There is only one rational conclusion to draw after watching the shocking video of how three senior police officers of an elite anti-kidnapping squad were brutally executed last week in Taraba State: The soldiers involved in the killing could only have been acting in promotion of some sinister agenda rather than in defence of the national interest. The clear give-away in the video was the question, ‘Where is their service pistol?’ asked by one of the shooters, an indication that they knew their victims were officers of the law. That a most wanted criminal suspect was set free in the process further confirms the motive of the callous act that points to a clear link between officialdom and organised crime in our country.
If there is any incident that President Muhammadu Buhari cannot afford to treat with levity, this is one because of its implications for our national security. More so when the tragic drama is playing out in the public arena and the video evidence has gone viral. The police and the army have also publicly stated their versions of what transpired but the cry for justice by the former can only be ignored at our peril. It is particularly noteworthy that this tragedy happened in the same week a soldier was found culpable for raping a female university student in Ondo State and another for killing a motorcyclist in Abia State over N100 bribe. But the Taraba debacle has also brought to fore some salient issues that need to be addressed in the interest of our collective safety.
One, soldiers and policemen in our country behave like members of rival Mafia gangs rather than agents of state whenever they have the slightest disagreement in public. In recent years, dozens of police and military officers have died as a result of these violent clashes. Meanwhile, there is yet no closure on the killings in May 2011 of the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and two other colleagues at the Ibereko police station in Badagry, Lagos. They were killed by ‘unknown soldiers’ from the 424 Army Battalion in Badagry who invaded the police station on a reprisal mission after their colleague was shot. And just two years ago, a bloody clash between the army and police in Damaturu, capital of Yobe state ended with the death of a soldier and three policemen. Taken together, the many transgressions of our soldiers as well as the frequent inter agency frictions aggravate the atmosphere of insecurity currently plaguing the nation.
Two, the constitutional responsibilities of the military are to defend the country from external aggression, maintain its territorial integrity and act in aid of the civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so. With the police reduced to performing guard duties for politicians and their mistresses for whom they carry handbags, we have elected to draft soldiers to perform functions for which they are ill-suited and untrained. The result is what we are seeing on the streets of Abia, Ondo and Taraba States.
Three, the unhealthy rivalry among these security agencies, fuelled largely by a needless fight over turf between their leaderships, has become a serious national security threat. In my piece on 19th April last year titled, ‘A National Security Endangered’, I alluded to how a lack of synergy between these agencies endangers us all. “In a situation where the personal interests and tendencies of these security chiefs are allowed to blossom uncontrolled, the agencies quickly grow into private armies that clash openly at the slightest opportunity”, I wrote following the brawl between operatives of the DSS, NIA and EFCC on the streets of Abuja which necessitated the intervention of the Senate. “When added to inter-agency squabbles between the military and the police—whose men have become easy targets for extermination by armed robbers and sundry hoodlums—we are face to face with the precise reasons why our national security is today in tatters”, I concluded.
Four, there is an urgent need not only to reform the police but also for the reorientation of their men and officers if they are to regain public trust. The social media post by the police on the Taraba tragedy attracted so many negative comments by people who argued that the murdered officers were given a dose of what many Nigerians have had to suffer in the hands of SARS operatives. I hope the leadership of the police would see that as a rude awakening and begin to do right in the discharge of their responsibility. For suggestions, they can look at the recommendations of the various presidential commissions, going back to the Danmadani Report in 2006. Five, it is obvious that there is no sanctity to life in our country. Even if the killed policemen were indeed kidnappers, the manner they were treated in their last hours by the soldiers and the mob at the scene was, to put it mildly, most inhuman.
This then brings me to the sixth and final issue: The yet-to-be-defended accusation that the soldiers who killed the policemen in Taraba did so on purpose, with the intention to rescue a notorious kidnapper. The questions being raised by the police are at the heart of the tragedy and must be satisfactorily answered. How could a man who was in handcuffs escape from soldiers who supposedly rescued him? “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?”, the police asked.
Beginning with militancy in the Niger Delta, we have unwittingly created an industry around insecurity in our country from which many military officers profit. With the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east and banditry in the North-west both of which have led to the deployment of troops, other ‘economic centres’ have been created. Early last month, for instance, Premium Times reported how some soldiers on escort duty for a Major-General reportedly went away with a cash haul running into hundreds of millions of Naira. Even though the Defence Headquarters has confirmed the report, there is yet no information about the source of the money neither has the officer been put on trial. That has left room for speculations that the money came from some criminal kingpins being shielded from the law. That has also given impetus to the allegation by Lt General T.Y. Danjuma (rtd) that some of our soldiers are now embedded in organized crime.
When it comes to the crisis in Taraba State, Danjuma of course is not neutral. He has never been. But when one of the most respected officers to have commanded Nigerian Army and a former Defence Minister accuses soldiers of colluding with bandits to kill innocent Nigerians and that “they guide their movement, they cover them”, it is not an allegation to dismiss. That perhaps explains why many Nigerians believe the killing of the policemen in Taraba has more to do with the protection of the kidnap suspect now at large than the spurious claim of any attempt to free some kidnap victims.
What is clear from the foregoing is that we must rethink our national security strategy, assuming we have one. We must make a transition from deploying troops to contain every crisis to a pre-emptive security strategy that is based on intelligence. But to the extent that the involvement in criminal activities of members of the armed forces undermines state legitimacy, we hope the federal government will get to the root of the Taraba tragedy and ensure justice for the slain officers. It is also important that the compensation to their families go beyond the usual police tokenism. These were officers killed in the line of duty in a manner that compromises the state. They should be buried with honour and their families duly taken care of. That is the least we can do in the circumstance.
However, we need to be genuinely afraid of the growing linkages between our security agencies and subversive activities. The high level of corrupt tendencies among the high echelons of our national security has already been exposed by the EFCC investigations of service chiefs in the immediate past administration. Equally worrisome is the dangerous tendency by security personnel to treat weapons issued to them as instruments for advancing their private interests.
The critical point is not to allow deployment of troops become a permanent feature of our national security thinking. We must begin to fashion out a comprehensive programme to disengage soldiers from internal security duties. Such a programme must be in tandem with an aggressive recruitment and equipment of the police as the principal custodian of peace, order and security in a democracy. In the specific instance of the Taraba episode, a thorough investigation must reveal the immediate culprits and their collaborators while the public expects swift and decisive punishment. President Buhari should use the tragedy to send a strong message to our soldiers that the possession of arms is not a license to kill and maim innocent people or behave like authorized gangsters.
The NAL Papers
The 21st convocation and investiture of new Fellows of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL), held at the University of Lagos last Thursday. Many friends and professional colleagues turned up to felicitate with me and Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, FNAL. The convocation lecture, delivered by Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Godwin Sogolo, FNAL, can be accessed on my web portal,olusegunadeniyi.com. It is titled ‘Morality and the State: The Nigerian Experience’. The pre-convocation dinner speech on the challenges of university education in Nigeria delivered by Ogunbiyi is also available on the website. I have added six of my early columns between June and August 2011 when I resumed on this page after a four-year leave of absence. Once again, my appreciation to all the people who showed up for me last Thursday. Ohun rere koni tan ni ile gbogbo wa! (Things of joy will never depart from our household)