived in the said property for two years, Mr. Gambo denied having any relationship with all the other squatters, most of whom he said joined them four months before the incident.
He said he only knew Adam, his roommate.
Despite being the leader of the tricycle riders who were the major squatters in the building, Mr. Gambo said he never received any preferential treatment on sleeping arrangements or cost in the property.
“As chairman, I never had any special treatment; nobody pays extra fee. I pay N200 like any other person that comes here to sleep, whether upstairs or downstairs,” he said.
Mr. Gambo confirmed earlier report that about two days before the invasion, some security operatives visited the building to tell them that the owner of the uncompleted building had ordered that all squatters leave or be evicted by security agencies. They were given one week to leave the property.
The eviction order
The eviction order, three days before the killings was given by Adekunle Salisu, the son of the building owner, Adunni Oluwole Salisu, who is believed to be a relative of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Mr. Salisu, who represented his mother, narrated his experience with the squatters.
“I had come here earlier about a week or two weeks ago (before the incident), but the security man was not around. I came on September 17 because he called later to say he was around. I was not chanced to go immediately so I came on 17th,” Mr. Adekunle said.
Mr. Adekunle said he met with Joseph, the security man, outside without going inside the property. He said immediately he left, Mr. Joseph called to inform him that some men were apprehended for vandalising property in the house.
He said went back to the building and was able to interrogate one of the people apprehended; who said that he was not a thief but a squatter in the building.
Mr. Adekunle said that was the first time he knew about people squatting in the property. He said he immediately ordered Mr. Joseph to tell all the squatters to vacate the property or face the consequences of his action.
“I told him if people were staying here and they come here to vandalize the property then tell everybody staying here to vacate otherwise I’ll be forced to eject them forcefully,” he said.
He, however, denied inviting security agencies to the building.
He also said he only told his mother about the vandalism of the property and could not have divulged to her that squatters inhabited the building due to her age.
The site engineer, Gbenga Olumilola, said he did not know there were squatters in the property by February when he handed over the building to the property owner after completion of his work.
The inquiry by the commission into the September 20 killings continues on Wednesday.
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