Whether it was the case of the murder of Sheikh Goni in Yobe State or the woman in Kastina, or the killing of policemen in Taraba State, the Nigerian Army has largely demonstrated inconsistencies and double standard in dispensing justice for its officers and men, Ejiofor Alike writes
The revelation by the Nigerian Army that it had dismissed two soldiers involved in the killing of a popular Yobe cleric, Sheikh Aisami Goni Gashua may have again exposed the double standard deployed to dispense justice by the military authorities.
The Islamic scholar, who was on transit on the fateful day, had offered a ride to Lance Corporal John Gabriel, who later shot him dead. It was gathered that John later called his friend, Lance Corporal Adamu Gideon, in order to cover his tracks but nemesis caught up with both of them. They were subsequently arrested.
Before their dismissal from the Army, the suspects were demoted from the rank of Lance Corporal to Private. After that, the duo was derobbed in line with military law.
A statement issued by the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, said the two soldiers were dismissed after facing trial at the Headquarters 241 Recce Battalion, Nguru, having been indicted in a report of a Board of Inquiry set up to investigate the unfortunate incident.
He said that both soldiers were charged and summarily tried for failure to perform military duties and conduct prejudice to service discipline. The offences, according to him, are punishable under Section 62 (a) of Armed Forces Act CAP A20 and Section 103(1) of Armed Forces Act CAP A20 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004.
“The two dismissed soldiers will be officially handed over to the Nigeria Police, Yobe Command in Damaturu for civil prosecution in the court of law. Recall that the NA (Nigerian Army) pledged to institute a Board of Inquiry to unravel the circumstances surrounding the incident and speedily bring the suspects to justice, if indicted,” he said.
The treatment the two soldiers got is a stark difference from one the three soldiers involved in extortion and murder of a woman in Yankara village in Kastina State received.
The woman was arrested in a commercial vehicle in possession of money estimated to be N420,000 by members of a local vigilance group on May 7, 2021, at about 10 p.m. in Yankara village along Funtua-Gusau road. Upon interrogation, she was unable to reveal how she came about the huge sum. On the suspicion that she belonged to a syndicate of bandits, she was handed over to the troops for interrogation on the source of the money. Few days later, the woman was killed by the troops after collecting the money from her.
After what was said to be a thorough investigation of the case, the Army set up a court-martial in Sokoto to try them for the offences of murder which is a capital crime and extortion, in line with the Armed Forces Act. The soldiers were found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death. But the Army Council later commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.
The double standard in the administration of justice in the Nigerian Army was more evident in the case of Captain Tijani Balarabe and his men. In their case, the belief that “all animals are equal and some are more equal” and that the Nigerian justice system favours the rich, and mighty readily come to mind.
The story was not only chilling, the pictures that accompanied the dastardly act were gory and sent shivers down the spine of many Nigerians. Initially, many did not believe that the incident happened in Nigeria until when the kidnap kingpin, Bala Hamisu, a.k.a Wadume, was arrested. He later told a shocked nation that some officers of the Nigerian Army actually assisted him to escape arrest.
Wadume was on the wanted list of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) for kidnapping in Taraba and neighbouring states for a long time. He was specifically wanted for killing his victim, Usman Garba, after receiving N106.3million as ransom. He was assisted to escape from the custody of the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) by soldiers attached to Battalion 93, Takum, the soldiers also attacked the police team conveying the kidnap kingpin to the Taraba State police headquarters in Jalingo on August 6, 2019.
Three policemen and two civilians working with the IRT were killed during the incident, while five other police officers were injured. The policemen who died were Inspector Mark Ediale, Sergeants Usman DanAzumi and Dahiru Musa.
They were killed by the soldiers along Ibi-Jalingo road in Taraba State, on Tuesday, August 6, 2019 after they had succeeded in arresting Wadume. He was reportedly rescued after the soldiers had gunned down the cops.
The fugitive was subsequently re-arrested at his hideout at Layin Mai Allo Hotoro area of Kano State following a manhunt launched by the police special forces and IRT.
