Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin on Friday August 9 named a 7-man joint investigation panel to probe the killing of three policemen and a civilian by soldiers on Ibi-Wukari road in Taraba state. The incident happened August 6 when a team of police officers was taking a suspected kidnap kingpin to the police command headquarters in Jalingo, the Taraba capital.
The constitution of the inquiry team was on the order of President Muhammadu Buhari.The Joint panel is headed by Rear Admiral I. T. Olaiya and has a representative each from the Nigerian Army, Navy, Air Force, the Nigeria Police, Department of State Service and the Defence Intelligence Agency. A statement by Acting Director, Defence Information, Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu said the team went to work immediately after inauguration.
Police spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Frank Mba explained what happened thus: “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.”
In response to the Police statement, Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Sagir Musa, said that the tragic incident happened because the officers failed to identify themselves to troops. He said troops of 93 Battalion, Nigerian Army, Takum were responding to a distress call to rescue a kidnapped victim when they clashed with the Police team. According to him, the team’s bus failed to stop when they were flagged down at three different Army checkpoints. The policemen fired on troops who fired back in self-defence.
We regret that inter service confrontations, resulting in death and maiming, that were a thing of the past, have returned with even deadlier consequences. We also lament that this particular clash between policemen and soldiers came into the open before the two services (army and police) got the chance to resolve it quietly. It could have have been the result of the two failing to agree on what truly happened. Trading of blame even made it worse.
In that circumstance, the President, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces did the needful by ordering a probe into the tragedy. The inquiry team has several why questions to find answers to. This in addition to making sure that it’s impartiality is not soiled. Some of the questions are: why did the NPF and Defence Hqtrs, both in Abuja, not share information about the mission of police team in Taraba? Why was the divisional police command in Wukari under which Ibi falls kept in the dark about arrest and transportation of the suspected kidnapper to Jalingo? Who gave the soldiers the distress call about a kidnapped person being taken in a bus? Could it have been the suspect with the police team or his accomplices? Why did the soldiers let go of the suspect?
Another concern is why the Inspector General of Police decided on a parallel investigation. This can only be the outcome of mistrust. This is not good. We believe the joint team, headed by a neutral senior Naval officer, should be trusted to do a thorough job of the investigation. If at the end the outcome is not seen to be impartial, it is then that questions, if any, should be raised.