By Emmanuel Onwubiko
“If we feel our own happiness is threatened by a move towards the greater good, it’s hard to vote for the greater good”, (The Rules of People” by Richard Templar).
The above citation from the international best-selling series as aforementioned has indeed captured the essence of the Rule of law in any sane and humane society in the twenty-first-century world and beyond. Adherence to the due process of the law is that which defines constitutionalism.
The citation from the book by Richard Templar is also a perfect way of reflecting on the disturbing trends of professional misconduct and indiscretions committed on regular basis by operatives of the armed security forces in the line of duty all across Nigeria. In fact, the military operatives are in the news for their notoriety in perpetrating serial cases of indiscretions against the civil populace.
Often, these tendencies by the operatives and officers of the armed security forces dovetail into extra-judicial execution of innocent unarmed civilians and the most unpardonable aspects of these irresponsible acts and the criminal killings of civilians is that they are mostly bribe-induced. It would seem too; that the measures put in place to practically sanction offenders amongst the security forces are made to appear like they are not efficient enough and may not be effective enough to serve as deterrent. Contrary to what some of these bad guys in uniform wants the rest of us to believe, the military authority beginning with the office of Chief of Army staff headed by Lieutenant General Yusuf Tukur Buratai has put a robust measure to confront all manifestations of gross professional indiscretion by the members of the Armed security forces. I’m aware of result-oriented measures supported by sound legal frameworks mounted by General Buratai to check all sorts of gross misbehaviour by the rank and file. Several court marshals with decisive resolutions have been convocked which have dealt with cases of professional indiscretion and criminality by the operatives and officers of the Army. So I can say without equivocation that the fault is not in the absence of will power on the part of the Army’s hierarchy but surely and squarely on the doorsteps of those who step out of the laws and procedures guiding the operations of the military.
Readers, therefore, would be wondering the motivation for this reflection if there are strong strategies to deal with indiscretion in the military but here is why.
Unless someone who lives in the moon will not know the two major incidents involving the security forces that have the potentials of damaging some of the noble initiatives said to have been put in place in the military to check the trends of criminality and abuse of power by those who bear arms courtesy of the contributions of tax payers who do so believing that those enlisted into the various institutions of the security forces will be restrained from misbehaving because of the strong legal frameworks put in place.
Can we say that these criminal elements in the security forces are doing these because they feel that the mechanisms for dealing decisively with them are weak deliberately. We will return to reflect on the relevant legal frameworks that ought to confront these criminal elements hiding within the security forces to carry out all manner of criminality against the civil populace and even against the institutions of the state.
First, let us remind ourselves that indeed there is now a story trending that armed soldiers executed policeman who arrested and were conveying a suspected baron of kidnappers in Taraba state, North West Nigeria and freed the kidnapper to escape from the long arm of the law. In saner climes this would be termed as an act of treacherous and felony punishable under strict legal sanctions because what has happened is that the law enforcement authority of the state has been thwarted and abused by the very same persons professionally trained to maintain law and order and maintain the territorial integrity of our nation state.
This is the account of the event as narrated officially by Nigeria Police Force and then we will look at the attempt to burnish the image of the military as made by one of the spokespersons of the Army who seem to be justifying or providing some sort of reasons for this atrocity to have happened in the first instance. He also committed fallacy of disjointed middle by also asking us to await an investigation on the crime by his men even when he had reached a certainty of why the extralegal killings happened.
Reminiscent of a nollywood movie, the story goes that Nigeria Police Force accused some unidentified soldiers of shooting to death three police officers and a civilian along the Ibi-Jalingo Road, Taraba State.
The Force added that several other officers were also injured during the attack.
The police operatives, led by ASP Felix Adolije of the Intelligence Response Team, reportedly came under attack while taking a kidnap kingpin, Alhaji Hamisu, to the command headquarters in Jalingo.
The Force spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, explained in a statement in Abuja on Wednesday that one police Inspector, two Sergeants and a civilian died as a result of gunshot injuries sustained in the attack.
Mba stated, “The policemen were taking the arrested suspect, Alhaji Hamisu to the command headquarters in Jalingo when they were shot at 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.”
The statement said the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had ordered the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Medicals to proceed to Jalingo to ensure the treatment of the injured officers.
It added that the remains of the deceased had been deposited in the morgue. Reacting to the killing, the acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sagir Musa, said that soldiers attached to 93 Battalion, Takum, Taraba State, killed the three policemen and one civilian in error.
Musa, in a statement on Wednesday night, stated that the policemen allegedly refused to stop at a military checkpoint and were trailed and shot dead by troops who had earlier received a distress call.
Musa said, “The attention of the Army Headquarters was drawn to a release by DCP Frank Mba, the Force PRO, on the unfortunate incident that occurred on August 6 in which troops of 93 Battalion, Takum, pursued and exchanged fire with some suspected kidnappers who indeed turned out to be an Intelligence Response Team from the Police Force Headquarters, Abuja on a covert assignment from Abuja resulting in the death and injury of some members of the team.
“The said Nigerian Army troops, while responding to a distressed call to rescue a kidnapped victim, exchanged fire with the suspected kidnappers along the Ibi-Wukari Road in Taraba State.”
He said: “On August 6, troops of 93 Battalion Nigerian Army Takum pursued and exchanged fire with some suspected kidnappers who indeed turned out to be an Intelligence Response Team from the Police Force Headquarters Abuja on a covert assignment from Abuja resulting in the death and injury of some members of the team.
