Opinion

Criminals in Uniform, By Shaka Momodu

Shaka Momodu
Shaka Momodu

Have you watched the video of the killing of three policemen and a civilian by soldiers of the Nigerian Army? If you haven’t, please go and watch it. Have you read the statement issued after the fact by the acting Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Sagir Musa in response to the first police statement notifying the public of what had happened? If you haven’t, please search for it and read it. Also read the second statement by the police that picked apart the army’s explanation of what transpired. You will immediately know who is lying.

Police spokesperson, Frank Mba, said the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) had arrested and was transporting a suspected kidnapper, Alhaji Hamisu Bala Wadume, to the Command Headquarters in Jalingo when the police team came under attack. From all accounts, this notorious kidnapper is well known to the security services in the state and had probably compromised them to the point that they aided and abetted his nefarious trade of kidnapping.

Watching the video clip of how men of the Nigerian Army turned their guns on officers of the Nigerian Police to free the kidnap kingpin turned my stomach. It was a brutal, cold-blooded, execution-style murder.  The video was graphic, traumatic, gruesome, too painful and horrific to watch. It would shock the moral conscience of any right-thinking individual. The most pathetic part was that one of the policemen who was clearly writhing in pain from gunshot wounds, was further molested, traumatised and allowed to die without medical help. Only savages could have done this to their fellow humans.

It is even more baffling to know that the men killed and debased so publicly were elite officers of the Nigerian Police Force.  It broke the average spirit that Nigerian soldiers could do this to their counterparts in the police, all in a bid to free a kidnapper? That soldiers trained and maintained with tax payers’ money were ordered to kill policemen to free a kidnapper who had been terrorising, extorting huge ransoms and killing Nigerians at will, doesn’t make sense. And I don’t know if it makes any sense to any normal human being.

Despite the successful recapture of the kidnap kingpin by the police, the chain of command in the Nigerian Army MUST be held to account. Even the alleged criminal has confessed to the premeditated killing of the three policemen and a civilian by the soldiers and his subsequent release from the latter’s custody. His confession confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Nigerian Army deliberately killed those policemen. The soldiers who carried out this cold-blooded murder of the officers and stood by and watched them die don’t belong to the human race.  Nigeria is not safe in the hands of these monsters oooo!!!! Does one require further proof of why the country is losing the war against the terrorist group, Boko Haram? This country has lost its soul to fast money. Patriotism means nothing to our men in uniform. Shame on the military!!

As if what they had done wasn’t bad enough, the soldiers went on to debase the dead policemen. The villagers participated in dragging the bodies of these gallant men on the hard surface of an asphalted road to load them into a waiting military pickup van. Oh my God! One of the policemen, the last of them to die, was humiliated further – his pants half-rolled down and his back turned to show he had defecated on himself. I was traumatised and agonised after watching the video clip. I was angry over the callous wickedness and evil that was on display.

Why didn’t some of the villagers spare a few minutes of their time to help the police officer who was still alive? Why were they all more concerned with videoing the dead and the dying than evacuating the wounded to hospital? If that video doesn’t stir you to anger, then you have clearly lost your humanity. Nigeria scares me. I am now more than ever before afraid for this country. It has lost its place in the community of civilised nations.

It was after this barbaric behaviour that Colonel Musa issued that foolish, insincere statement to defend the indefensible. I want to believe that he did not see the video before going to press with that poorly advised defence, justifying that savagery. It was the height of arrogance and imprudence to say the least for the army spokesman to have signed off on that useless statement. He should be punished for attempting to muddle the evidence and cover up the barbarity of his colleagues.

He lied severally in that poorly composed fiction that he claimed was an explanation of what purportedly happened. He claimed the policemen and their civilian agent died in a firefight. How convenient!! How cowardly a claim! How come the policemen and their civilian partner were the only ones that were killed and the handcuffed and shackled kidnapper being transported escaped unhurt?

From the recording on video, there was no mistaking the fact that the soldiers knew these were police officers before and after they shot them. This only revealed the type of characters wearing the army uniform, from the rank and file to the cadre of officers. Even more shocking and sickening in the army statement was the labelling of the dead officers as “suspected kidnappers” and yet they set free the real kidnapper, who had been handcuffed and shackled by the killed police officers. The army should be celebrating its purported successful rescue of the kidnapper. Hun! Shame on you!! That labelling smacked of obstinacy, insensitivity and foolishness all rolled into one for the army authorities to have issued that statement.  It was a poor attempt to stick to a contrived narrative that had no foundation in truth.

