The killing of three policemen by soldiers in Taraba State raises questions about integrity and professionalism of the Nigeria’s security apparatus.
A day after three policemen taking arrested kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Wadume, to the Nigerian Police state command headquarters in Jalingo, Taraba State were shot dead by soldiers on checkpoints, the Nigerian Army issued a statement saying the shooting was done in error. According to the Nigerian Army, the soldiers who allegedly responded to a distress call mistook the victims for kidnappers.
A statement issued by Nigerian Army spokesman, Sagir Musa, said the soldiers were responding to distress calls from residents of Ibi to rescue a kidnapped victim and refusal of the vehicle conveying the victims to stop at the three military checkpoints for identification caused the tragedy.
But the statement also made a revelation that had not been addressed. It said while the soldiers at the checkpoints pursued the fleeing “suspected kidnappers”, the deceased officers fired at the troops. “The flagrant refusal of the suspected kidnappers to stop at the three checkpoints prompted a hot pursuit of the fleeing suspects by the troops. It was in this process that the suspected kidnappers who were obviously armed opened fire at the troops sporadically thus prompting them to return fire,” the army said.
But contrary to the claims of the army, the police said it was the soldiers that opened fire on the vehicle conveying the policemen and the suspected kidnap kingpin. A statement issued by Frank Mba, spokesman of the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters, did not say the policemen returned fire nor did it say that they fired at all. The statement said “The policemen were taking the arrested suspect, Alhaji Hamisu to the command headquarters in Jalingo when they were shot at by the soldiers despite sufficient proof that they are police personnel on legitimate duty,’ and went on to add that the soldiers thereafter allowed the hand-cuffed kidnap suspect to escape.
The deceased police officers- Mark-Ediale, an inspector; Dahiru Musa, a sergeant and Usman Danzumi, also a sergeant-were on a covert assignment from the Force Headquarters, Abuja.
The question is: was there an exchange of fire as claimed by the army? If there was why would the police team on legitimate duty open fire at soldiers trying to stop them? And why would the police not admit that its men fired at soldiers? If there was no exchange of fire, why did the army lie about it? Was it trying to protect its reputation or trying to cover up a crime?
But Nigerians may never get answers to these questions, at least not now. Perhaps not until the Joint Investigation Panel of the army and police investigating the incident concludes its job.
The panel, headed by Mike Ogbizi, a Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Criminal Investigation Department, is to investigate and report on the true circumstances surrounding the killing.
The army said it would not make any further statement on the incident until after the joint investigation Panel concludes and submits its report, as doing so would be “premature.”
But besides the joint probe with the police, the Defence Headquarters had gone ahead to inaugurate its own investigation panel. The DHQ joint panel, headed by Rear Admiral Ibikunle Olaiya, was expected to submit its report to the Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, last Monday.
Soldiers indicted by the panel would be moved to the 3 Division headquarters, Jos, Plateau State, for a possible General Court Martial. The DHQ panel concluded its work on Friday August 23, after sitting for three days at the Defence Intelligence Agency, Abuja, during which it interrogated several soldiers, policemen, civilians and the suspected kidnap kingpin, Wadume.
But while the nation awaits reports of the investigations, reports of the killing have raised some questions for the army. Who ordered the soldiers to shoot? Why was the kidnap suspect in police handcuffs who survived not turned over to the police by the army, if indeed the killing was in error? Wadume, the kidnap suspect who was re-arrested by the police two weeks after his forced release, had in his testimony added to questions about current professional levels in the military. He had stated in a viral video that he was released from police custody by soldiers who cut off his handcuffs. Wadume said after the Police arrested him, the soldiers chased them and opened fire. “From there, they (soldiers) took me to their headquarters, and cut off my handcuffs and released me. I went back to my house and police came to re-arrest me.” Did the military men interrogate Wadume to confirm that he was indeed a victim of kidnap? Did the suspect lie to them? Who really made the distress call and to who was it made before the military men got orders to pursue the police officers? Why was it impossible for the military to stop the vehicle without recording such tragedy? Is the conduct of the military men in accordance with military ethics?
Some retired military officers who spoke to TELL on condition of anonymity said they expected some officers in the 93 Battalion to face murder charges in court. “There was no doubt someone ordered the soldiers to open fire,” said a retired general in Ibadan. “The commander who ordered the shooting has questions to answer and must face murder charges along with others who connived with him because it was pre-meditated.”
Another retired general in Kaduna spoke in the same vein and asked why the commanding officer of the unit involved set the kidnap suspect free instead of handing him over to the police. “Something is not right there; the military doesn’t operate that way. He should have handed the suspect to the police if what the army said about the killing is true.”
Now, aside from keeping with the tenets of the forces, the conflict brings to the fore another sore point in the management of internal security. That is what Olusola Amore, a former spokesman of the NPF hints at. He told TELL that the killing of the policemen by soldiers had raised concern again in the police about involving the military in internal security operations. “The rules of engagement are different. Police are trained to maim, but soldiers are trained to kill,” he said, stressing that such tragedies would continue to happen unless the military are taken off internal security issues.
Amore said despite the joint investigative panel with the army, the killing was a “pure case of murder” which only the police can legally prosecute. He said since the killers and the weapon used were already identified, the police only require witnesses to prosecute the case in court.
“The suspect had made confessional statements so it’s not so much of a difficult case. Murder is intentional killing, premeditated killing and its different from manslaughter. I expect that after investigations are concluded, the suspects should be charged to court.”
For Amore and many other retired officers who spoke to TELL, it was time to get the army off internal policing and fund the police to do its job. “The military has been too much involved in internal security. In all the 36 states the military are involved in internal security. And I ask this question: did the police hand over to them in those states? The military has abandoned their role and taken on the role of the police, and I don’t know why.
“But the rule of engagement for police is different. That is why whenever the military is involved in internal policing, the casualties are always high. While the police would want to shoot to maim, the military are trained to shoot to kill. Because when we’re quelling riots, the command we will give is to shoot below the knee.
But the military is not trained to shoot below the knee.“Which means if you involve them in internal policing, it means if they stop a vehicle and it did not stop, they are to open fire to kill. The involvement of the military has caused a lot of neglect for the police on the part of government. Because the government is using military power for internal security and they are not attending to the needs of the police. The funding is now being used by the military because they will say they are now involved in internal security.”
What this means is that the Taraba killings has again put the military under the microscope.