On August 6, 2019, policemen attached to the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) embarked on a journey to Taraba State, to arrest an alleged wanted kidnap kingpin, Alhaji Hamisu Bala, otherwise known as Wadume.
The policemen and their civilian counterparts, while heading into Ibi village to arrest Wadume, drove past a military check point manned by soldiers from Battalion 93, Takum. The soldiers on duty asked for their identifications, which were presented. The policemen and soldiers even exchanged banters.
After arresting Wadume, the policemen were heading out, when the same soldiers, who had earlier joked with them, chased their vehicle and opened fire on it along Ibi-Jalingo Road, Taraba State.
At least, five people were killed in the attack, including civilians.
The dead included Inspector Mark Ediale, 36, Sergeant Dahiru Musa, 40, Owolabi Babajide, 24, Farouk Bashir, 30 and Usman Danazumi, 44.
Some of the policemen escaped death by running into bushes. It would later be learnt that the soldiers attacked on the instruction of their superior, Captain Tijjani Balarabe.
After killing and injuring some of the policemen, the soldiers left with Wadume. They went to the Battalion 93, Takum cantonment and removed his handcuffs. They allowed him to go, thinking he would disappear into thin air.
But members of IRT team, pained by the death of their colleagues, worked round the clock, hunting for Wadume and seeking answers for the attack. Wadume was finally tracked to his uncle’s house in Kano State and arrested.
After his arrest, Wadume started singing like a bird and told Nigerians that Captain Balarabe was on his payroll. He further alleged that Balarabe had ordered the attack on the policemen to secure his freedom.
The soldiers, after insisting that they thought the soldiers were kidnappers, ran out of excuses.
Outraged Nigerians insisted it was a clear case of premeditated murder, but the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration, said a panel should be set up to probe the killings. The panel said the Police and military were responsible for the incident. The panel further linked the killings to a breakdown in communication between the policemen and soldiers.
The police filed terrorism charges against Wadume along with the 10 soldiers and policemen involved in the killings.
While Nigerians were impatiently waiting for the prosecution of Balarabe and his men, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), took the wind off everyone’s sail.
The AGF, who took over the case from the police on June 3, 2020, removed the names of the soldiers from the charges. Meanwhile, it was discovered that Balarabe, who is at the centre of the storm, had proceeded on course to Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State.
Malami removed the names of the soldiers from the charges despite a pending order of Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja, compelling the Army to produce them in court for arraignment.
Malami, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Dr Umar Gwandu, said the soldiers had not been spared from prosecution. He said names of the soldiers were only removed from the charges as Wadume’s accomplices because they were yet to be released by the Army authorities.
The Federal Government, however, arraigned Wadume and six other defendants on a 13-count charge bordering on terrorism.
A human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has written to Malami, requesting the immediate arrest and prosecution of Balarabe and his men.
In a letter dated June 15, Falana accused Malami of trying to shield the 10 military personnel.
The Executive Director of Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Mr Okechukwu Nwanguma, said that the slain men deserved justice.
He said: “RULAAC is concerned by the apparent attempt by the Chief of Army Staff and the AGF to shield suspected murderers from justice. We acknowledge that Nigerian law grants the Attorney General of the Federation and of the states’ power to withdraw criminal charges at some point in the course of prosecution of crime. But this power must be exercised responsibly and in public interest. The army officers did not only murder the Police officers even after they identified themselves as police officers, they also rescued the arrested kidnapper, removed his handcuffs and set him free to escape. The kingpin and his collaborators, including those now being shielded by the Chief of Army Staff and the Attorney General made startling self-indicting confessions. The gallant IRT officers should not die in vain. The morale of their fellow officers still in service will also be dampened and they will feel that their lives don’t matter, and therefore, see no reason to be dedicated to service.”
A human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, stated that he received the news of the soldiers’ exclusion from prosecution with anger, stressing that the manner of the killings of the policemen showed the soldiers’ complicity.
He added: “One would have expected the soldiers to be subjected to court-martial and civil court for prosecution. I cannot rationalise the reason AGF deemed it fitting to discontinue the case against them. When you look at it carefully, murder and kidnapping matters are not federal offences. It’s not even within the realm of the AGF. Basically, it is a state matter and it is the state government that supposed to prosecute them.”
Another human right activist and lawyer, Mr Mahmud Abdul, reacting on the matter, noted that Malami as the Chief Law Officer of the country, had the constitutional responsibility to prosecute anybody found wanting.
He added: “I don’t know why he chose not to bring the soldiers for prosecution over the heinous killing of the three policemen. The Police, under Section 4 of the Police Act, have the power to bring criminal charges against the soldiers.”
The case of Balarabe is reminiscent of a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Danjuma Ibrahim, in the murder case of six young Nigerians. They were killed 15 years ago.
Five Igbo traders, with their female friend, Augustina Arebu, were murdered by policemen led by Danjuma at a checkpoint in Gimbiya Street, area 11, Garriki, Abuja, because Augustina rebuffed the love advances of Danjuma at a night club.
Mr Charles Ogbu, a social media activist, recently took to his social media handles to remind Nigerians of the APO six killings.
There was a disagreement between the traders and Danjuma, who stormed out of the night club to the nearby police checkpoint at Gimbiya Street. He allegedly told the policemen on duty that there were armed robbers in the area. When the APO six drove to the checkpoint, officer Danjuma blocked them with his car and ordered policemen on duty to open fire on them. Four of the APO six died on the spot, while the remaining two, Augustina and one among the five men, were killed the following day.
According to findings of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, headed by Justice O.O Goodluck, Augustina was alleged to have been strangled by Danjuma. After the killings, Police attempted to cover the crime.
Ogbu said: “Danjuma got arms from the Garriki Police Station and planted it inside the Peugeot 406 car of the victims and got police official photographer to take the picture with a view to creating a false narrative that the victims were robbers killed during a shootout.”
The Administrative panel of Inquiry set up by the Police and the Judicial Commission of Inquiry established that Danjuma led other policemen in killing the victims and burying their bodies in shallow graves. The commission went on to recommend that they should all be tried in accordance with the appropriate law.
A police constable, Anthony Edem, who was part of the killer squad and had earlier testified against the Police and was scheduled to testify again the coming Monday, was poisoned.
The APO Divisional Police Officer (DPO), a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Othman Abdusalam, who was detained in a cell inside Police Headquarters, Louise Edet House, disappeared from his cell.
Three years ago, Justice Ishaq Bello of the FCT High Court, Abuja, sentenced two junior policemen to death for the APO six, but the same court said there was not enough evidence to convict Danjuma, who the convicted officers and even the Police panel of inquiry as well as the judicial commission of inquiry all fingered as the officer that ordered the killings.
Danjuma has since been officially re-instated into the Force and all his arrears of salaries and other entitlements dating back to 2005 paid and sent on a refresher course.
Ogbu said: “According to legal experts, the March 9 judgement by the FCT High Court on the matter can be appealed, but it is only the AGF that can either appeal the ruling or issue an ‘extended fiat’ to another lawyer to go ahead with the appeal. Three years later, Mr Malami has refused to do either.”
The treatment of both cases, for Balarabe and Danjuma are similar. Both men were sent on courses rather than punished. Malami appears to be sitting on the fence on both cases. Remember also that both men were alleged to have ordered the killings in both of their cases