Thanks to smartphones and social media, without which the military may have successfully lied their way out of this heinous crime. Col. Musa’s lies fell apart once video clips of the brutal extermination of the police emerged. His lies strengthened the suspicion that security agents are heavily involved in planning and coordinating with kidnappers including Boko Haram elements. It is the reason it has defied solution. Kidnappers now have well organised camps all over the country – some close to military barracks.

That soldiers trained, equipped, maintained with taxpayers’ money attacked and killed men of the Nigerian Police to rescue an arrested, handcuffed and shackled, well-known kingpin of kidnappings, a man that had been terrorising Taraba State, kidnapping and maiming people for ransom leaves one dumbfounded. There is a certain numbness that comes with daily outrage. This is one of such. Soldiers used saw to cut off handcuffs from the hands of an arrested kidnapper after killing the police officers? It’s unheard of. It defies any rational explanation. It’s simply unfathomable and beyond belief.

How can the slaughtered policemen’s families, friends, colleagues ever be able to sing the National Anthem again after seeing how soldiers killed their loved ones?  The video, apart from doing further damage to the country’s sagging image, scares and injures one’s patriotic’ spirit. The army MUST be held to account. All the officers involved MUST be made to face trial. Anything less will not be enough to atone for this crime. Killing innocent civilians or policemen on national duty in aid of kidnappers is not a measure of an army’s combat valour.

Is Rear Admiral Olaiya-led panel still receiving submissions from parties? What is it going to do with them? Why have the officers responsible for killing those policemen NOT been arrested? I have NO confidence that this panel will deliver justice, instead I am more suspicious that as others before it, it will cover up crimes by criminals in uniform. The public statements of the Army high command poison the atmosphere and drain one’s confidence that justice would be served.

Following the incident, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, had issued a circular warning his officers and men to be circumspect in their interactions with the police in the wake of what he described as “inciting and inflammatory” comments by the police. Can anyone beat that?  He did not sympathise with the families of the deceased policemen and a civilian, nor did he condemn the soldiers for committing such heinous crimes. His statement did nothing to give reassurance to a frightened public. It is obvious Buratai is less concerned about public good and more concerned about protecting his own. That statement was self-serving, cold-blooded, insensitive, unfeeling and lacking in empathy. It did little to inspire confidence from a badly shaken public.

The Nigerian military we all once somewhat took pride in seems to have more or less morphed into a criminal institution. Its record of criminality is legion and more telling than its battlefield achievements: From aiding and abetting election rigging to unprovoked killing of innocent civilians on the flimsiest of excuses, to armed robbery, massive corruption through the chain of command, kidnapping, betrayal of the fatherland by aiding terrorists waging war on the country and general indiscipline. Some of us are now questioning whether this critically vital institution is still fit for purpose as it stands today. Corrosive indiscipline and pervasive corruption are now a standard feature of our military. Crimes we had hitherto associated the police with are now very pervasive in the military. Unfortunately, those who bring dishonour to the uniform are hardly punished to serve as deterrent to others.

Having failed so badly in its constitutional responsibility which is to protect the country’s territorial integrity, elements within our military are now actively colluding with those who do us harm.  Of course, with a military like we have today, who needs an enemy?

Who will save Nigeria and its people from them? With such badly compromised security forces, how can members of the public be inclined to give information to them on the activities of criminals without getting their heads chopped off in revenge?

In March 2018, a former Chief of Army Staff, and ex-defence minister Lieutenant General Yakubu Danjuma (rtd) of a long-gone era raised the alarm that the military was colluding with herdsmen to kill innocent Nigerians. He had said: “Taraba State is a mini Nigeria where we have many ethnic groups living together peacefully. But the peace in this state is under assault. There is an attempt at ethnic cleansing in this state, and of course all the riverine states of Nigeria. We must resist it. We must stop it. Every one of us must rise up. The armed forces are not neutral. They collude; they collude; they collude with the armed bandits that kill people and kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement. They cover them.” Do you still remember when Danjuma made that audacious remark that many people read politics into it and did not believe him?  The government and its supporters vilified him in the press. Thereafter, the military with razzmatazz instituted a probe. The findings? As expected, the military exonerated itself of all the allegations made by the retired general. Now Nigerians can sense the unvarnished truth.

