No Army Collusion with Bandits in Taraba Killings, Says Buratai

  •   Danjuma’s allegation unfounded

By Senator Iroegbu in Abuja

The investigative panel set up by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, on the alleged partisanship of the military while conducting operations to tackle security challenges across the country, following the outcry by the former Minister of Defence, Lt-Gen. Theophilus  Danjuma, has submitted its report with a verdict that the claims of the former COAS were untrue.

Buratai, at a briefing in Abuja yesterday, said the panel report showed that concerns raised by some government officials and very senior citizens on the approach of the Nigerian Army in the process of conducting the operations, especially in Taraba State, were looked into by the panel with “no guilty verdict”.

The Army Chief recalled that he set up a 10-man panel comprising senior Army officers (both serving and retired) and members from the National Human Rights Commission, Nigerian Bar Association and other Civil Society Organizations, to investigate the veracity of the allegations made against the Nigerian Army.

He said the panel, which was inaugurated on April9, 2018, visited government officials, security agencies and other stakeholders covering the three senatorial zones of Taraba State, including Governor of Taraba State, Mr. Dairus Ishaku.

After their findings, Buratai said: “There was no collusion on the part of the Nigerian Army and units operating in Taraba State with any bandit(s) as stated by Lieutenant General TY Danjuma.”

“It is apparent that the clashes in Taraba State are a result of clan and communal crisis that predates this present government. Most of the crises in Taraba State are politically motivated and some persons are deliberately escalating the situation in Taraba State for selfish gains. With respect to the statement by Lt Gen TY Danjuma (retired), it is clear that the allegations were not true, hence there is a need to urge for caution on the part of the elder statesman, in view of the security implications of such comments.”

The COAS listed other major findings of the Investigation Panel as follows: “There were few instances where locals drag soldiers outside strict military duties to intervene in civil disputes. There was good collaborations, synergy and cooperation between the Nigeria Army and other security agencies operating in Taraba State; and there is sustained media campaign to belittle the military operations in Taraba State.”

The panel also noted that most of the crises over the years in Taraba State were particularly in Takum, Wukari, Ussa, Donga and Sardauna local government areas; there was absence of Nigerian Army deployments in some crises prone areas in the hinterland in Taraba State; and that the Nigeria-Cameroon common borders in Taraba State were porous.

The panel further revealed: “There was a massive proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Taraba State, some of which had been recovered from warring parties, criminal and unauthorised persons. Troops deployed in Taraba State for Operation MESA were not paid RCA by the state government since February 2018; and there was inadequate communication equipment in the units which impedes Nigerian Army operations.

“Some of the localities in the hinterland in Taraba State were not accessible by road; and the Commanding Officer 93 Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel IB Gambari commands his unit effectively and professionally and was only being vilified by some people/government of Taraba State for his refusal to act outside his professional duties or do the biddings of some government officials.”

The panel also claimed that “Lieutenant General TY Danjuma (Retired) could not be accessed by it and “the Governor of Taraba State made several attempts to ensure the removal of the Commanding Officer of 93 Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel IB Gambari for his refusal to be dragged into the state politics”.

It stressed that Taraba State is highly heterogeneous and divided along ethno-religious lines; noting that the Chairman of Takum LGA, Hon Shiban Tikari made several attempts to undermine the authority of the Commanding Officer 93 Battalion through some officers of the unit; and that the troops have a good understanding of the Code of Conduct/Rule of Engagement.

It agreed that there was verifiable evidence that two Nigerian Air Force (NAF) helicopters with registration numbers NAF 574 and NAF 575 landed in Gembu on March 15, 2018 and April 11, 2018 respectively without the knowledge of the local authority.

According to the Panel, the NAF helicopters and personnel that landed in Gembu area were for the proposed establishment of Nigerian Air Force Base at Gembu.

Against this backdrop, the panel recommended that the Army Headquarters should device a means of independent operation across Nigeria so as to insulate soldiers from the overbearing influence of politicians in government.

In response, Buratai said the Nigerian Army was also of the view that the situation in Taraba State had steadily deteriorated largely due to distrust, intolerance, lack of inclusion and accommodation of different ethnic groups in the state. 

“This situation has made it very difficult for the Nigerian Army to carry out its responsibilities in the state without being tainted. Consequently, all sides in Taraba State need to be cautioned against making inflammatory statements that are detrimental to peace and security.”

Buratai further assured of the Nigerian Army’s loyalty and subordination to civil authority in carrying out its constitutional roles and responsibilities.