There was some tragic, tragic news on Wednesday: three police officers and a civilian were gunned down by soldiers along Ibi-Jalingo road, Taraba state. When the police started tweeting about the incident, you could feel their pain. As things unfolded, it became clear that these were not ordinary police officers: the three of them — Mark Edaile, Usman Danzumi and Dahiru Musa — were members of the inspector-general of police’s intelligence response team (IRT), a well-trained squad that has been cracking tough crimes across the country, the most notable being the arrest of the suspected kidnap kingpin, Chukwudi Dumeme Onuamadike aka “Evans”.
There are a lot of questions to be asked, some of which border on the operational code of our security agencies as well as simple inter-agency communication and synergy. Have our security institutions gone so amateurish and so disoriented that a suspected kidnap kingpin could not be arrested and transported to Abuja without a fuss? That is the most harmless question one can ask on the side of neutrality. It does not make sense for soldiers to open fire on police officers or for police officers to open fire on soldiers in this manner. I know there is something called “friendly fire” in war jargon but the circumstances surrounding this tragedy do not totally hint at an accident.
The army’s version of the incident is that troops from the 93 Battalion in Takum “pursued and exchanged fire with some suspected kidnappers” following a distress call from a member of the public. According to Col Sagir Musa, army’s spokesman, the troops were responding to the call to rescue a kidnap victim. He said: “The suspected kidnappers numbering about ten (10) and driving in a white bus… refused to stop when they were halted by troops at three consecutive check points. [This] prompted a hot pursuit of the fleeing suspects by the troops.” The “kidnappers” then opened fire on the troops, he further said, and this prompted them “to return fire”.
So far, so plausible. However, the police version is similar only up to a point. In a press statement by Mr Frank Mba, a deputy commissioner of police and force PRO, he said the officers identified themselves before they were mowed down. He also said the police authorities in Taraba were aware of the covert operation, contrary to army’s claim. Mba said: “It is not true that the policemen failed to identify themselves… The video on the incident, now viral, wherein the voice of one of the soldiers was heard loudly proclaiming that the policemen were from the Force Headquarters, Abuja, speaks volume.” To be honest, I could not watch the video. I would be further distressed.
Mba wondered who sent the distress call to the army in the first place, and that if the soldiers were indeed out to rescue a kidnap victim, where is he? Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume, the suspect that had been arrested by the IGP team, is said to be responsible for many high-profile kidnappings, including one that recently netted a ransom of N100 million. Daily Trust, in a report on Friday, quoted local people describing Wadume as a “generous man” with no visible means of income. The man regularly “blessed” villagers with cash, motorcycles and cars, so he was much loved. It was probably the beneficiaries that alerted the “guardian” soldiers to the “abduction” of the “cheerful giver”.
Now that Wadume has disappeared into thin air after his “rescue” by the “gallant” troops, we are faced with more questions than answers. Musa said policemen first opened fire on the troops. Really? Open fire on troops who had superior weapons? Really? How did the soldiers manage to kill police officers while sparing Wadume’s life in the same bus? How was Wadume able to walk away from a wrecked bus that had just been bombarded by troops? James Bond things? No wonder, it is said that when organised crimes last for so long without a solution appearing to be in sight, then men and women in uniform may be complicit. If this is true, this should explain why money-spinning banditry, kidnapping and terrorism remain intractable in Nigeria.
A few months back, Lt Gen TY Danjuma, former army chief, accused the military of colluding with bandits in Taraba, his home state. “The armed forces are not neutral; they collude with the armed bandits that kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement. They cover them. If you are depending on the Armed Forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one,” he said at the convocation of Taraba State University. Because of the local ethnic and religious divide in Taraba in which Danjuma is regarded as an interested party, many commentators descended on him. However, we can remove Danjuma from the equation and sincerely examine the allegation not just in Taraba but even in Borno, Zamfara, Kaduna and the Niger Delta states.
Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, the chief of army staff, did not take the accusation lightly, though. Danjuma is not an ordinary Nigerian. After the military hierarchy had condemned Danjuma for the outburst — which they flatly denied — Buratai set up a committee to investigate the allegation of collusion. Surprise, surprise: the committee said Danjuma was dead wrong. Danjuma himself had refused to appear before the panel; it would appear he has since then become estranged with the northern establishment — a telling disenchantment, given the role he played in the countercoup of 1966 and what he came to represent to the north thereafter.
The report of the panel read thus: “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 (Retired); there were few instances where locals drag soldiers outside strict military duties to intervene in civil disputes; there was (were) good collaborations, synergy and cooperation between the Nigeria Army and other security agencies operating in Taraba State; there is sustained media campaign to belittle the military operations in Taraba State.” Looking back now, we may conclude that the investigation and the report might not have been very helpful.
