Nigerian Army bans trekking on Niger Bridge
Soldiers have stepped up their surveillance of the Niger Bridge and search for suspected members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
Apart from mounting roadblocks on the bridge and conducting intense searches on travellers on the route, the Army has banned pedestrians from crossing the bridge from both the Onitsha and Asaba ends of the bridge.
Although the Army unit from the 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha headed by Col. Issah Abdullahi, began the search for IPOB and MASSOB members a week to Christmas, the ban on pedestrians’ movement on the bridge was noticed on Tuesday when The NEWSMEN visited the area.
Under the new arrangement, a pedestrian from either Onitsha or Asaba end of the bridge must board either a vehicle or a motorcycle to cross it.
Some residents complained to The NEWSMEN that their movement had been hampered by the military’s action because they not could afford the transport fare to board a vehicle or motorcycle to cross the bridge.
They called on President Muhammadu Buhari to transfer Col. Abdullahi from Anambra State.
A civil servant, who opted for anonymity, said: “It is humiliating to force people to go by a means of transportation they cannot afford. Yesterday, so many of us slept on the bridge as our means of crossing over was to trek first and latter board a vehicle to our direction but the soldiers do not understand any other language.
“It is unfortunate that the bridge we walk through for ages is what these soldiers are asking us not to use. Some people may have goods to sell but no money for transport fare and walk over to sell them or may have spent their money and decide to trek home. But these soldiers have stopped them from using the walkway on the bridge. Look at what they are doing, causing confusion with the snail speed of vehicles. They should be cautioned,” he said.
The Chairman of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), South-East zone, Dede Uzor A. Uzor, called for the transfer of the Army commander, who he accused of violating the rights of the people with impunity. He wondered why the Army should not allow pedestrians access to Onitsha or Asaba via the bridge.
“Why the suffering and humiliation? When is it a crime to walk home? Why would they treat every trader as a member of IPOB/MASSOB? That is why I suspect they banned people from trekking home but what benefit is that to the state or the country? You know at the close of the markets, traders move in groups and they suspect them and ordered everybody must enter vehicles or motorcycles, thereby causing more confusion from the already tensed situation of searching every motorist,” he lamented.
But the Chairman of Intersociety, Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi, said there was an improvement on Tuesday on the blockade of the Head Bridge though vehicles were still moving at snail speed. He said the military had relaxed its excesses following the public outcry against their action.
The Army could not be reach for comments on the development. Several efforts to reach the commander were futile while the officer facilitating army/media relationship in the state did not help matters.
Vivian Gist had reported on Tuesday that travellers were stranded for days on the Niger Bridge Head because of its blockade by the military.