On Tuesday, October 20, an unsuspecting Attahiru Muhammad would leave his family for the last time.
Mr Muhammad, before he was hacked to death by yet unknown hoodlums, was a religious leader in his community of Apo – a satellite town of Abuja that now bears the many scars of a community in mourning.
The peaceful #EndSARS protest that was spearheaded by the Nigerian youth in cities across Nigeria took a drastic turn on Monday, October 19, as hoodlums – armed with assorted weapons – attacked protesters in Asokoro and later, at the Apo roundabout, forcing the protesters to withdraw into the busy Apo Mechanic village.
Many of the protesters alleged that the hoodlums were sponsored by government agents to frustrate the protest against brutality.
It was claimed that not less than three lives were lost in the ensuing 36 hours, while dozens of cars and businesses were razed to the ground by the unidentified assailants.
PREMIUM TIMES, while covering the protests, witnessed parts of the fracas but could not immediately ascertain the human and material damage. Our investigation following these events unravelled a chain of destruction that snowballed into a larger fracas and was ultimately able to prove the death of at least one man – Mr Muhammad.
Fear… and death
On Monday evening, 80-year-old Mr Muhammad, his wife and their seven children had caught wind that trouble was brewing close by and “fled to the bush” for safety.
Around the same time, Patrick Okora, a mechanical engineer, whose hilltop workshop is a few hundred metres away from Mr Muhammad’s home, was also fleeing for his life.
“I was just fixing this engine, before I knew it, I saw people running [towards me] with cutlasses, so I ran up the hill to the next village,” Mr Okora told these reporters, all the while working to salvage what was left from the eleven vehicles burnt in his workshop.
Consumed by fear, Mr Okora would not come back to his workshop till 10 p.m. that night, in much the same manner that Mr Muhammad’s family returned to spend an uneasy night at home.
Unlike Mr Okora, Mr Muhammad’s family (known as the Atta family) are no strangers to violence. They are among the thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who fled bandits attacks in Zamfara State two years ago – to what they thought was the safety of the Federal Capital Territory.
However, at around midday on Tuesday, as the Atta family had once again fled to the bush to escape fresh violence, a phone call from a certain Alhaji Muktar reached Mr Muhammad.
Mr Muktar, a well-known businessman in the community, was calling to inform Mr Muhammad that hoodlums had destroyed the Apo Market mosque where the latter taught as a Quranic teacher, and burned down the surrounding shops.
Spurred by the urgency in his associate’s voice, Mr Muhammad defied his wife’s warning and set off to join a meeting called for the community leaders.
He was on his way to the burnt mosque when he ran into hoodlums coming from the opposite direction.
“Baba was too old to outrun them, so they charged at him and cut his neck almost completely,” his 66-year-old wife, Adama Muhammad, told our reporters who visited the family in their unfinished apartment.
The hoodlums then proceeded to steal his mobile phone.
The crowd was about to put tyres around Mr Muhammad’s lifeless body to burn him, but they were chased away by men from his community who came to salvage the body.
The family shared gory images of Mr Muhammad’s body with these reporters. The mob had attempted to decapitate him, but never had time to finish the deed.
The violence that consumed Mr Muhammad also caused untold quantifiable losses to the business community of Apo – people such as John Ositachukwu.
Mr Ositachukwu’s workshop was within walking distance of the place of Mr Muhammad’s death. An Apo businessman, he is believed to have suffered the highest value of property loss to the actions of hoodlums.
Like Mr Okora and so many others, Mr Ositachukwu lost his entire business to hoodlums who first looted his office for laptops and other electronics, before burning down his car yard.
While narrating his traumatic experience from that Tuesday to this newspaper, Mr Ositachukwu said he had lost ten fully functional exotic vehicles to hoodlums, including a bullet proof BMW E65 valued at N160 million. It is believed that the damages in his yard have a worth of over N300 million.
“I was called in the afternoon while working in my shop that they have been burning shops from Apo mechanic village. I continued with my work since I was not part of the protesters.
“It was not up to four minutes after I dropped the call when I saw people with big knives and cutlasses around my shop. I have never run like I did that day in my adult days,” he said, dismissing the possibility of the protesters being responsible for the event.
Mr Ositachukwu was a BMW mechanic and spare parts dealer. His business was razed by the hoodlums a few minutes after the mosque and market stalls were also razed.
Strangely, most of the victims who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, said that many of the hoodlums were wearing face coverings, possibly to hide their identity from their victims.
Whether the late Mr Muhammad saw their faces, will never be known.
Haruna Bello, however, did see their faces. One of the first men at the scene of Mr Muhammad’s killing, he got away with a broken arm for daring to carry away the body of his community leader. He was lucky to survive, as the attackers had been aiming for his head.
While all of the affected persons PREMIUM TIMES visited during this investigation dissociated #EndSARS protesters from the incident, a number of them raised suspicions of ethnic and religious undertones.
A few also said they noticed the presence of some security operatives standing by (mostly policemen) as the hoodlums carried out their dastardly acts.
Contrary to reports that the FCT Minister, Muhammed Bello, had visited the scene of the attack and ascertained the damages done, PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the minister and his entourage ended their assessment midway.
Speaking to victims of the attacks, our reporters found out that Mr Bello stopped his visitation near the burnt mosque and did not visit the late Mr Muhammad’s home, nor the shops of Messrs Okora, Ositachukwu, and many other ruined businesses.
During the visit, the minister did promise to ensure adequate compensation for the properties of citizens lost to the attack, but there was no mention of compensation for the family of the demised.
When this newspaper spoke with the minister’s spokesperson, Tony Ogunleye, about its findings and queried why there was no mention of deaths in the official FCT press release regarding the visit, the former failed to comment, instead directing these reporters to speak with the police.
After the #EndSARS protest across several states, the National Economic Council headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo asked states to set up judicial panels of enquiry to look into the demands of the protesters, the handling of the protest, the violence that resulted from it, possible compensation to victims and other related issues.
Many states such as Lagos, Enugu, Kaduna and Ekiti have since set up the panels.
However, the Abuja authorities are yet to do the same.
Several calls and text messages to Mr Bello’s personal line for comment but he never answered nor returned their calls.
When PREMIUM TIMES also presented its findings to the Abuja police spokesperson, Yusuf Mariam, she responded with a press statement released over a week ago, ignoring subsequent questions on the development from our reporters.
In the four paragraphs statement issued by Ms Mariam, the police stated that seven people were killed during the attack but failed to provide names and details of at least one of the late victims vis-a-vis their actions.
It is thus unknown if the Atta family will be entitled to compensation, and if so, of how much.
“What I really want is justice for my husband and assistance to the family he left behind,” Ms Muhammad told our reporters.
Mr Muhammad left behind three wives and thirteen children.