Police have launched a massive manhunt nationwide for a fleeing kidnap kingpin in Taraba State, Hamisu Wadume, who was allegedly released by some soldiers at a checkpoint on Ibi-Jalingo road after the troops opened fire on a police van, killing three policemen and a civilian.
The soldiers, who claimed they mistook the policemen for kidnappers, were attached to the 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Taraba State.
The Intelligence Response Team, led by ASP Felix Adolije, came under attack from the soldiers while taking Wadume, who was placed in handcuffs and leg chains, to the Command Headquarters in Jalingo. The three officers – Inspector Mark Ediale, Sergeants Usman Danzumi and Dahiru Musa as well as a civilian, died as a result of gunshot wounds.
The police had expressed their fury over the development even as Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, demanded the army to produce Wadume.
“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?” Mba asked.
But in its response, the army insisted that it did not have any answers to the questions raised by the police, including the whereabouts of Wadume.
However, sources informed SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday that the leadership of the Nigeria Police Force had become apprehensive that Wadume might be killed in order to frustrate their investigation into his criminal activities, which informed the massive manhunt for him.
SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that the police top brass were afraid that Wadume “may be put down if the military get to him first,” and this, it was learnt, would make it almost impossible for detectives to establish the suspect’s connection to the soldiers who purportedly rescued him from the IRT team after his arrest.
One of the sources, who is a very senior officer, said, “We have a deep suspicion that the soldiers deliberately killed the policemen to protect Wadume whom we suspect they were trying to protect and that explains why someone who was placed in handcuffs and leg chains could escape from the armed soldiers. Is it not ironical?
“That is why the police would not leave anything to chance to get to Wadume first before the military, because chances are that they might kill him to protect their connection to those soldiers who killed their fellow security suspect to protect a kidnap kingpin.”
Another top police officer said, “A critical assessment of the attack on our men and the release of Wadume shows that there is a strong connection between the soldiers and Wadume. The moment we lay our hands on the suspect, everything will be laid bare and Nigerians will be made to know that the attack on our men was premeditated.
“It was a conspiracy to protect the suspect from paying for his crime. We are hoping that the military would not get to the suspect before we do.”
Sources, however, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the investigations into the incident revealed that Wadume was a generous man who is well-known in his community, Ibi, and surrounding areas.
His seeming large heart was said to have endeared him to the people, including security officials, in the area.
Wadume reportedly gave out money, motorcycles and cars to individuals and community leaders.
His generosity, SUNDAY PUNCH learnt, prompted the community leaders to make him the Sarkin Samarin of Ibi community a few months ago.
An almanac celebrating the ceremony showed Wadume in white turban smiling.
The Force PRO could not be reached for comment on the status of the police investigation into Wadume’s escape and the ongoing manhunt for him.
Meanwhile, human rights groups, the Centre for Change and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, on Saturday condemned the killing of the three police and a civilian by soldiers.
In a statement by the President, Centre for Change, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, on Saturday, the group expressed surprise that the army had not shown any remorse over “the senseless killings that portray it as aiding criminality”.
The statement read, “Rather, it (army) has engaged in dancing over the graves of the gallant officers who were credited with successful anti-kidnap operations by calling them ‘suspected kidnappers’.
“We have not seen a word of condolence by the army to the families of the deceased.”
Okei-Odumakin added, “We demand the immediate identification of the officers involved and their prosecution for murder immediately.”
CDHR in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Henry Ekine, said, “The continuous extrajudicial killing and violation of the fundamental rights of citizens will continue to raise direct questions on the core issue of the security of lives of citizens by state agents.
“The extrajudicial killing of a civilian and three police officers on duty as well as inflicting serious injuries on other citizens by soldiers in Taraba State is most unfortunate, surely avoidable and grossly condemnable.
“This incident and the trending stories of the circumstances, as well as the seeming skirmishes between the security agencies (army and police), clearly reveal the disturbing level of display of unprofessionalism among our security agencies, especially regarding the mandate to ensure the protection of citizens anywhere in the country.
“The CDHR emphasises that the right to life of all citizens, including security officials, is guaranteed under Section 33 of Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as under the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Article 4); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 6); and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 3).”
In another development, a non-governmental organisation, ACT, has threatened to sue the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, for the killing of the policemen and the civilian.
The NGO, in a statement by its National Secretary, Tolu Babaleye, and acting Director, Research, Strategy and Communications, Kolawole Johnson, on Saturday, said the killing of the officers must not be swept under the carpet as it had happened in the past.
The statement added, “The President should set up a panel to investigate what happened with a view to unravelling the ulterior motives (if any) of the perpetrators of the heinous and dastardly killing.
“We call on the Nigerian Army to resist the temptation of shielding any erring officer in order to enjoy public confidence. The daily sacrifices of many gallant officers must not be rubbished by the selfishness of a few. The bad eggs must be fished out to save the image of the force and the country at large.”
– The Punch