In a viral video released shortly after he was re-arrested, Wadume had admitted that he was rescued from police custody by soldiers who also cut off his handcuffs. He had also told the detectives how he met the commander of the troops attached to 93 Battalion, Takum, led by one Captain Tijjani Balarabe at the palace of the district head of Ibi town, from where they struck friendship after the gang leader gave him N30,000.
In a confession after he was re-arrested in Kano, the kidnapping kingpin had told his interrogators in Abuja that: “The police came to arrest me. When they arrested me, the army chased after them and opened fire. From there, they (soldiers) took me to their headquarters and cut off my handcuffs and released me. I went back to my house, but the police came to re-arrest me.”
The kingpin, who was a fish trader before he allegedly delved into arms trafficking and subsequently kidnapping, also claimed to have fuelled army patrol vehicles.
The Board of Inquiry (BOI) constituted to probe the matter had on October 8, released its report and recommended that the army and police should further investigate Captain Tijjani Balarabe, Sergeant Ibrahim Mohammed, Corporal Bartholomew Obanye, DCO Ibi Police Division, ASP Aondoona Iorbee, and Insp. Aliyu Dadje for complacency.
The Joint Investigative Panel set up by the Defence Headquarters was headed by Rear Admiral I.T. Olaiya. In a statement by acting Director of Defence Information, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, the BOI also recommended that further investigation be conducted on Wadume for gunrunning and kidnapping. It was, however, gathered that no further trial had been carried out in line with the recommendation of the probe panel.
Apart from the fact that police investigations showed that the army captain exchanged 191 phone conversations with the kidnap kingpin between July 9 and August 6, 2019, in one instance, the logs showed that the two men exchanged 166 phone calls. Documents also showed that Wadume similarly made several calls to the Ibi Divisional Crime Officer.
The crime officer was alleged to have made over 200 phone calls to Wadume while the station officer allegedly destroyed evidence showing that the IRT operatives documented the operation to arrest the kidnap kingpin at the Ibi Police Station.
To worsen his case, Capt Balarabe in his statement to the joint investigation panel set up by the Chief of Defence Staff admitted that Wadume was his friend, noting that the alleged kingpin once gave him fish worth N50,000. Balarabe also said that Wadume gave him N200,000 to repair a patrol van which was having mechanical problems.
Following the arraignment and trial of Wadume in court, the Federal High Court in Abuja had ordered the then Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, to release the Army officers, who were charged alongside Wadume to appear in court but the military refused to obey the court order. However, with the refusal of the military to release the men, the court continued with the trial of other accused persons.
On July 22, 2022, Wadume was convicted by Justice Binta Nyako and jailed for seven years. The judge handed down the sentence after finding him guilty of charges relating to escaping from lawful custody, as well as illegal dealings in prohibited firearms.
The judgment attracted criticisms from Nigerians who insisted that he should have been convicted for kidnapping which carries life imprisonment.
Besides Wadume, the court also jailed Uba Bala (aka Uba Delu) and Zubairu Abdullahi (aka Basho) for seven years each, while Aliyu Dadje, a dismissed Inspector of Police, got three years.
Despite the weight of evidence against Captain Balarabe and his men, they were cleared of wrong-doing by a military Board of Inquiry set up by the 3 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, Takum, Taraba State.
Military sources disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari approved the recommendations of the panel absolving the soldiers of complicity in the attack on the policemen and escape of the kidnap kingpin. Captain Balarabe has since been promoted to the rank of Major and continues on with his career after receiving the support of the military high command.
Many observers have faulted the inconsistencies in the dispensation of justice by the Army, which according to them, is worrisome as no remorse has been shown for the loss of lives of serving policemen who were shot while on legitimate duty to arrest a criminal.
Murder and extrajudicial killings are capital crimes. It is important to note that capital crimes cannot be waved away by summary dismissals nor are they forgotten due to the long period before justice is delivered.
The Army itself should be held responsible due to its inability to send a strong message to its personnel about the high value of Nigerian lives. The Army ought to conduct its trial processes in an open manner to ensure that justice is served. So long as the Army authorities continue to pay lip service to the capital crimes committed by its men, the offences shall continue to occur as proven by the recent killing of a policeman by unknown persons in Ojo Cantonment.