The Wukari killings: Challenges of using military in open society operations
There was the case of troops on escort duty making away with N400million and the better-forgotten excesses of some soldiers during recent general elections, particularly in Rivers and Borno States.
Top of all those examples of inappropriate behaviour from the nation’s military is the ongoing altercations between the Army and Police over the recent shooting in Wukari, Taraba State.
The killing of the three top police officers has set Nigerians talking because of the ominous imputations the ugly development it has exhumed unto the public space.
There had been subdued allegations that some unscrupulous troops are colluding with criminals, especially smugglers, illegal miners, oil bunkers and kidnappers to commit nefarious crimes.
Even in the fight against insurgency, the military has been criticized for inter-agency rivalry and lack of professionalism in their conduct. Although the military has on a number of occasions dragged some troops through orderly room trials and outright dismissal of officers that fall short of expectation, soldiers also complain of dwindling training and timely and adequate remuneration.
Faced with challenging the operating environment and evident indifference from the top hierarchy, therefore, the options open to the troops, especially those whose duties revolve around the interface with the open society, include using their weapons in a disorderly manner.
Free Income, Cover-ups
One reason advanced by those opposed to the use of soldiers in domestic security duties is that it opens them to the temptations of seeking additional incomes while diluting their patriotism and professionalism.
However, political considerations and apparent nepotism in the Army, both in the areas of posting and recruitment have combined to diffuse the discipline and ethical stamina of the combatants.
Experts have pointed to President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to retain the service chiefs beyond their normal constitutional terms as part of the causes of frustration and laissez-faire attitude of soldiers.
For instance, many high ranking officers still grumble that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai was not meted with any form of censure from the Presidency, when his ownership of a luxurious mansion in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was discovered.
It is not known how far Buratai’s ownership of property outside Nigeria encourages the habit, but checks show that most Nigerian soldiers are no longer examples of patriotism and incorruptibility. The lure of free income seems to have permeated the security apparatus.
Another negative trait of today’s Army, which has been accentuated by the fight against insurgency, is the recourse to half-truths, outright falsehood, and propaganda to cover up less than noble behaviours of its personnel, including senior officers and the rank and file.
Issues In The Wukari Calamity
It is against the background of the foregoing that the ugly incident along Ibi-Wukari Road could be understood and Nigerians have been reacting, even as questions are being asked as to why the soldiers shot to kill rather than disabling the occupants of the minibus carrying the police officers.
Attempts by the Army to push back on the mishap instead of putting paid to the insinuations of possible collusion between the troops and the kidnap kingpin, who was immediately let lose after the police had been killed, helped to escalate the scandalous display.
While the Police accused the soldiers of killing the Police officers of the Inspector General of Police Rapid Response Team, the Army authorities claimed that the officers were mistaken for kidnappers when they failed to stop for routine checks at multiple roadblocks along the highway.
Nigerians that have reacted to the tragedy, said what made the incident so painful was that prior to the Wukari calamity, a kind of supremacy battle has been raging between soldiers and police officers.
Although the Army claims that they have totally submitted to the civilian authorities under the democratic system in the country, whenever their paths and those of the police cross, soldiers always want to flaunt their superior training to intimidate police officers.
Consequently, the claim by the Force Public Relations Department that the policemen exposed their identities and mission, as well as the fact that a high profile kidnap suspect was involved, put a cloud of doubt around the depositions of the military.
And given the quality of officers involved, an inspector and two sergeants, alongside the other officers that were injured, the professionalism of the military comes into question.
Granted that the communication gap could be responsible for the mishap, why did the soldiers at the roadblock not aim at the tires of the bus or undertake a hot chase with their pickup vans? That and the other poser from the police as to why the kidnap suspect got instant freedom without any attempt to ascertain the circumstances of his capture or gathering intelligence put a big hole in the position of the military.
How plausible is the claim that the police officers on the covert mission opened fire to repel the soldiers pursuing their vehicle when it was obvious to them that they were indeed members of the Nigerian Army?
Despite reports that the troops received a distress call from villagers that Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume, the so-called kidnap kingpin, was kidnapped, the soldiers still needed to come clean on the suspicion that those who alerted them must have been privy to their relationship with the big man taken by the officers from Abuja.
