By Evelyn Usman
For the second time in one year, the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team, IRT was hit by tragedy, following the death of three of its gallant officers, in Taraba state, Tuesday.
A similar incident occurred on August 11, 2019, when four IRT operatives: Inspector. Benard Odibo, Inspector Mamman Abubakar, Inspector Haruna Ibrahim and Sgt. Emmanuel Istifanus, were ambushed by kidnappers at a remote settlement inside Rigasa forest in Kaduna State. They had gone to affect the arrest of kidnappers of Sheikh Ahmad Adam Algarkawy on August 2, 2018, in Rigasa area of Kaduna State. They had succeeded in arresting two kidnap suspects and were on their way out , when they were ambushed by other kidnappers.
In the recent case, the deceased operatives: Inspector Mark Ediale, Sergeant Dahiru Musa and another Sergeant, including others, had gone to Taraba State to effect the arrest of a suspected kidnap kingpin , who was indicted in various kidnap cases.
As the Kaduna case, they had succeeded in arresting the suspect , handcuffed him and whisked him away in their vehicle, heading for Jalingo when the unexpected happened.
They were greeted by volleys of sporadic bullets from armed men later discovered to be troops of the 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army.
From the video clip on the incident that has gone viral, it showed that the car in which the operatives drove, could have somersaulted, indicating that the driver was either rattled by the bullets. The operatives laid on the ground, with one of them managing to explain that they were policemen.
The slain operatives were described as one of the best hands and most highly trained IRT operatives in the country.
They were said to have been part of the teams responsible for the arrest Of Nigeria’s alleged most notorious kidnap Kingpin, Chukwudimeme Onwuamadike, popularly known as
Evans. Among other cases they had been able to crack , were : arrest Of 22 Boko Haram Terrorist Responsible for the 2014 Kidnapping of the Chibok School Girls in Borno State; arrest of the UMar Abdulmalik, one of the overall Boko Haram Commanders of North Central Nigeria and several of his members; arrest of kidnappers of two American and two Canadian citizens in Kaduna State.
Also, recently, the team was said to have rescued the Magajin Garin Daura in Kano State and arrested 13 terrorists responsible for his kidnap , in his home town on May 5, 2019, among other outstanding records.
The blame game
Rather than demonstrate the best tradition of esprit de-corps as expected of two foremost security forces, there seems to be blame and counter blame between the Police and Army on the matter. While a statement issued by the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba , Wednesday, announced the sad incident , a reaction from the Acting Director, Army Public Relations , Colonel Sagir Musa, said that the policemen were mistaken for kidnappers.
In the statement, the Army said, “ troops of 93 Battalion Nigerian Army Takum, pursued and exchanged fire with some suspected kidnappers who indeed turned out to be an Intelligence Response Team from the Police Force Headquarters Abuja on a covert assignment from Abuja resulting in the death and injury of some members of the Team.
“On the 6th of August 2019, the said Nigerian Army troops, while responding to a distressed call to rescue a kidnapped victim , exchanged fire with the suspected kidnappers along Ibi-Wukari Road in Taraba State.
“The suspected kidnappers numbering about 10 and driving in a white bus with registration number LAGOS MUS 564 EU, refused to stop when they were halted by troops at three consecutive check points. The flagrant refusal of the suspected kidnappers to stop at the three checkpoints prompted a hot pursuit of the fleeing suspects by the troops. It was in this process that the suspected kidnappers who were obviously armed opened fire at the troops sporadically thus prompting them to return fire”.
The response of the Army seems not to have gone down well with the Police who are mourning the death of their men. In reaction to the Army’s response, the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, issued another statement Thursday, where he demanded for the suspect who was arrested by the IRT men.
Mba who said that the reaction of the Army justified the action of its soldiers, accused the Army of
being silent on the source of the alleged distress report or identity of the complainant, on the strength of whose report, it claimed informed its decision to engage in the purported chase and rescue operation.
