Wednesday, October 05, 2005

FREE BUS RIDE?


Security forces deploy in Lagos.

Soldiers and policemen are undertaking joint patrols in Nigeria's main city, Lagos, after a running battle between them on Tuesday left three dead. President Olusegun Obasanjo has called the army and police chiefs to the capital for a meeting to clear the air. He wants the two sides to resolve their differences over the clash.
The dead were civilians caught in the crossfire of a battle that began when a soldier and policeman argued over who had the right to a free ride on a bus. The police officer hit out at the soldier, who raised the alarm at a nearby barracks, sparking violence. Soldiers and police then exchanged live fire across the main highway in Lagos, the country's largest city.
Some 60 vehicles, including 20 police cars, were set ablaze during the clashes. Troops were reported to have stormed a police station, setting it on fire and freeing scores of prisoners. Very few people have fond memories of encounters they have with armed policemen "They were shooting at the police and the police were shooting back," local resident Kanayo Azubogo told the Associated Press.
"The soldiers went to the Western Avenue police station and set it on fire." One police officer described the scene as "like a war". The situation there was tense on Wednesday as policemen counted the cost of the mayhem. The BBC's Sola Odunfa in Lagos says that there were several different versions of how the violence began, but the most common account was that the soldier and policeman came to blows after disagreeing over which of them had the right to a free ride in a bus.
The established practice is that one member of the security forces does not have to pay a fare on any bus. The violence that followed was the worst of its kind in recent years, he said. Law enforcement throughout Lagos broke down for about five hours, as uniformed policemen deserted streets across the city for fear of being attacked. Senior officers eventually visited the scene of the clashes and re-asserted control.
The governor of Lagos, Bola Tinubu, and Police Commissioner Ade Ajakaye appealed for calm from all sides. Tensions between the police and army are not new. In July, last year there was a similar fracas between policemen and members of the Nigerian Air Force in Lagos. A report of the inquiry into that fracas was not published.
BBC New's Report from Sola Odunfa in Lagos.

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