- Military cannot be judge in its own cause
Before the fateful events of August 6, 2019, the name Hamisu Bala aka Wadume, would hardly ring any bell outside certain communities within his native Taraba and neighbouring Nasarawa states and, perhaps, to some extent, Kano State. That day, however, Wadume, who wore the public face of a philanthropist, was arrested by crack detectives of the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) at Ibi, Taraba State.
He was alleged to be a notorious kidnap kingpin who funded his seemingly altruistic humanitarian gestures from the proceeds of his criminal enterprise. As the IRT transported Wadume to the Taraba State Police Command in handcuffs, however, the unimaginable happened. Soldiers from the 93 Battalion based within the Ibi vicinity attacked the police team, killed three officers and one civilian, and set Wadume free.
The military claimed to a shocked nation that the killings occurred in error because the police did not share intelligence with it on the operation. On its part, the police accused the army of complicity in facilitating the escape of a high profile kidnap suspect and, in the process, killing three of its highly trained, elite detectives. A Joint Investigative Panel was set up on August 9 by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonishakin, and comprising members from the army, navy, air force, police, the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). The panel was initially given a week to submit its report, but it asked for an extension of two weeks because of the scope of arrests and investigations.
However, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has argued that the Joint Investigative Panel was diversionary and illegal because, in his words, “Since the slain civilian and policemen were not subject to service law, the military authorities lack the vires to cause an investigation to be conducted into a murder case covered by Section 4 of the Police Act”.
The work of the panel should not be allowed to become an excuse for a cover up or a mechanism of obstructing the police from carrying out their statutory responsibilities in this matter. It was obvious that without the re-arrest of Wadume, the entire sordid affair would continue to be shrouded in mystery, with little possibility of the real truth ever being uncovered. This was why the news of the re-apprehension of the alleged kidnap chieftain on August 19 by a police special squad elicited widespread relief and excitement.
The painstaking and highly professional way the crack police detectives reportedly drawn from the force’s best hands from Lagos, Rivers, Imo, Kaduna states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), went about the operation demonstrates it has the skilled hands to effectively discharge its responsibilities when it is determined to do so. However, there is also the understandable belief in some quarters that police operatives act with this kind of decisiveness only when their men are the victims.
Wadume’s initial statements, revealed in a widely circulated video after his re-arrest, gave useful hints about what transpired on August 6. Speaking in Hausa, he said: “My name is Hamisu Bala Wadume. Police came to arrest me, when they arrested me, army chased after 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”. Who gave the soldiers the order to attack the IRT team and rescue Wadume, leading to the tragic loss of lives? Is it true that the Crime Officer at the Ibi Police Station had made over 200 calls to Wadume while the Station Officer had torn off pages of the entry book to destroy evidence that the operation to arrest Wadume had been duly reported by the murdered operatives?
All these issues should be speedily investigated by an independent inquiry and the culprits speedily charged to court in accordance with the law. Wadume’s re-arrest will ultimately be of enduring value only if it leads not just to his trial and conviction if found guilty, but also if it results in the uncovering, dismantling, punishment and purging of the obviously wide ring of accomplices he has at his beck and call within the military and police.
It is a testimony to the deep level of poverty as well as the perversion of values in our society that many residents of Ibi are unhappy that they will no more enjoy Wadume’s subversive generosity.