By Rotimi Fasan
Following the cold-blooded murder of five members of the Inspector General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team, IRT, by renegade elements of the 92 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Jalingo, Taraba State, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered investigation of the incident. The Defence Headquarters, DHQ, set up a seven-man joint investigative panel, comprising officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, the Police, Department of State Services and the Defence Intelligence Agency under the headship of Rear Admiral. I. T. Olaiya. Their remit was to unravel the circumstances surrounding the murder of the IRT men. The Olaiya panel released its findings about a week ago without appearing to have moved the investigation any further from where pandemonium struck, leading to the back and forth between the Police and the Army, after the premeditated killing of the IRT officers on August 6. The summary of the panel’s report has an echo of General Yakubu Gowon’s reconciliatory statement at the end of the Nigerian Civil War: No victor; no vanquished.
Yet as this case presently stands, there is a clear victor (the Army) as there are clear losers, and these are not just the Police. But the family of the slain five men, their wives and children who will now live with the reality that their loved ones and breadwinners are forever gone. Among other things, the Panel blamed both the Police and the Army for not following standard procedure in the event that led to the murder of the detectives. It calls for better relationship between the Police and the armed forces and recommended that soldiers indicted in the crime be investigated further. This kind of recommendation could only have emanated from a paddy-paddy set-up. Without any intention to be disrespectful to members of the panel, the report of their so-called investigation could only have come from those Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would call arraingiemasters and their entire activity is nothing but “Army Arrangement”. Like the Justice Anya Panel of the Unknown Soldier fame: “Dem don turn blue into white”.
After sharing out blame to both sides in the IRT murder dispute,as would a food seller in a Mama-Put shack, the panel threw the matter back into the hands of the Police, asking them to investigate further some of the actors at the centre of the disagreement. It all looked like a case of “two-fighting”, as we would call such a fight between two pupils when we were in school. The report has the effect of watering down the heinousness of the crime committed by the now-arrested soldiers of the 92 Battalion. One thing the Olaiya panel report reveals is the need for all Nigerians, including members of the armed forces, not to see themselves as above the law and to have respect for the laws of the land. The report also demonstrated the superfluity of the panel and the reason the case it “investigated” should not have been taken out of the hands of the police for the consideration of any outside body, called by whatever name (investigative or fact-finding panel), in the first instance. Without going into much detail that are now confirmed by preliminary investigations, the facts of the crime were and are still very clear.
A team of crack detectives from Abuja was set on the trail of a notorious kidnapper named Hamisu Balaaka Wadume, in Jalingo, Taraba State. Having arrested this criminal-turned-philanthropist, the detectives were ambushed and cold-bloodedly murdered at a checkpoint on the Ibi-JalingoExpresssway, by soldiers of the 92 Battalion of the Nigerian Army on the orders of a Captain Tijani Balarabe. Not only did these soldiers set the handcuffed Wadume free after taking him to their barracks, they took their time as they deliberately shot the three police detectives and their two civilian aides to death, even as the men identified themselves as officers of the Nigeria Police Force on official duty and not kidnappers as claimed by the soldiers. This heinous crime was executed under the full glare of cameras, and footages from the scene were freely circulated on the mass media thereafter. This is not a case of “unknown soldiers”. Therefore, neither the Army nor the men involved in the attack can deny it. Police evidence indicates Captain Balarabe is a long-time associate and accomplice of Wadume with whom he was constantly in touch on phone.
There is a clear attempt, which Nigerians wholeheartedly reject, on the part of the Army to play down or kill the case against its officers. This, especially, as it points to the complicity of some of their men not only in kidnapping cases but also in the unending fight against banditry and Boko Haram insurgents, respectively in the North-West and the North-East of the country. The Army had come out in stout defence of its men immediately they were fingered in the murder of the IRT detectives. They sought but failed to cover the crime of their officers as the Police was determined to expose them. Even after the complicit officers were identified and arrested, the Army has so far refused to hand them over to the Police. It is as if different laws apply to different categories of Nigerians depending on whether they wear uniforms of the armed forces or not.
Members of the armed forces and even the police themselves have a sense of exceptionalism that makes them view themselves as above the law. Even when found culpable in purely civil cases, the Army, as are other armed forces, insist on separate treatment of their men and officers. They are quick to take the law into their own hands and carry on in a manner that confirms their unwarranted sense of superiority. All because they bear arms and wear uniforms. Brazenly, Nigerian soldiers drive against the flow of traffic, force other road users away from the road and brutalise or kill anyone, uniformed or not, who as much as raise an eyebrow. They have randomly sacked police stations, barracks and other formations without consequences. Yet, one hears some retired or serving officers openly justify such acts as one did on Channels“Sunrise” this past week in his bid to claim superiority for the Army. For him, an Army officer could only “salute” a police officer if they so wish. Reason? An Army officer is commissioned and answerable to the president but a police officer is not! That is one step away from saying that an officer operates by laws applicable only to the military.
Why then should a rogue officer of the Nigerian Army and his accomplices be subject to prosecution by the police? Why should it matter that soldiers randomly kill police officers in the line of duty.