“On the 6th of August 2019, the said Nigerian Army troops, while responding to a distress call to rescue a kidnapped victim exchanged fire with the suspected kidnappers along Ibi-Wukari Road in Taraba State.
“The suspected kidnappers numbering about ten (10) and driving in a white bus with Reg No LAGOS MUS 564 EU refused to stop when they were halted by troops at three consecutive check points.
“The flagrant refusal of the suspected kidnappers to stop at the three checkpoints prompted a hot pursuit of the fleeing suspects by the troops. It was in this process that the suspected kidnappers who were obviously armed opened fire at the troops sporadically thus prompting them to return fire.
“In the resultant fire fight, four (4) suspects were shot and died on the spot while four (4) others sustained various degrees of gunshot wounds and 2 others reportedly missing. It was only after this avoidable outcome that one of the wounded suspects disclosed the fact that they were indeed Policemen dispatched from Nigeria Police, Force Headquarters, Abuja for a covert assignment.
“However, following inquiries from a Police Station officer who was asked by the commander of the Army troops whether he was aware of any Nigerian Police team being dispatched to operate in the LGA, the Divisional Police Officer of Ibi Police Division responded that he was not informed about any operation by the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters thus lending credence to the distress call from members of the community that the suspects who turned out to be Policemen on a covert mission were rather suspected kidnappers.
“This incident is indeed quite unfortunate and could have been avoided through proper coordination and liaison as the Nigerian Police Force is partners in the fight against crimes such as kidnapping amongst myriads of other internal security threats confronting our nation of which the Nigerian Police is the lead Agency.
“In order to avert future occurrences of this nature, the Army Headquarters and the Force Headquarters of the Nigerian Police have agreed to constitute a Joint lnvestigation Panel to be headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Criminal Investigation Department, DIG Mike Ogbizi, to jointly investigate and report on the true circumstances surrounding the unfortunate incident.
“Therefore, until the Joint Investigation Panel concludes and submits its report, it will be premature to officially conclude and speak on the real circumstances that caused this unfortunate but very avoidable unfortunate incident.”
This is unbelievable.
The explanation by the spokesperson of the Army does not hold water. The police too have their fault lines because how could they have embarked on such an operation and the Army isn’t in the know at the highest levels.
As for the Army spokesman, why give a reason that the killing was in error and at the same time you asked us to await further investigation?
There is a serious disconnect in the system.
If one may ask, why is there no synergy amongst the core law enforcement and security forces?
How come that the police were in Taraba state to effect a high profile arrest and there is no intelligence by the Army which is now blamed for the fatalities.
If the police were killed in error, is instant death the way to demobilize so-called kidnappers if the military is now saying that the police who were killed were mistaken for kidnappers?
This Taraba show of shame by the military reinforces my call for the establishment of an independent institution charged with function of forensically investigating any incidents of use of lethal weapons similar to what are obtained in the United Kingdom and Australia.
About the same day that the Army killed three policemen and a civilian, the Army too was involved in another and sinister or even more idiotic act of extra-legal killing of a commercial tricycle operator in Aba, Abia state.
The killing by a soldier of this motorcycle operator Mr. Chimaobi Nwogu over his refusal to bribe the soldier who mounted road block Aba goes to show that the hierarchy of the Army has a lot of work in its hands with regards to instilling discipline even though the chief of Army is a man known for his professionalism.
Going through the thoughts of a legal mind and a military general T.E.C. Chiefs (Ph.D.) the late erstwhile director of legal department of the Army which he captured in his book, one is then compelled to remind the operatives of the armed security services that wherever they are deployed for internal security operation, that they know that there is accountability and adherence to the principle of the rule of law.
He wrote that the basic tenets of the rule of law are unequivocal as to the fact that calling out members of the Nigerian Armed Forces on an internal operation, does not confer on them more powers than those prescribed under the law of the country.
Consequently, he argued that compliance with the rule of law demands that the rules should be adhered to by troops on all issues during the operations.
Some of these issues and the rules applicable to them are addressed as follows: The Use of Minimum Force.
The first thing troops have to bear in mind when engaged in internal operations according to this erudite author is that force should be used when absolutely necessary.
Even then, the rule is that troops on such force as is reasonable in the circumstances must be the rule rather than exception.
There is no hard and fast rule to determine whether a particular degree of force is reasonable in any circumstances. The relevant and widely accepted objective test in determining the use of force is the popular saying that you ‘do not kill a fly with a sledge hammer’ or conversely, ‘you do not attack a lion with a pen knife’.
On Arrests during an internal operation, it is usual for troops involved in that operation to carry out arrests, he affirmed .
The suspects may include rioters or even more serious offenders like murderers, armed bandits or looters who merely taking advantage of an upheaval or mishap.
Whatever the circumstances, arrests are either conducted with a warrant of arrest, or without such a warrant.
In practice, he asserted a warrant usually contains the following; 1) The date of issue2) A concise statement of the offence or matter for which it was issued; 3) The name of the person to be arrested;4) An order to a law enforcement officer to apprehend the named person and bring him before the law and 5) The signature of the magistrate or judge.
The security forces must know that no one is above the law.
Killers in military or police uniforms must not be allowed to escape the long arm of the law. Impunity and lawlessness are antithetical to constitutional democracy.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA)