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RULAAC demands justice for IRT operatives killed by Army personnel in Taraba

Joy Anyim

The Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) has called on President Muhammad Buhari to ensure that justice is served in the murder of three operatives  of the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT), and two civilians, by some Army officers.

RULAAC, in a statement recently, maintained that all the culprits in the murder, must without exception be prosecuted.

Recall that on August 6, 2019, the police operatives, who had arrested a high profile kidnapper, in Taraba, Hamisu Wadume, were, enroute the state police command,  when personnel of the Nigerian Army, 93 Battalion, accosted them and reportedly shot them dead.

The Army officers, reportedly led by one Captain Tijani Balarabe, had also allegedly freed the suspect, and killed two civilians, with others injured.

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RULAAC said although the suspect was later rearrested, and a panel was set up by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, to investigate the alleged killing, and a report submitted to the president, no action has been taken, 10 months after the incident.

According to the Executive Director of RULAAC, Okechukwu Nwanguma, it was surprising that when Wadume and other suspects were charged to court, in February, 2020, none of the Army officers involved in the crime, were charged with them.

Nwanguma said a development that troubled  him more was that even after the trial judge had ordered that all the suspects, including the army personnel involved in the murder, be arraigned at the next hearing adjourned to March 2020, they were still not brought for trial.

He said the Prosecutor from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), who had taken over prosecution from the Police, announced that the AGF had removed the names of all the indicted Army officers from the charge sheet and that no reason was stated for this curious development.

He said, “The video footage of the scene of the attack clearly showed police officers pleading to the army officers and explaining to them that they were police officers attached to the IRT.

“But the army officers ignored their pleas and shot them one after another. The public outrage generated by this scandal compelled the President to order a Panel of Inquiry into the incident.

“ Early in January 2020, five months after the incident, RULAAC started asking questions concerning the undue delay in releasing the report of the investigative Panel set up in August 2019 by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin, on the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the killing of the three Police operatives of IRT by soldiers in Taraba state and the release of kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Wadume on August 6, 2019.

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“Later, there were reports that the Panel’s report had been submitted to the Chief of Defence Staff who,  in turn, was said to have submitted the same report to the President for his review and comments.

“Nothing more was heard several months after,  despite questions being asked as to when the report would be made public and those indicted charged accordingly. All we heard was deafening silence, fuelling suspicion of a cover-up bid.

“Media reports later quoted the panel as saying that Captain Tijani Balarabe, who ordered the shooting of the bus conveying the suspected kidnapper, did so because there was an alarm claiming that  kidnappers have abducted Alhaji Hamish Bala Wadume, in a white Hummer bus.

“There was, however, no reference to the fact – as seen in video- that the police operatives were murdered even after they identified themselves to the Army officers as police officers, an indication that the murder was pre-meditated and borne out of ill motives.

“Rumours and reports of suspected cover-up plot were rife. But suspicion of attempts to cover up thickened when Wadume and other suspects were eventually charged and arraigned in February 2020 without the army officers also charged with them.

Meanwhile, the Chief of Army Staff had been reported to have ignored the IGP’s communication requesting him to release the army officers for trial.

“The trial Judge also ordered that all the suspects, including the army personnel involved in the murder, be arraigned at the next hearing adjourned to March 2010. But at  the next court appearance, and to the chagrin of the close watchers of this episode, the Prosecutor from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) who had taken over prosecution from the Police announced that the AGF had  removed the names of all the indicted army officers from the charge sheet. No reason was stated for this curious development.”

Nwanguma further stated that RULAAC is  seriously concerned by the apparent attempt by the Chief of Army Staff and the AGF to shield suspected murderers  from justice, insisting that such attempt is the most unspeakable and outrageous act by anyone.

He noted that while Nigerian law grants the Attorney General of the Federation and of the states the power to withdraw criminal charges at some point in the course of prosecution of crime, such power must be exercised responsibly and in public interest.

“What public interest is served by shielding from justice army officers responsible for the murder of police officers for carrying out their legitimate duty of arresting a high profile kidnapper who had been terrorising parts of the country?

“The kingpin and his collaborators, including those now being shielded by the Chief of Army Staff and the Attorney General made startling self indicting confessions.

“This action by the AGF is nothing more than debauchery. It is strange; an appalling act of glorifying crime and shielding people reasonably believed to have been involved in a heinous crime,” he said.

He urged President Buhari to intervene and ensure that the death of the gallant IRT officers does not go in vain, stating that shielding the ten army officers from prosecution for their involvement in the murder of the IRT operatives will mean that the officers died in vain.

The RULAAC boss said, “The morale of their fellow officers still in service will also be dampened and they will feel that their lives don’t matter, and therefore, see no reason to be dedicated to service.

“In fact, the travesty of shielding the murderers of their colleagues from justice could make them take out their frustrations on the society.

“Further, by shielding the army officers from justice, the families of the murdered police officers will not only be denied justice; they will also be denied closure on this tragic, painful and untimely death of their family members and breadwinners.

“This debauchery, this abuse of discretionary power and desecration of our criminal justice system by the AGF must not be allowed to stand. Nigerians must resist it.”