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Tragic Taraba ‘unfriendly’ friendly fire

It is enough cause for deep national grief whenever the country’s security forces suffer casualties at the instance of hostile elements, and in the cause of defending the fatherland in any operation. As the shield that protects the common weal of the nation, any mishap that befalls any of them, remains an injury to the entire country, on whose behalf they engage in domestic as well as external hostilities, against enemies of the nation. However, to receive reports of Nigerian soldiers firing on and killing Nigerian police officers – who were ostensibly on official duty as occurred last week in Taraba State, constitutes a most reprehensible cause of pain which all Nigerians need to lament over. Moreover, the spate of mutual recrimination between the Army authorities and the Police high command in the wake of the matter has not been helpful, as such has led to the trending public-take that, there is much more than meets the eye, over the incident.

According to media reports, a team of crack detectives attached to the IGP-IRS team who were in the process of conveying an arrested and handcuffed, allegedly notorious millionaire kidnapper in that state named Hamisu Wadume, were accidentally shot at by a detachment of soldiers along Ibi Jalingo Road, with some of the police officers killed, and others seriously injured. In security circles, what happened in Taraba is usually referred to as an incident of ‘friendly fire’, and occurs when armed personnel in combat situations, accidentally and erroneously fire at their colleagues or neutral forces. Such an incident always implicates failure of intelligence or compromised discretion of the attacker, or even outright interpersonal conflict and grudge with the possibility of attendant sabotage.

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Reports of the incident have so far featured inconclusive accounts from both the Army and Police angles from which can however be deduced, some tangible facts about the incident. Firstly, is that occupants of the vehicle attacked by the soldiers were legitimate police officers who had just arrested a notorious millionaire kidnapper, from his hideout and were conveying him back to their base in an unmarked white bus, when they ran into a series of military check points and were shot at one of these. Secondly, in the cause of the shooting at least three police officers died while several of their colleagues were seriously injured with bullet wounds. Beside the foregoing, even the earlier arrested and handcuffed Hamisu Wadume, was set free at the point of the shooting – a development that breaches the standing procedures with respect to security operations which require such an incident to be reported to the command base of the soldiers. Thirdly, even as the Police have confirmed that the occupants of the vehicle were its personnel who were involved in a covert operation targeted at arresting the now freed felon, the military claims that the vehicle that was attacked failed to stop for clearance at several of its checkpoints – a development which raised suspicion over its mission and occupants, hence it was attacked. To corroborate the position of the military they were not informed about the covert operation by the Police even as their operation of high alert checkpoints in that flashpoint of crises which Taraba State has become. The Army claims to have responded to a distress call by villagers that persons matching the profile of the occupants in the attacked vehicle have kidnapped the said suspected kidnapper Wadume.

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Meanwhile, given the elaboration associated with typical military checkpoints across the country – what with the sandbags, speed breakers, and the eagle-eyed, ever suspecting vigilance of the officers, it remains practically impossible for any vehicle to just run across without active interception by the military operatives. And with the claim by the Police that the victims of the attack made physical contact with the soldiers in at least one of such checkpoints, the matter leaves many ends hanging loose.

Reactions from various sections of the country capture the shock and outrage of Nigerians over this clearly avoidable national tragedy. Just as well, President Muhamadu Buhari has also directed the Defence Headquarters to commence investigations into the incident. This is also as the IGP Mr Adamu Mohammed has ordered investigations into why and how the Police personnel met the disaster.

Meanwhile the outpouring of grief and concern notwithstanding, not a few keen observers of the country’s security terrain express more disappointment than shock, describing the development as qualifying more as a predictable outcome. As is common knowledge, fatal clashes between the various components of the country’s security forces have been occurring on a daily basis across the country, with Nigerians losing count of the instances. If it is not a clash between soldiers and police officers today it will be between members of the various arms of the core armed forces –  Army, Navy and Air Force personnel, on another day. It was therefore only a matter of when, where and how, the next unhelpful clash among the various components of the country’s security architecture would play out.

Incidentally, the main causative factor for such morbid circumstances remains the failure of the government to discharge its exclusive responsibility of reviewing and repositioning on a continuous basis, the country’s security architecture. Among the most acute areas where the expected reform of the security architecture is expected, remain those of poor personnel attitude and inter agency rivalry. These are not new problems in Nigeria and have been so pervasive to cause a former Inspector General of Police, – Mr Solomon Arase, to observe that “there are no medals to be won” with inter-agency rivalry among the country’s security forces.

In any case, across the world the issue of inter-agency rivalry among security forces is common. It is however the practice by respective governments to adopt ways and means of curtailing its more deleterious manifestations which can compromise the operational effectiveness of designated operatives. This is the basis for promoting the ‘esprit de corps’ tradition and intensive joint retraining of their assets.

In the case of Nigeria, the urgency of fast tracking the repositioning of the security architecture remains more urgent than the government is presently addressing the matter. If nothing else, the painful case of the slain Police officers in Taraba provides the impetus for a closer attention to the state of operational comportment of and collaboration between the security agencies.

This is to extend the condolences of this column to the families of the slain Police officers, the IGP Adamu Mohammed and the Nigeria Police Force in a trying time as this.

 

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