WHAT went wrong?
That was the question on Thursday as the police recovered from the initial shock of losing three policemen who were on a mission to arrest a suspected kidnap kingpin.
A joint army and police committee is to probe the killing of the officers and three civilians who the army claimed died in an exchange of gunfire.
The police said the officers were murdered in cold blood in Taraba State.
The incident got President Muhammadu Buhari’s attention on Thursday. He met with security chiefs at the State House, Abuja to discuss the security situation in the land.
The three policemen are Inspector Mark Edaile and Sergeants Usman Danzumi and Dahiru Musa. Also killed on Tuesday was a yet unnamed civilian.
Two more civilians who sustained gunshot wounds died early yesterday.
Troops of 93 Battalion, Takum, had pursued and exchanged fire with some “suspected kidnappers”, who turned out to be members of the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) from the Force Headquarters in Abuja.
The three policemen, who were on a covert assignment, died from gunshot wounds and other members of the team were injured.
At the meeting with the President were: Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Gabriel Olonishakin; Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Ibok-Ete Ibas; Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.-Gen. Yusuf Buratai and the representative of Inspector-General Mohammed Adamu.
Air Marshal Abubakar, who briefed State House reporters after the meeting, said that the council evaluated management of internal security operations all over the country.
Stressing that the meeting was satisfied with the efforts being taken, he said that substantial progress are being recorded in all the areas of conflicts.
On the Taraba incident, Air Marshal Abubakar said: “The council also decided that the unfortunate incidents in Taraba State in Ibi, a committee will be setup under the defence headquarters, set up by defence headquarters to critically look into the circumstances that led to the unfortunate incident.
“Finally, we also want to assure Nigerians that the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies would continue to work to ensure the security of Nigerians and to also ensure that no individual or group of individuals undermine the territorial integrity of Nigeria. That, in a nutshell, is the outcome of this meeting.”
Asked if the council discussed using drones to fight crimes as earlier pledged to Southwest leaders, the Chief of Air Staff said: “Technology will continue to play a very critical role in resolving security challenges in Nigeria.
“All the services are using one technology or the other in order to ensure that our country is secured.
“So security will continue to play a role and we are also looking at other areas of technology that are not currently in use to ensure that we put together all that is required to ensure the security of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Faulting the Army’s explanation that soldiers took the undercover IRT operatives attacked on Ibi-Wukari Road for kidnappers, the police posed many questions.
The 93 Battalion soldiers on Tuesday opened fire on a white bus marked LAGOS MUS564EU conveying the undercover policemen and a suspected notorious kidnapper, Alhaji Hamisu Wadume.
Also killed was a civilian while other policemen sustained serious injuries, Deputy Commissioner (DCP) Frank Mba said in a statement on Wednesday night.
A similar incident, which resulted in the death of three policemen under curious circumstances played out between soldiers and policemen in Niger State in 2017.
Last year, two policemen were killed and their commander seriously wounded after they were attacked by soldiers in Yobe State.
Reacting to the statement by the police, army spokesman Sagir Musa, a Colonel, claimed that the troops acted on a distress call, suggesting that Hamisu was abducted by suspected kidnappers.
He claimed that the bus refused to stop at three checkpoints, adding that the policemen fired the first shots. The soldiers, he said, retaliated.
Musa said: “On August 6, troops of 93 Battalion Takum, while responding to a distress 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 MUS564EU 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.
“In the resultant fire fight, four suspects were shot and died on the spot while four sustained various degrees of gunshot wounds and two others reportedly missing.
“It was only after this avoidable outcome that one of the wounded suspects disclosed the fact that they were indeed policemen dispatched from Nigeria Police, Force Headquarters, Abuja for a covert assignment.
“Following inquiries from a Police Station officer who was asked by the commander of the army troops whether he was aware of any Nigeria Police team being dispatched to operate in the LGA, the Divisional Police Officer of Ibi responded that he was not informed about any operation by the Nigeria Police Force headquarters, thus lending credence to the distress call from members of the community that the suspects who turned out to be policemen on a covert mission were rather suspected kidnappers.
“This incident is indeed quite unfortunate and could have been avoided through proper coordination and liaison as the Nigeria Police Force are partners in the fight against crimes such as kidnapping, amongst myriads of other internal security threats confronting our nation of which the Nigeria Police is the lead agency.
“In order to avert future occurrences of this nature, the Army Headquarters and the Force Headquarters of the Nigeria Police have agreed to constitute a joint investigation panel to be headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Criminal Investigation Department, DIG Mike Ogbizi, to investigate and report on the true circumstances surrounding the unfortunate incident.
“Therefore, until the Joint Investigation Panel concludes and submits its report, it will be premature to officially conclude and speak on the real circumstances that caused this unfortunate but very avoidable incident.”
The police rejected the military’s explanation, which they described as defensive.
In a statement yesterday, the police noted that the service was attempting to justify an unprovoked and unwarranted murder of the three policemen and a civilian, injuring others who were on a legitimate duty.
In the statement signed by Mba, the police asked the army to tell Nigerians the whereabouts of Alhaji Hamisu Wadume, expressing displeasure at the continuous use of “suspected kidnappers” to describe the policemen days after the army had known that they were actually cops on legitimate national assignment.
Mba said: “In the best tradition of Esprit de Corps, Inter-Agency Harmony and National Interest, the Nigeria Police Force would naturally have kept quiet, but it has become imperative to set the record straight by addressing the obvious distortion of facts inherent in the press release by the Nigerian Army.
“The most important question arising from the Nigerian Army Press Release is: Where is Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume? Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume is a millionaire kidnapper arrested by the Police but paradoxically treated as a ‘kidnap victim’ by the soldiers and subsequently ‘rescued’ by them. Where is he? Where is the rescued kidnapper?
“Secondly, the press release was silent on the source of the alleged distress report or identity of the complainant, on the strength of whose report the Army claimed had informed their decision to engage in the purported chase and rescue operation. Needless to state that in the true spirit of transparency and accountability, the Nigerian Army ought to have arrested the purported distress caller – if any – for obviously and deliberately furnishing them with false and misleading information. Besides, such arrest should, in fact, be made public!
“Thirdly, 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 were 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.
“In the final analysis, we leave the Nigerian Army authorities to provide Nigerians with answers on the following questions emanating from their press release: Where is the notorious kidnapper, Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume ‘rescued’ by the soldiers? How and why was Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume released by the soldiers? How could a kidnap suspect properly restrained with handcuffs by the police escape from the hands of his military rescuers?
“If Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume is a ‘victim of kidnap’ as claimed, and properly rescued by soldiers, why was he not taken to the Army Base for documentation purposes and debriefing in line with the standard operating procedure in the Nigerian Army?
“Why were the police operatives shot at close range even after they had identified themselves as police officers on legitimate duty as evident in the video now in circulation?”
Police sources, who condemned the attack, expressed joy that the Force Headquarters took action this time around by letting Nigerians know since it has happened time and again.
They said: “That of Niger State was not resolved till today. The truth is that too many things are not going right. Why do you think insecurity has continued to fester?
“Issues of interagency rivalry, conspiracy and sabotage are very common. I hope that this time around, the government will take action and ensure that all those responsible are severely dealt with.”