I recall that Chief Darius Ishaku, the Taraba governor, complained when he was re-elected in March that his jubilant supporters were being attacked and killed. He said people in military uniform did most of the killings. Several times, the state government has openly accused soldiers of escalating the crisis they were deployed to tackle. The state government has held the troops responsible for most of the local killings. The army has always denied these allegations. But if the Ibi incident can be treated as a pointer, then the military authorities need to review their internal operations across the country, not just in Taraba — even if they are suspicious of Danjuma’s intentions.
Thankfully, President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered a high-level investigation into the sickening incident. The message I am getting is that he is disturbed and wants to get to the root of the tragedy. I am silently hoping that there will be a departure from the norm so that something positive will come out of this investigation. Nigerian soldiers hardly get punished for their atrocities. I still remember the 2005 incident when soldiers burnt down the Area ‘C’ command headquarters of the Nigeria police, Ojuelegba, Lagos. Nobody was punished. If anyone was punished, it was not made public. The massacres in Odi, Zaki Biam, Baga and Gbaramatu were, sadly, never punished.
I would like to conclude by making brief observations. One, the police are, unusually, at the receiving end this time and I can feel their pain. However, their officers randomly kill hapless Nigerians. (On Friday, a motorcyclist was murdered on Abuja-Kaduna road for failing to “drop” N500; on Saturday, a trader was shot dead by SARS in Lagos). Police usually offer an “official” story to cover up, as the army might have tried to do in Taraba. God only knows how many lives have been wasted by the police in this country. They collaborate with criminals. They kill with impunity. There is never justice. That the police accused the army of “lying” over the Taraba tragedy just brings home what ordinary Nigerians have lived with all their lives in the hands of the police. Government should take note.
Two, Nigeria’s security agencies need to be thoroughly cleaned up and professionalised. We should stop dismissing complaints against the conduct of these agencies. Something is not right. It could be anybody’s turn tomorrow. Now that soldiers have opened fire on police officers, whether or not accidentally, the message is clear that nobody is safe, not even an armed law enforcement officer. The current crime situation in Nigeria is a massive indictment on the capacity, capability and credibility of the security agencies. A shake-up is non-negotiable. Buhari must be willing to do the needful, and not make just cosmetic changes, to stop the haemorrhage. SOS.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
The #RevolutionNow protests called by Sowore Omoyele, activist, politician and publisher of Sahara Reporters, ran into troubled waters on Day One when the police dispersed protesters and the DSS arrested him. The DSS has now secured a court order to detain him for “terrorism”. I definitely do not subscribe to some of the words used by Sowore in his call to action which tend to suggest he was actively supporting insurrection against the state. This is the same country he recently aspired to lead by partaking in the presidential election. But I can bet with my laptop that this terrorism charge cannot stand in court. People should be free to protest in a democracy. Sledgehammer.
Hon. Seriake Dickson, the governor of Bayelsa state, has said the state spends about N6 billion annually to service 1,500 political service holders. That is resource control at its best — sharing the money round to the political elite so that they can enjoy their lives. The N6 billion is probably a fraction of other benefits from contract awards and “something for the weekend”. An analysis of the oil-rich state’s budget by TheCable reveals that the allocation to health sector in 2019 is N6 billion. It is none of my business to tell any state how to spend the God-given “oyel” money, but this revelation backs my argument that more money does not automatically mean more sense. Fact.
Olusegun Adeniyi, chairman of THISDAY editorial board, was made an honorary fellow of the prestigious Nigerian Academy of Letters on Thursday — a fitting honour to one of Nigeria’s highest selling authors and one of the country’s most beloved columnists. His contributions to “letters”, particularly his last three books, have been duly rewarded by a worthy institution. Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, academic, journalist and communication expert, was also made an honorary fellow. In the coming weeks, I intend to discuss the convocation lecture delivered by Prof Emeritus Godwin Sogolo on “Religion and Morality in a Secular State”. Stimulating.
‘TAKE A BOW’
If you do not have a sense of humour, you cannot enjoy social media. Although you find all sorts of things and human beings on Facebook and Twitter, it is not all bad. Aside the breaking news and educative information that I get on the go, the humour is one thing I cannot live without! The one I enjoyed the most during the week was a parody of the ministerial screening tradition of the senate in which some nominees are barely asked to take a bow and leave without any questioning. This one goes like this: “Armed robbers were screening victims then one of them said ‘sir I was once an armed robber ‘. They said ‘please take a bow and leave’…” Wicked!