Soldiers burnt my house, rendered my family homeless – Victim of alleged arson by military personnel
Lermber Vaatyough is the Chairman, Taskforce and Environmental Committee of Peva Market, in the Takum Local Government Government of Taraba State. He tells JUSTIN TYOPUUSU, how men of the Nigeria Army allegedly burnt his house and rendered his family homeless
You were said to be one of the residents whose houses were burnt recently in Peva. How did it happen?
I was sleeping in my house when, suddenly, I heard a knock on my door. But I didn’t open because it was an unusual knock. Few minutes later, at about 3:30am, I heard noises outside and I peeped through the window and saw some people flashing lights at my house. I kept watching the development, but when I noticed they were advancing towards my house, I escaped through the back door. Although I escaped, I didn’t go far. I hid in the nearby bush. The soldiers broke into my house and searched thoroughly. The person who appeared to be the leader of the team placed a call to someone and they burnt my house. That was how my house was burnt in the early hours of Friday, July 17, 2020.
Can you quantify your loss?
The damage is unquantifiable. I built the house in 2018 and I spent over N5m on that house. All my belongings, apart from what I wore that night, were burnt to ashes. My family had gone to the farm in the village and was to return on Saturday evening when the incident happened on Friday morning. So, all their belongings were gone in the flames.
How many occupants have been rendered homeless as a result of the incident?
Seven of us have been rendered homeless and all our clothes and other belongings are gone.
What could have possibly led to this?
I seriously don’t know because when soldiers were deployed in our area, we were told that they were on a mission to deal with criminals in the area. But even my enemy will attest to the fact that I am not a criminal. So, why did they come after me? I gathered that they were after my life. They wanted me killed and because God helped me to escape, they burnt my house. I am sure they would have killed me, if they had found me that night.
I want to tell you that those personnel operating in our area have a very poor intelligence gathering system. There are several instances; that was not the first time they would go after the wrong targets. If your neighbour, who doesn’t like your face tells them that you are a criminal or you have a link with a criminal, without further checks, they will just go after you. Most of the time, they arrest people indiscriminately and take them to their base and beat them up to the point of death. At that point, such victims begin to just say anything to save their lives. They will now come and tell the world that they are acting on intelligence. What kind of intelligence is that? There are so many things these guys have done here, which I will have to keep to myself for now for security reasons.
What do you intend to do now?
If I had my way, I would have provend to the world that I am not a criminal. I want to call on the Federal Government to probe the atrocities of the personnel of the Nigerian Army on Operation Whirl Stroke in the area. I also want my house and that of others destroyed by the personnel rebuilt. We should be compensated. The truth of the matter is that even if you are looking for criminals, you don’t burn other people’s property.
What will you do if your request is not considered?
I will definitely go to court because my life is being threatened by the army and I cannot continue to run for something I know nothing about. For now, I am doing consultation and I will certainly go to court after my consultations.