He said, “ It is not true that the Policemen failed to identify themselves as alleged in the press release. 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. Besides, the presence of the IRT personnel was well known to the Taraba Police Command as the operatives officially and properly documented not only at the State Command Headquarters but also at the Wukari Area Command and the Ibi Divisional Headquarters. As a matter of fact, some of the detectives from the Taraba State Command’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were part of the operation.
“The Force also considers it insensitive, disrespectful and unpatriotic for the press release by the Army to continue to describe policemen on lawful national assignment as ‘suspected kidnappers’ long after it had become crystal clear to the Army that these are law enforcement officers who unfortunately were gruesomely murdered in the line of duty by Nigerian soldiers attached to 93 Battalion, Takum”.
Nigerians condemn killing
Nigerians from different walks of life have condemned the killings of the operatives. One of them, President of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operation of Nigeria, AISSON Dr. Ona Ekhomu , who described the incident as a a “preventable tragedy” , said “ the violence quotient in Taraba State is too high and that is what played out on the Biu-Jalingo Highway on August 6th.
“The widespread use of the military in public law enforcement carries grave risks as they are not trained for such duties. It should therefore be severely curtailed and the Nigeria Police Force empowered to carry out their constitutional duties”, adding that the military personnel used excessive deadly force in trying to arrest the 10 police personnel who they believed were kidnappers.
“ The use of the military in public law enforcement should be reduced to prevent further occurrence of “blue on blue” violence (friendly fire incidents). He said that the United States Congress in 1878 passed the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) in order to forbid the use of the US military in law enforcement duties within the United States. He said that the “use of military in public law enforcement is being abused and such abuses lead to incidents of this nature”.
The security expert also said that the incident highlighted poor law enforcement tactics and poor inter-agency cooperation “particularly in the operational realm”. He said police undercover detectives suffered a lot of workplace violence as they were often mistaken for hoodlums and attacked by members of the public and even by other law enforcement officers.
He therefore, advised the Federal Government to recruit additional 100,000 police personnel to adequately police the country, adding that the under-policing of the country was creating many ungoverned spaces which was providing safe haven for kidnappers, militants, insurgents, ritual killers, cultists and other aggressors.
On his part, Executive Director, The Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, RULAAC, Mr Okechukwu Nwagunma, , said, “ I’m saddened by the news of the gun attack on operatives of the IGP’s Intelligence Response Unit on covert operation by soldiers at a check point in Taraba, leading to the death of three operatives and one civilian and injury on many other operatives. I am also saddened by the hasty release, by the Army, of the kidnap suspect in handcuff whom they claimed they believed was a kidnap victim.
“The Army claimed they received a distress from a community that a suspected kidnap gang had kidnapped someone from the community. They also claimed that the Police team which they mistook to be the kidnappers refused to stop at three consecutive military check points which warranted their pursuit and gun attack on the suspected kidnappers who engaged them in a gun fire exchange.
They said the incident happened due to ‘lack of proper coordination and liaison’.
Issues for concern are : Did the Police team inform the Police authorities within the jurisdiction about their presence and mission?
Did the Police team refuse to stop at the military check points when flagged to stop?; Why did the army immediately release the suspect in handcuff, even if they believed he was a kidnap victim?; This incident needs to be properly and exhaustively investigated to find out what happened”.
On its part, Crime Reporters Association of Nigeria, CRAN, described the incident as unfortunate, saying it could have been avoided had professionalism been displayed on the part of both security agencies.
A statement signed by its Secretary, Ethics and Human Interest Committee, Mr Frank Oshanugor, read, “
We demand as a matter of urgency, that discreet investigation into the killing be carried out by the Joint Investigation Panel constituted by the Army headquarters and the Nigeria Police Force, headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police in-charge of Criminal Investigation Department, DIG Mike Ogbizi, to ascertain the actual circumstances surrounding the gun attack and that the findings be made public . The investigation should also include : whether the operatives refused to stop at the Military checkpoints as claimed by the Army; Whether there was any distress call on the abduction of anyone: who and when the distress call was made as claimed by the Army;
Who released the handcuffed suspect that was being taken to Jalingo by the operatives and who gave the command to the troop to fire at the operatives’ vehicle’.