The lack of civility and disdainful way both soldiers and policemen exhibit outside their barracks played out in the Wukari incident as could be gleaned from the initial statement from the military.
\The statement from Sagir Musa read in part: “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 two (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.
“However, following inquiries from a Police Station officer, who was asked by the commander of the Army troops whether he was aware of any Nigerian Police team being dispatched to operate in the LGA, the Divisional Police Officer of Ibi Police Division responded that he was not informed about any operation by the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, thus lending credence to the distressed call from members of the community that the suspects, who turned out to be Policemen on a covert mission were rather suspected kidnappers.”
It is good a thing that the Army Headquarters and the Police High command have agreed to undertake a joint investigation into the fall encounter because unless there is a cover-up, Nigerians would learn a thing or two about the security architecture of the country.
And just as the spokesman of the Army, Musa, stated, “Until the joint investigation panel concludes and submits its report, it will be premature to speak on the real circumstances that caused this unfortunate but very avoidable unfortunate incident.”
Nonetheless, the revelation from a former Defence Minister, General Theophilus Danjuma (retd) that troops work in cahoots with so-called bandits and recent kidnap of an oil magnate, which elicited a huge ransom payment of N100million not only put the military on the spot, but also give a hint about the unremitting banditry and criminality in the Middle Belt and surrounding towns.
The Director of Police Public Relations Department, Frank Mbah, must have factored those possibilities in his statement, when he observed: “In the best tradition of Espirit 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.”
It is usually said that crime does not pay, but in the light of prevailing security challenges in the country, particularly the blossoming kidnap for ransom and illegal mining, the question on the lips of Nigerians is, who is benefiting from the current insecurity in the country?
The presence of IRT operatives from Taraba Police Command on the special mission as well as the claim by the Police that the team identified the members feed the suggestion that Alhaji Hamisu Wadume might be a big front for special interests in the nation’s security high command.
From Coup d’état to Compromise
PARTICIPATION in coups d’état was the primary source of the declining professionalism of the Nigeria Army. But over the involvement of soldiers in domestic issues within the democratic dispensation in the past 20 years, particularly big blind budget of the fight against insurgency has expanded the areas of compromise.
Some of the questions formulated by the Force Headquarters through the Director of Force Public Relations Department are weighty but also suggestive of the declining integrity of the military. Some of the posers are: “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?”
Then there is the case of the commercial tricycle operator, Mr. Chimaobi Nworgu, who was gunned down in Aba, Abia State penultimate Friday at a military checkpoint for refusing to hand in N100 bribe.
While the 82 Division of the Army at Enugu denied involvement in the incident, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, rued what it called “the sadistic pleasure the Nigerian military derive from killing unarmed civilians.”
IPOB lamented that “nobody has ever heard of the Nigerian army successfully fighting and defeating any armed group,” even as they accused soldiers of killing those they know cannot fight back.
In a statement signed by its spokesperson, Comrade Emma Powerful, IPOB declared: “Nobody has ever seen any picture or video of the murderers as is customary with Nigeria Police anytime they arrest suspects in high profile cases.
“No news conference, where their full names, ranks, and division they are serving in the army were made public. The pattern of covering up for the worst excesses of terror soldiers continues in Igboland.”
Similarly, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) said: “quackery, karma and commercial soldiering are running riot in the Nigeria Army.”
In a statement by chairman of its board of trustees, Mr. Emeka Umeagbalasi, Intersociety remarked that the “recent killing by soldiers of the Nigerian Army of three gallant intelligence police officers and a civilian and injuring of others in the line of their special duties in Taraba State; and the premeditated murder of an innocent commercial cyclist in Aba are all clear indications that quackery, karma and commercial soldiering are running riot on Nigerian Army currently headed by Lt Gen Turkur Buratai.”
The group pointed out that “professionally speaking, the killings, particularly those perpetrated in Taraba State are punishably premeditated and have nothing to do with ‘collateral fatalities’ and mistaken identity.”
While President Buhari has called for a full-scale inquiry into the Taraba incidence between the Army and Police Force, the frightening impression that nobody seems to be in charge of the nation´s security architecture persists.
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