If you believe the Army’s explanations about the killing of three policemen and a civilian in Taraba last week, please lend me your innocence. It probably means you have enough to go round the country! I have written about it before: when the Army writes, it cannot be trusted. Simple. At best the Army’s statements are half-truths; other times they’re outright fabrications. It’s not like the Police are immune to this foible but we will return to that later.
Three dutiful police officers — Inspector Mark Edaile, Sergeant Usman Danzumi and Sergeant Dahiru Musa — all members of the IGP’s Intelligence Response Team (IRT), were killed by soldiers along the Ibi-Jalingo Road while transporting kidnap kingpin Alhaji Hamisu Wadume to the Command Headquarters in Jalingo. As usual, the Army attempted to mislead the public with a number of spurious claims. A statement by Colonel Sagir Musa, the Army’s spokesman, claimed the soldiers acted in response to distress calls for the rescue of a kidnap victim, that the “suspected kidnappers” refused to stop at three consecutive checkpoints, that the “suspected kidnappers” opened fire on soldiers after the soldiers gave them a hot chase, that the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Ibi Station was unaware of the deployment of the IRT team from Abuja and, very irritatingly and haughtily, that the incident could have been avoided if the Police properly coordinated with the Army.
Unfortunately, Sagir and the rest of the Army have no control over a video footage of parts of the incident, which has now leaked to the media. The video helped to establish a number of facts. One, two of the three policemen died on the spot; while the fourth was still alive, the crowd that gathered at the scene confirmed that an ID card on him showed he worked for the IG. Still, no one showed him compassion. There was a glaring desperation to snuff life out of him. Two, a soldier in the background was heard saying “they showed us ID cards that they were from the IG (Inspector General of Police)”. This clearly established that the soldiers indeed knew the men they were chasing and planning to kill were policemen. Still they went ahead. Three, there was no sight of Wadume, the suspected kidnapper. Despite being chained in the hands and legs, he had managed to stage a miraculous escape. Four, the Army claimed “the suspected kidnappers opened fire at the troops sporadically, thus prompting them to return fire”. However, there was no single bullet hole in the police van, neither was there a single soldier with a bullet wound. Who — or what, then — were the policemen shooting at?
There are more questions than answers. The Army Headquarters and the Force Headquarters have agreed to constitute a Joint Investigation Panel. Even President Muhammadu Buhari is reported to have constituted a committee to investigate the matter. But expect the Army, as usual, to cover this matter up. There is discouraging precedent. In February 2016, SaharaReporters leaked the video of Amari Sunday, a civilian, being assaulted by some cadet officers, led by a female, for flimsy reasons. The incident had happened on December 31, 2014, but was unreported for 14 months. The Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) first tried to confuse the public by claiming it happened in Lagos, meanwhile the location was Abuja. After a perfunctory we-are-investigating-the-matter press statement, nothing has been heard about the matter since then. A far worse scenario had happened months earlier. On August 8, 2015, in Mararaba, Nasarawa State, very close to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), some soldiers were caught on camera brutalising a civilian they claimed was a robber. Daily Trust published a photograph of the incident on its front page two days later, drawing the ire of Sani Usman, the then Director of Army Public Relations, who blamed the newspaper for doing “incalculable damage to the image of the service”. “The Army has reached out to the management of the newspaper over this poor and worrisome editorial judgement by giving this misdemeanour prominence in their paper,” Usman said, before bizarrely adding: “Alerting appropriate Nigerian army authorities would have been a better option that will be met with prompt response.” In addition to the promise of disciplinary action for the culprits, Usman vowed to grant the request of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to be handed the soldiers involved in the incident. Twelve weeks after, a clearly irritated Usman was singing a different tune, saying the matter was being “over-flogged”, as it had been “overtaken by time and event.” Four full years have passed since anything was last heard of the culprits. Who remembers the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) members brutalised by soldiers on Abia-Umuahia Expressway in September 2017. Has anyone heard a word about the soldiers involved in the human rights violations?
In another world, some Nigerians would have hit the streets to protest the killing of the three policemen. Elias Ozikpu would have been one of them. But after he was manhandled and arrested by policemen for participating in the #RevolutionNow protests, expect Ozikpu to be uninterested in any pro-Police or anti-Army protests. Were he to magnanimously decide to lead such a protest, how would he mobilise further support from fellow activists? His HTC mobile phone with which he would have done so was seized from him on arrest and hasn’t been returned to him four days after his release. That’s daylight robbery — by policemen! Victor Ogungbenro would have been one of the journalists to cover such protest. But I doubt the SaharaReporters videographer would ever want to do the Police any favours, seeing how policemen assaulted him, pepper-sprayed him at point-blank range, bundled him into their waiting van and detained him for days for covering the #RevolutionNow protests.
From the public textual combat between the spokesmen of the Police and the Army, it is easy to see the pain of the Police hierarchy with the development. And it is understandable. The deceased trio are some of the Force’s best anti-kidnap hands, one of their biggest successes including the capture of billionaire kidnapper Evans. Beyond their official worth, these are all heads of families — with loved ones whose hearts will forever grieve. Their gruesome killing is a great loss to their families and the Force. However, it is important for the Police to value the rest of the public exactly the way it values its own men.
Frank Mba is asking the Army to explain the killing of the police officers; I second him. But is Mba asking his men to produce the policeman who shot a commercial driver near Masari U-turn along the Kaduna-Abuja Highway just three days ago? Is he asking his men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to produce the policemen whose bullets killed an innocent trader in Lagos two days ago? What about the SARS official who killed an innocent cleaner in Lagos in July while chasing a group of smokers? Frank Mba has asked the Army a couple of telling questions, but there are many more he needs to ask his own people. The Police must at all times join in upholding the sanctity of every life, be it that of a policeman or a ‘bloody civilian’!
Soyombo, former Editor of the TheCable, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and SaharaReporters, tweets @fisayosoyombo