Taraba Police/Military Altercation: the bigger picture

It is a tragic incident that should never have happened. And right now, two people hold the key to unravelling the cause of the deadly debacle in Taraba State, between the soldiers at the checkpoint on Wukari-Ibi Road and officers of the Intelligence Response Team of the Nigeria Police. One of the men is the arrested but released suspected Kidnap kingpin Alhaji Hamisu Wadume, while the other is whoever it was that passed a distress call to the military captain in command of the checkpoint. They alone can help us apportion blame correctly. The tragedy is that we have lost three highly trained and successful operatives of the crack Intelligence Response Team of the Inspector General of Police.

Soldiers according their version of the incident, believed that secret police speeding back to Jalingo Taraba State with the high profile suspected kingpin of a kidnapping cartel terrorising the State, were themselves kidnappers with their victim. In the tragic engagement, the soldiers, shot dead, three policemen and a civilian, and rescued Alhaji Hamisu Wadume, whom police say was in handcuffs and restraining leg chains. The following morning, spokesperson of the Nigeria Police Force, DCP Frank Mba, told the media that the affected officers  led by Assistant Superintendent of Police Felix Adolije, of the had come under attack in the process of moving suspected kidnap kingpin, Alhaji Hamisu Wadume, to the Command Headquarters in Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State. One inspector, two sergeants and a civilian died as a result of gunshot injuries sustained during the attack by the soldiers. Mba charged that the military officers shot at the policemen despite enough evidence that they were on a genuine though covert mission.

The Army responded to the Police bulletin immediately. It’s spokesperson Col. Sagir Musa, said the refusal of the policemen to stop at the checkpoints prompted the soldiers to act, believing that the plain clothes police officers in a private bus were indeed kidnappers. Col. Sagir also said  the  Nigerian Army troops, were responding to a “distressed call to rescue a kidnapped victim”.

Police again responded immediately with a statement by its spokesperson DCP Mba which was titled SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT, with a poser – WHERE IS THE “RESCUED” NOTORIOUS KIDNAPPER, ALHAJI HAMISU BALA WADUME?

DCP Mba described the killing of the policemen as “murder”, “unprovoked” and “unwarranted”. He revealed that the man Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume the military ”rescued”, was a “millionaire kidnapper arrested by the Police” and demanded his whereabouts from the military. The police queried the military angle that it was responding to a distressed caller, saying that the Nigerian Army ought to have arrested the purported distress caller – and going further asked the more pertinent questions; how and why Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume properly restrained with handcuffs by the Police, was released by the soldiers?

While this face-off continued between the police and the military, President Muhammadu Buhari took the necessary step to host a security briefing with his service chiefs. The Acting Director of Defence Information then announced that in compliance with the directive issued by President Buhari, the Chief of Defence Staff Gen Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin had constituted a 7-man Joint Investigation Panel to unravel the circumstances that led to the incident along Ibi–Wukari road in Taraba State. The Joint Investigation panel, headed by Rear Admiral IT Olaiya had a representative each from the Nigerian Army, Navy, Airforce the Nigeria Police, Department of State Service and the Defence Intelligence Agency. Even before this, the Army and Police had constituted a Joint Investigation Panel to investigate the incident. According to Col. Sagir Musa in a statement, the panel was to be headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Criminal Investigation Department, DIG Mike Ogbizi. In other words we have two investigations in progress on only one issue. Already, undenied reports say that the military has placed the captain who ordered the “rescue” of Alhaji Hamisu under arrest. The reports go further to say that the Defence Headquarters has ordered the 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Takum, Taraba State, to produce the fleeing kidnap kingpin, Alhaji Hamisu Wadume, as evidence that its soldiers are not culpable in his “escape”.

As these investigations are going on, it would be hazardous to amplify any conclusions that the account in this column may help one to draw, but it has to be emphasised that the incident is a glaring indicator of the disturbing rivalry and conflict between the different departments in our security architecture. It has been said many times that this incessant rivalry has placed the war on our insurgency and other forms of insecurity into great jeopardy. Therefore the investigations must be thorough and transparent to ensure that  any culpability is addressed and the perpetrators appropriately punished. All available evidence must be subjected to professional analysis. A video in circulation has captured the gory event vividly. It shows clearly, that two police officers shot lay dead, but a third officer, wounded is seen sitting in the mud, his hands help up in surrender as he looks pleadingly at his captors. He is seen muttering location of his I.D to be checked, but he is kicked. On his back he still holds hands up as he is dragged out of camera view. When he is dragged back into view, he is a dead man. It is obvious from the video that the soldiers were being helped by civilians ostensibly from the area. They speak indecent and inhumane expletives on the dead.

This incident should cause an urgent look at the predicament of the Nigeria Police. Without sufficient manpower, it can not address the demands of policing the country particularly in the face of our security challenges. The country’s police force needs more men, more strategic reorientation, training, and a complete upgrade of ordinances, more especially technical digital and forensic gadgets. The clear success of Operation Puff Adder and the effectiveness of the Intelligence Response Team is encouraging and should be kept up. We must address recruitment and training of more operatives in the graduate cadre and quickly resolve the lingering question of State Police because essentially, Nigeria nonetheless must begin to demilitarise the polity. It should not be by way of humiliating the military, bad enough as it is that its defence of our territorial sovereignty has been reduced to an unnecessarily long struggle against an internal insurgency. It should be by speedily restoring the Police Force into their role of internal security, which measures suggested here would effectively address. No one is better placed to bring this reform about than President Muhammadu Buhari himself. The story is told that the Nigeria Police in 1983 accurately reported on the coup that brought General Buhari to power and that as punishment, we systematically undermined the Nigeria Police, disabling it from coping with its duties. We inadvertently militarised internal security. It was the view that a strong Police Force could thwart a coup! We refused the“replacing of their MarkIV with AK47 and AR15 assault rifles, grenade launchers and mechanised armour and even the Anti Aircraft that Boko Haram is using against our troops. Our police were refused body armour, night vision equipment and digital security gadgets as standard ordinance”. If we get the police and Department of State Security right, we will rest the armed forces and reserve them for external defence, improve internal peace and security, and reduce our huge military costs.

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