Tension is rising due to a face-off between the Nigerian Army and residents of Gindiri Town in the Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State over the fate of a 50-year- old bridge that the army constructed in the area.
The Nigerian Army wants to dismantle the bridge known as “LLanga Langa” from its present location and relocate it to the dreaded Sambisa Forest, apparently for operational reasons.
But the community, which had been relying on the strategic infrastructure, is vehemently opposed to any such move.
They fear that removing the vital communication link would pose drastic transportation challenges to the natives and cut them off from the rest of Nigeria, insisting that it should be stopped by all means.
Trouble started when the Nigerian Army sent a surveillance team to determine the state of the bridge as a prelude to dismantling it and moving it to where it is most strategically needed.
But the moment the natives sighted the soldiers, they became apprehensive and began to mobilise against the removal of the bridge, which the Nigerian Army built in 1973 to link communities there.
Among the reasons cited by the community to justify their opposition to the dismantling of the bridge is that it is the only link between the Tongzong community and the famous Church of Christ in the Nation's schools—the Boys Secondary School, Girls High School, COCIN Comprehensive Secondary School, College of Theology, the Demonstration Primary School, and others.
It will be recalled that the soldiers had gone to the community on February 3, 2023, to lubricate the nuts ahead of the planned dismantling of the rods.
The sight of the soldiers raised concern among citizens in the security-threatened community, and they began to question the sudden presence of soldiers on the bridge.
They immediately mobilised and gathered on the bridge on Saturday, February 4, 2023, to voice their anger over the planned removal of the bridge, saying that it was unfair of the Nigerian Army to do so many years after they had been depending on the facility for their communication with other communities in the state and beyond.
The National PRO of the Pyam Youth Movement, PYM, Isa Kwarshak, told Arewa Voice that the decision of the Nigerian Army to dismantle the bridge and move it to Sambisa Forest came to them as a rude shock.
Kwarshak said: “The protest came because the old bridge linking Tongzong/COCIN compound and Gindiri Township is to be dismantled and taken away. The bridge was constructed during the late General Murtala Mohammed regime by one of our sons, Major-General Bisala, under the supervision of Army Engineer Col. Ayuba Tense from Panyam here.
“If they remove the bridge, we will be cut off because that is the only bridge that links Tongzong, COCIN schools, – the Boys Secondary School, Girls High School, COCIN Comprehensive Secondary School, College of Theology, the Demonstration Primary School, and others.
“The soldiers said it was the Chief of Army Staff that said the bridge should be removed. None of our leaders was informed but they will have to kill all of us before they remove the bridge.”
The Chairman of Mangu LGA, Mr. Daniel Daput, said the army should have given them advanced information on what they were planning to do on the bridge rather than take them by surprise.
He said: “When I was hinted of the planned removal of the bridge, I immediately called the Army Commandant, but he told me that everything was under control.”
However, the National Public Relations Officer of Pyam Youth Movement, Isa Kwarshak Kwarshak, and the Mangu LGA Chapter Chairman of the Plateau Youth Council in a joint press statement urged the army to reconsider its hasty decision on the community bridge.
The duo said: “It has come to our notice that an order has been issued by the Nigerian Army from the Defence Headquarters for the dismantling of the old bridge constructed by the Nigerian Army in 1973, which has connected the two communities for decades and enabled pupils/students to attend schools and other relevant progressive activities from both sides of the communities.
“We are deeply worried and saddened by this ugly development as regards the future of our dear community if our children can't have access to education.
“Now the incessant insecurity affecting access to both communities will be worsened by the enormous task of crossing to either side, particularly during the rains when the river will be full and overflowing.
“If not for the intervention of our community, the bridge would have collapsed long ago, and we want the authorities to allow the bridge to continue to serve our interests.
“That is why we hereby plead with the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari; the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor; the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Faruk Yahaya; the General Officer Commanding 3 Armoured Division, Major General Ibrahim Salau; and security agencies to intervene and save us from being cut off from the rest of Nigeria.
“We appeal to the Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, and all the lawmakers in the state, as well as all sons and daughters of Plateau State, to use their connections to stop the bridge from being dismantled for the sake of our community.
“We sincerely appreciate the Nigerian Army, which constructed the bridge decades ago. It is in view of this enormous benefit that we are seeking your help to halt the dismantling of the bridge, which is the hope of our community.”
However, the spokesman for Operation Safe Haven, Captain John James, declined to make a categorical statement on the plan to remove the bridge.
He simply told our correspondent that “the situation is under control and I will give further details when I have the information.”
Meantime, tension continues to rise each passing day with the people apprehensive of what will happen next.