No fewer than 486 people, mostly natives of various states in the North, were on Sunday arrested by soldiers along the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway.
The travellers, aged between 16 and 35, who were being conveyed in 33 buses, were nabbed by soldiers attached to the 144 battalion of the Nigerian Army, Asa, Ukwa West, and paraded yesterday as suspected Boko Haram members.
Addressing newsmen yesterday at the headquarters of the 144 Battalion, Asa, where the suspects are being detained, the Battalion Commander, Lt. Colonel Rasheed Omolori, said the men were stopped at a road between Aro-Ngwa and Imo Gate along the expressway.
The soldiers said other buses conveying more persons sped off and escaped arrest when the security operatives tried to halt their movement.
According to Lt. Col. Omolori, the incident had been reported to Defence headquarters in Abuja, even as he failed to provide further details of the report sent to the military command centre in the nation’s capital.
Although they were paraded as suspected Boko Haram insurgents, no evidence has so far been found to establish a link between the travellers, who said they were jobseekers in the South, with members of the violent sect.
The briefing was attended by Abia state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Eze Chikamnayo and Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Charles Ajunwa.
Chikamnayo said while commenting at the briefing, that the sheer size of the movement was “suspicious”, claiming that none of the travellers could identify his destination.
He also wondered how such “a long convoy” was not intercepted before it reached Abia state, stressing that Army and other security agencies in the state would thoroughly investigate the travellers.
The arrest of the 486 travellers came on a day the police said they had foiled a plot to bomb a church in Owerri, Imo state.
It would be recalled that in January this year, the Rivers state police command arrested at least 320 northerners in similar circumstances, alleging that they were Boko Haram members.
The arrest prompted an investigation by the House of Representatives, and it turned out that the people were jobseekers intercepted at a boundary town between Rivers and Imo states, while on their way to
Port Harcourt, from where they would disperse to various other regions in search of means of their livelihood.
The Boko Haram insurgency has heightened fears across the country, leading to suspicions and profiling of hundreds of northerners, particularly bearded ones, both within and outside the North.