At last, the Defence headquarters has reacted to last week’s gruesome murder of three policemen on special investigative operation in Taraba State by soldiers. It has directed its men to produce the suspected kidnapping kingpin, Alhaji Hamisu Wadume, who was said to have been in handcuffs and leg chains after his arrest by the police operatives but was rescued by the soldiers. The latest order by the Defence Headquarters is apparently aimed at assuaging the outrage triggered by the inexplicable killing of the operatives in the line of duty, but it is nauseating that it took almost one week after the murderous act for it to ask its officers and men to fish out Alhaji Wadume. Nothing can be more damaging to the integrity and professional conduct of the military than tardiness in responding to critical issues, particularly given the allegations of complicity by its men in the unending criminalities in parts of the country.
According to reports, the still unidentified soldiers killed the three policemen and a civilian while they were on investigative activities within the Ibi area of the state. They had arrested Alhaji Hamisu for his alleged involvement in a series of high-profile kidnappings. According to the police, the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) operatives led by one ASP Felix Adolije were attacked by soldiers of the 93 Battalion, Takum, along the Ibi-Jalingo road while taking the arrested suspect to the police command headquarters in Jalingo, the state capital. The operatives, according to the police, were shot at several times by the soldiers despite showing sufficient proof that they were police personnel on a legitimate duty, and they later died as a result of gunshot injuries. While other members of the IRT on the trip that sustained serious gunshot wounds are in hospital, the soldiers are yet to produce Alhaji Hamisu, said to be on the police wanted list for alleged complicity in several high-profile kidnapping cases, including the recent abduction of an oil magnate in Taraba State from whom he allegedly collected N100 million ransom.
The initial reaction of the Nigerian Army through the Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Sagir Musa, was that the soldiers responded to a distress call to rescue a kidnapping victim. According to Musa, the soldiers went in pursuit of the suspects in the ill-fated bus when it refused to stop when flagged down at three different Army checkpoints, and only fired back in self-defence when its occupants engaged them. Whereas the police described the victims as one of the “best and most highly trained IRT teams” in the country, the military labelled them as suspected kidnappers. The officers are Inspector Mark Ediale, Sergeant Usman Danzumi, and Sergeant Dahiru Musa, who the police said played a crucial role in the arrest of the kidnapping kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike (Evans) in 2017, among others.
To all intents and purposes, the killing of the policemen clearly underscores the lack of effective synergy among the various security agencies in the country. The utterances by the authorities of the police, the army and even the Presidency testify to the warped template deployed in the execution of the war on crime and criminals. If indeed any of the security agencies in fact embarked on a covert operation of the Taraba magnitude without informing appropriate commands and bodies, that could only have happened in an atmosphere of distrust, suspicion and superiority contest.
It can only be hoped that the setting up of different investigative panels by the Presidency, Defence Headquarters and the police on the killing is not routine. The country has traversed such roads for too long. More often than not, it is a bid to buy time and cover professional misdeeds. A panel comprising jurists and other men and women of proven integrity and candour is imperative now because of the temperament and unrestrained posturing of all the parties concerned in the senseless killing of the Taraba four. This is no time for anybody to dance over the grave of the gallant officers. It is time to show remorse and tender unreserved apologies to the families of the slain officers and the country at large.
The claim that the vehicle conveying the policemen and suspected kidnap kingpin refused to stop at three sequential checkpoints mounted by soldiers deserves scrutiny. It is easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for anyone even on a suicide mission to beat such security checkpoints without compromising the usually stern-looking and fully armed soldiers on surveillance. What could have happened to the communication network of the army and other security agencies at the various locations within that axis? It is certainly inexplicable that the suspect escaped unscathed while the policemen were killed. The army’s explanation might reinvigorate the narrative of bias, including among some retired top military officers, in the professional conduct of troops conducting counter-terrorism operations in the North-East.
But it is not just the army authorities that owe the nation full explanations on the killing and the whereabouts of the suspected kidnapper. President Muhammadu Buhari, in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, has to take full responsibility because the tragedy could have been avoided in the first instance if security agencies, including the ones at the international borders, had been dutiful, conscientious and effectual in their statutory functions. The slain officers should not die in vain. The circumstance surrounding their deaths must be unravelled and the law applied as appropriate. In addition, there must be real answers to pertinent questions regarding the curious professional conduct of the security agencies in the fight against crime in the land.