At the onset, the squad tackled robberies in the state to a near standstill. However, with innocent people becoming the squad’s victims, it has since become notorious for brutalising people in Maiduguri, causing traffic disorder, extorting money from people and usurping the functions of other law enforcement agencies in the ancient city. Many residents believe that the Operation Flush team appears to be flushing out their comfort rather than flushing out robbers only.
Weekly Trust investigations revealed that trouble began when the sect members were on their way to a cemetery in a procession to bury four of their members who died in a motor accident along Biu-Maiduguri road a day earlier. Some of them who rode on motor bikes were intercepted by an Operation Flush patrol team and asked why they were not wearing crash helmets. The sect members did not take kindly to the enquiry which they thought was a provocation given that they were in a funeral procession.
The Borno State Commissioner of Police, Mr Christopher Dega, said the group had disagreements with members of the joint military and police patrol team known as ‘Operation Flush’ in Maiduguri “over traffic-related violations by the procession.” He said, “one thing led to another and a member of the patrol team stationed at the Customs roundabout opened fire to save his colleagues from the mob.”
Among the wounded were 14 members of the group and three onlookers who were hit by stray bullets. The Acting Chief Medical Director of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, Dr Alim Madziga, said the hospital “is currently treating 15 persons while two other victims had since been treated and discharged, all with gunshot wounds.” He said so far, there are no deaths arising from the episode.
Tension was high in Maiduguri when reports filtered in of the sect members converging at their headquarters, the Ibn Taimiyya Mosque in Maiduguri. There were fears that they could attack the security agencies, especially if any of the injured persons died in the hospital. But doctors at the UMTH said they were doing everything possible to save the lives of the wounded, some of whom are seriously injured.
The group’s leader, Malam Mohammad Yusuf, was said to be in Kaduna when the incident occurred. However, Weekly Trust gathered that he returned the following day, but did not make any categorical statement on the next line of action they would take over the issue. It was also learnt that a meeting was organised by the state government at which police bosses and sect leaders were present to try to avert the escalation of the crisis. It was observed that following the confusion and fear of possible sectarian crisis that may break out in Maiduguri due to the incident, armed anti-riot policemen and soldiers have been deployed to some mosques and other strategic locations to avert the breakdown of law and order.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) led by its chairman, Barrister Haruna Mshelia, said at a press conference that the men of ‘Operation Flush’ are not making any positive impact on the society, claiming that the association has found out that commercial motorcyclists alleged that the squad members extort money from them whenever they get caught without helmets which implies usurping the functions of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC or that the cyclists sometimes have to pay for their freedom when sighted moving at night by ‘Operation Flush’ even as the team isn’t tasked with the duty of ensuring that commercial motorcyclists comply with the rule of not exceeding 7pm in compliance with a new law in Borno State.
Mshelia who was the first to break the silence on the issue, alleged that NBA’s committee on human rights has found out that ‘Operation Flush’ has resorted to the harassment and torture of innocent civilians, sometimes subjecting them to inhuman torture such as pouring dirty water from the gutter on people all in the name of anti-robbery operations, which he maintained was unconstitutional.
The NBA went further to challenge the legitimacy of setting up the combined anti-robbery team. Barrister Mshelia argued that “the security situation in Borno does not call for the intervention of the military,” adding that the involvement of the military in ‘Operation Flush 2’ is unconstitutional and illegal because it is only the President as Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (in the current scenario), Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua, who has the constitutional “powers of directing” soldiers to participate in any operation to ensure law and order in any part of the country as against Governor Ali Modu Sheriff’s government. The lawyers called for the withdrawal of the military from the team, apparently looking at the military as the culprits for the alleged torture of citizens.
With the recent incident, the public is now waiting to see whether government will call the security outfit to order and take drastic measures to prevent future occurence or whether it will keep silent at the detriment of innocent citizens.