There are unconfirmed reports that the Army Captain, Tijani Balarabe, who led the army team that killed policemen transporting kidnapping kingpin, Hamisu Wadume, last August might have been sent on a course rather than facing trial for his actions. Samuel Ajayi writes.
It was a chilling story that sent jitters down the spine of many Nigerians, when it broke out sometime in August last year. It was when a kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Bala, a.k.a Wadume, told a shocked nation that some officers of the Nigerian Army actually helped him to escape arrest. Wadume, whose operational base was Taraba State, was first arrested on August 6, 2019 by a team of anti-crime police officers in Taraba.
He was being taken to Jalingo, the state capital. If the police officers that were taking him to Jalingo thought their trip would be smooth and without hassles, they were dead wrong. And by the time they knew what was happening, the three policemen were dead. Stone dead. They had been gunned down in a most gruesome manner, when soldiers manning a checkpoint opened fire on them.
As expected, investigations were launched into the incident in order to unravel those behind the dastardly if not cowardly act. There were reports that soldiers attached to the 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army and top local police officers had connived to thwart Wadume’s arrest.
Few days later, Wadume was re-arrested and that was when he opened a can of worms. While being paraded before newsmen, he confirmed the suspicion that had been held that some men of the Nigerian Army were actually involved in his escape.
In Ibi, a town in Taraba State, he said this: “On our way out of Ibi, some soldiers open (sic) fire on the vehicle I was being transported in and killed some police officers. The soldiers then took me to their headquarters and cut off the handcuff from my hands and set me free. I have been hiding since then until now that the police arrested me again.”
Wadume had actually been re-arrested in Kano and now taken to the Force Headquarters. But when an online newspaper, PREMIUM TIMES, sought the opinion of the spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, Sagir Musa, on what the Army had to say to the grievous allegations that its men were involved in the escape of Wadume, he was not immediately forthcoming.
Although the Nigerian Army later confirmed that soldiers were responsible for the attack on the police team, it denied that it was deliberate, blaming it on a communication gap that was largely avoidable.
Now, one of those the kidnap kingpin named was a certain Captain of the Nigerian Army, Tijani Balarabe, who allegedly ordered the shooting and killing of operatives of the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team and their civilian informants on the day Wadume was being transported to Jalingo.
Wadume had been arraigned on charges bordering on terrorism, murder, kidnapping and illegal arms possession. And one of those to be arraigned with the suspect was Balarabe, the Army Captain.
The Inspector General of Police had filed a 16-count charge against Wadume, alongside 19 other suspects, including Balarabe, who was alleged to have ordered the shooting of the IRT Operatives and their civilian informants, on covert operation in Taraba State.
Balarabe was never in the dock till today. What might be shocking is the unconfirmed report that the Army Captain has not only been walking freely since that time; he had even proceeded on a course in Kaduna.
A source said, “The soldiers and officer involved are moving freely. One was posted to Cross River and Captain Balarabe, the kingpin, is on course in Kaduna. He even went to Ibi town Taraba State last week, where the killing happened. Many people saw him.”
Justice Binta Nyako, while presiding over the case, had ordered the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, or any other person in whose custody the suspects are, to produce the soldiers in court on March 30 this year. But there was no evidence that the soldiers were produced. The suspects ordered by the Judge to appear before the courts were the 2nd to 11th respondents in the charge.
If the allegations that the authorities of the Nigerian Army had been shielding the officers from interrogation were true, then it would be most unfortunate. In fact, it would be a slap on the face of the nation’s judiciary and another major setback for moves to strengthen collaboration among the nation’s security agencies.
For long, it has been said that Nigerian security agencies from the army to police to the DSS as well as Civil Defence hardly share intelligence, which would have assisted in achieving effective security operations. It is debatable if incidences like the killings of the policemen would do the efforts to redress this any good.
While the army, at the heat of the incident, claimed there were likely proofs that the killings were in error, that still does not mitigate against the fact that those who were involved still needed to face trial and prove their innocence.
Now, Nigerians would want to know why Captain Tijani Balarabe was not produced to stand trial with Wadume as directed by a competent court of law. The authorities of the Army will also have to debunk the rumours that it is deliberately protecting its own from answering for their actions and also deny or confirm the report that rather than facing trial, the captain has even been sent on a course. But if that’s not correct, where then is Balarabe? The nation needs an answer like yesterday.