POLSCOPE By Eddy Odivwri
Last Friday, the nation marked the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, a day set aside to remember and celebrate men and women of the armed forces who paid the supreme price in their effort to defend their fatherland. Usually, they are those felled by the bullets of their enemies or those who suffered death while tackling the enemies of state.
But on what occasion do we remember and celebrate men of the armed forces who were killed by their fellow armed men?
On August 6, 2019, some soldiers from the 93 Battalion, Takum, Taraba State, shot and killed three policemen and two civilians at Ibi, in Taraba State. The Policemen had come to arrest a notorious Kidnapper who had kidnapped and killed many people before then.
The Policemen were officers of the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) who were sent from the Police Headquarters in Abuja, to carry out the operation.
The kidnapper kingpin is Bala Hamisu, better known as Wadume (a corruption of ‘what do you mean’?). He got arrested by the IRT officers. As they were taking Wadume to Jalingo, the alarm bell began to ring in the camp of all the co-connivers of Wadume. Pronto, messages were radioed to the several checkpoints to ensure Wadume is seized from his arresters. And that was it, At the Ibi military checkpoint, the policemen who had properly identified themselves, were shot dead and Wadume was ferried away to safety. The soldiers called a welder to cut the handcuff. They fed Wadume, and asked him to flee.
He landed in a suburb in Kano State, from where policemen re-arrested him about a week after.
Wadume was to confess how he was rescued by the soldiers at Ibi check point, how they enabled him to escape to Kaduna State and how he had always worked in cahoots with some ten military men, whose names he gave, including two policemen: Aondoma Iorbee, a Superintendent of Police, and Inspector Aliyu Dadje .
Indeed, the Joint Investigative Panel of enquiry, headed by Rear Admiral T. Olaiya, confirmed the ill affinity between Wadume and Capt Tijani Balarabe, as they exchanged 119 telephone conversations between July 9 and August 6, 2019. What were they talking about?
Wadume had, so-to-say, given it all out, which should have made it easier for prosecution.
Capt Balarabe had also confessed that Wadume is his friend and that they both became friends because of the gift of fish from Wadume to him. He further confessed having received N200, 000 once from Wadume to enable him repair the army patrol vehicle.
All was set for arraignment. Wadume along with ten others were charged to court on a 10-count charge bordering on kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, gun running, terrorism, murder etc.
But the ten soldiers implicated by Wadume did not show up in court.
Justice Binta Nyako ordered that the Chief of Army Staff, should release the soldiers to face prosecution. But the order was disobeyed and ignored. And there is no consequence!
And since then, we have been in the annoying and draggy protocol of continuing the trial.
The Police which was initially keen in ensuring the prosecution of Wadume and the killer soldiers suddenly developed cold feet, or so it seems.
Last June 3, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, announced that his office was taking over the Wadume case.
Sadly, since then till date, the case has not made any progress. Nigerians do not know what has happened to the case. They do not know where Wadume is.
After Malami’s interference, the next time the matter came up in court, Nigerians were alarmed to hear that not only were the ten military officers plus the two police officers absent from court, their names were no more in the charge sheet.
In fact, the charge had been edited. Malami called it “severance of charge”.
He explained that he had to severe the charges because the soldiers were not available to face trial, since they had to be released by the Army authorities. So, question is why is the army refusing to release them for trial?
According to Malami, “ The interest of justice requires legitimacy allowed for segmentation of the case in the interest of speedy trial”
He made this statement on June 13, last year. More than seven months after, we have not seen any evidence of speed on the matter.
He further explained that “the authorities are only giving time to allow the established processes to be consummated” Empty grammar!
Seven months after, we have not even heard of orderly room trial, let alone prosecution. So how much time does Malami and his co-travellers need for the “process to be consummated”?
Rather than accelerate the case, what we have seen is that the lead suspect, Capt Balarabe has not only been posted out of Taraba command, he has since been sent on a course at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji; in what appears like a reward for conniving with a kidnapper and killer.
It is stories like this that fuel the belief that “with the right connection, even the devil can see God”. Were it not so, why should a military officer who conspired with a confessed criminal to kill and kidnap innocent Nigerians be given a fresh lease in his career?
Why are the accused soldiers being shielded from prosecution, either in the orderly room trial or in the regular courts?
Why is the life of the police officers and civilians killed by the Capt Balarabe not counting for anything? Do the killed police officers and civilians not deserve justice, even in death?
Very recently, a soldier, Private Azunna Maduabuchi was sentenced to death for shooting and killing his commander for not allowing him to travel. So what is the difference between Maduabuchi’s offence and the offences of Capt Balarabe, Wadume and co?
The life of the shot army commander is equal to the lives of the shot policemen and the two civilians.
How can we say we are fighting kidnapping and banditry whilst we treat with kids’ gloves, those caught right in the act? I hate to think that it has anything to do with ethnic consideration.
Why is Malami and Lt Gen Buratai stalling the trial of the suspects? Why do they want to sweep this matter under the over-burgeoned carpet? Who approved the training programme for a man accused of murder? Are these persons above the law? Justice delayed is justice denied.