What a time to live in Nigeria? Personally, in a time like this, I can’t resist the temptation of veneering; having butterflies in my stomach, but just so I don’t appear to be insensitive or offend some other person’s sensibility, I manage to feign empathy, or at least, muscle up an indifferent posture.

The Nigerian Police Force crying for help over brutality? I must be woolgathering. Perchance, this mourning and great weeping we’re hearing in Ramah is real, we still have to be circumspect in our involvement so we know when we’re fighting for justice and when we’re obstructing karma.

Let’s jog our memory a little by doing a body count of innocent Nigerians who have been victims of police brutality in March 2019 alone. On March 2, some trigger-happy police officers shot a bus driver dead in Mosan, Ayobo area of Lagos for refusing to part with money. There was another report two weeks after, of a teenage girl who was killed by a stray bullet in a shootout between policemen and some cultists in Ikorodu. On March 25, an Okada rider, identified as Ademola Moshood was shot dead in Kilo, Surulere area of Lagos by an officer attached to Soloki Police Station, Surulere.

The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the killing of a young man, identified as Kolade Johnson in Mangoro/Onipetesi community, Lagos on Sunday, March 31 by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Perception built from years of these ugly experiences has been that most gun-wielding men of the Force see the citizens as lab rats. This unabated reckless attitude of the Police eventually gave birth to the nationwide call for a complete overhaul of the Force and the recent #EndSARS campaign. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it cannot be said that justice has been done thus far for the countless innocent lives lost and the families destroyed due to police brutality.

For humanity sake, let’s shelve our grievances aside, and allow the Nigerian Police to come to equity with filthy hands (not just unclean). According to the report, three police officers were shot and killed by men of the Nigerian army on Tuesday, 6 August 2019, Ibi-Wukari Road, Taraba State. Since the unfortunate incident, there have been conflicting reports, allegations and counter-allegations from both Forces. Following the incident, the Police spokesman, DCP Frank Mba issued a press release, alleging that the army men, point-blank, shot and killed the police operatives who had arrested a kidnap kingpin, Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume, and thereafter freed the suspect. A part of the release reads;

“The Police operatives, led by ASP Felix Adolije of the IRT reportedly came under sudden serious shooting by soldiers of the Nigerian Army along Ibi-Jalingo Road, Taraba State. The Police operatives who were taking the arrested suspect, Alhaji Hamisu, to the Command Headquarters in Jalingo were shot at several times by the soldiers, despite sufficient proof that they are Police personnel on legitimate duty.

“Three policemen comprising one Inspector and two Sergeants and one civilian died as a result of gunshot injuries, while others sustained serious gunshot wounds. The soldiers thereafter released the handcuffed suspect, Alhaji Hamisu, who is now on the run.”

Reacting to the allegations by the Police, the army claimed that their men pursued and exchanged fire with “some suspected kidnappers” who turned out to be an Intelligence Team of the Police from Abuja. According to a press release by the army’s spokesperson, Col Sagir Musa, the army later found out that the suspects were policemen on covert operation who had refused to stop at a military checkpoint and were trailed and shot dead by troops who had earlier received a distress call.

“The attention of the army headquarters has been drawn to the press release by DCP Frank Mba, force public relations officer, force headquarters, Abuja Ref No. CZ.5300/FPRD/FHQ/ABJ/VOL.2/68 Date: August 7, 2019, on the unfortunate incident that occurred on the 6th of August 2019 in which 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,” a part of the release reads.”

The release further reads;
“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 ten (10) and driving in a white bus with Reg No LAGOS MUS 564 EU refused to stop when they were halted by troops at three consecutive checkpoints.

“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 firefight, four (4) suspects were shot and died on the spot while four (4) others sustained various degrees of gunshot wounds and 2 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 Nigerian Police, Force Headquarters, Abuja for a covert assignment.”

Apparently, the army’s response further infuriated the already aggrieved Police Force and this led to another press release from the Police spokesman, accusing the army of lying and being insensitive for describing Policemen on lawful National Assignment as ‘suspected kidnappers’. The release, captioned, “SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT – WHERE IS THE “RESCUED” NOTORIOUS KIDNAPPER, ALHAJI HAMISU BALA WADUME?” raised cogent issues which the army clearly avoided to address in her response and ended with asking the army to provide answers to some salient questions.

“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”.

While Nigerians await the final report from the ongoing joint task force investigation, it is pertinent to form our individual opinions based on the available facts, however conflicting and sketchy they are. For me, the most profound lesson from this imbroglio is the fact that the Nigerian armed forces are more inclined to the use of brutal, hostile and violent measures rather than intelligence. This is 2019 and it’s totally unexplainable how a country’s armed forces as critical as the Police and Army could be so technologically deficient, and totally short of intelligence that they were caught in a severe crossfire over a case that could have been peacefully resolved with a simple esprit de corps.

According to Abba Kyari, a deputy commissioner of police and commander Intelligence Response Team, “The team attacked by the soldiers in Taraba State is one of the best and most highly trained IRT teams in the country”. It’s therefore mind-boggling to a civilian how such a highly trained team will engage the army in a firefight and not even a single member of the army was reported injured, whereas three police operatives died. The army is clearly not completely sincere to Nigerians.

The army also claimed that her troop pursued the said ‘suspected kidnappers’ to rescue a kidnap victim, but failed to disclose if the victim was successfully rescued after the firefight and very importantly, also failed to reveal the identity of the said victim. Before now, there have been series of reports alleging that the army has been secretly freeing suspected members of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, after capturing. Almost every time, the Army blatantly denies such a report. However, in this case, the Army spokesman conspicuously avoided responding to the allegations that his men freed a notorious kidnap kingpin, Alhaji Hamisu. This is an indirect admittance of fault.

Nigeria is presently facing loads of security challenges that it is nothing short of despicable to see the country’s Police Force and the Army engage in such a shameful and self-destructive action. It is also baffling the Nigerian army has failed to prove beyond every reasonable doubt that her men did not aid the escape of a notorious kidnapper. Brutality, especially against civilians, has been a recurring issue within the Nigerian security agencies. It is, therefore, the hope of many Nigerians that this latest development will cause a genuine reorientation.

Those saddled with the responsibility of investigating the case must be thorough considering the fact that lives have been lost and pending the outcome of the investigation, the relevant authorities must ensure that justice is well served. Despite their shortcomings, I fully appreciate the sacrifices of the Nigerian Police to the country and I stand by the Force to demand justice.