In Zamfara State, soldiers are actively aiding bandits and illegal gold miners. Their loyalty is to their pockets, not to country. Retired generals and politicians, according to reports, are heavily involved in pilfering this vital and precious national resource in Zamfara thereby depriving the country the benefits it could have earned. In the Niger Delta, soldiers and the navy are heavily involved in illegal bunkering and vandalism of oil and gas infrastructure. In July 2018, a major upstream operator in the Niger Delta accused the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the oil region, under the then commander, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman, of involvement in bunkering “and offering protection/escort services to those allegedly responsible for oil theft”.  Soldiers lobby to be posted to JTF because it is now a sure bet to instant wealth.

In July this year, five low-ranked soldiers identified as Corporal Gabriel Oluwaniyi, Corporal Mohammed Aminu, Corporal Haruna, Oluji Joshua and Hayatudeen stole over N400 million from their General Officer Commanding (GOC) in Sokoto and vanished into thin air. The source of the money and how a GOC came to be in possession of such huge amount of cash has still not been disclosed. The army says it is investigating but as in all such investigations, little is expected to come out of it.

The military, from the battlefield reports, has been most untrustworthy and unpatriotic in the fight against terrorists. A few years ago, around 480 Nigerian soldiers in a “technical manoeuvre” fled to Cameroon to escape the fighting when Boko Haram attacked a military base. There were allegations that elements within the military were working in collusion with the terrorists to ensure that the war never ended, so that they can continue to milk it for as much money as they can. There have been reports in the media of how soldiers abandoned newly-purchased, sophisticated military hardware worth millions of dollars to Boko Haram without a fight. There have been several reports of moles in strategic planning sessions against Boko Haram, of how they forewarned the terrorists of any plan, and within hours, there was a pre-emptive strike by the terrorists. They quickly mobilised to launch a surprise attack, targeting the armoury, carting away military hardware that was being assembled for use against them.

There have been several reports of our military dropping arms in remote areas with helicopters for terrorist and bandits. The defence headquarters NEVER instituted a probe into these disturbing allegations.

In Plateau State, reports abound of soldiers aiding herdsmen in their slaughter of innocent people. Emergency calls to them are only responded to after the act. These reports did not come from people’s fertile imaginations. Compare all that to the speed with which soldiers responded to an arrested kidnapper’s “distress” call, then you begin to understand where their interest lies.

Nigerians should ask them how many kidnapped victims’ distress calls they have responded to and how many victims they have rescued in the past. From the swiftness with which they acted, is it not obvious that this particular kidnapper-turned-victim had a “special relationship” with the high-ups at the 93 battalion and possibly even beyond?

The army you should recall that, it did not respond to distress calls when 276 Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram. It took the terrorist group hours to move those girls and all through that period, all army checkpoints were said have mysteriously disappeared from roads, giving the terrorists a free reign. The Dapchi schoolgirls’ abduction is another example. Where were the soldiers? Leah Sharibu is still marooned in her abductors’ custody. No rescue efforts were mounted by soldiers.

Of course who can forget in a hurry how soldiers locked down many states, especially Rivers during the 2019 elections, in a desperate bid to rig the polls? Soldiers on the orders of a prominent Rivers politician seized collation centres and started collating and manipulating the results from the polling units. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had to raise the alarm. Many innocent people were brutally killed for resisting the soldiers. Till date, nothing has come out of that incident.

The late former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Salihu Ibrahim, must be turning in his grave at the mere thought of what is being perpetrated by soldiers today, because when he described the Nigerian Army as an “army of anything goes”, I doubt if he ever envisaged this scale of descent of the army.

I have it on good authority that following the recapture of Wadume, the kidnapper, and the release of his confession on video last Tuesday, senior officers of the Nigerian Army have been squirming uncomfortably in their underwear and appealing to the police force to soft-peddle on their public pronouncements on the Taraba killings. The police should not. The action of the Nigerian Army has reinforced the outcry and successive reports by Amnesty International that have indicted our military institutions, including the police force.

Amnesty International, among other international bodies, has left no one in doubt that the military and police force have been overtaken by criminal and corrupt persons who steal public funds entrusted in their care and engage in extrajudicial killings. They are far worse than the terrorists and criminals that do not adorn army or police regulation uniforms. So even as the public sympathises with the police force over the dastardly killing of their officers, and they in turn luxuriate and receive accolades for the recapture of the kidnap kingpin, they should be under no illusion that they are better than their military counterparts. Until the Nigerian president learns to appoint the right persons to head our security agencies – persons who were not appointed for political reasons and are ready and able to reform the institutions – we shall continue to be regaled with similar stories of corruption, criminality and extrajudicial killings.

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