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The spectacle of the Nigerian Police and Army in a war of words – and bullets

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The spectacle of the Nigerian Police and Army in a war of words – and bullets

On Tuesday, the Nigerian Police reportedly lost three of its intelligence officers to soldiers of the Nigerian Army who, according to their own claims mistook them for kidnappers.

The astonishing event which has raised fresh concerns over the competence and organization of Nigeria’s security outfits took place on Tuesday August 6 in Taraba state. Members of the Police Intelligence Response Team(IRT) including Sergeant Uzman Danzumi, Inspector Mark Ediale, and Sergeant Dahiru Musa – three of whom are now dead including an unnamed civilian – reportedly secured the arrest of a kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Bala Wadume, and were moving him to base before a unit of the army confronted them and opened fire.

Although there has been a reported call for an investigation by the Presidency, both parties are slugging it out in the media, determined to establish guilt on either end. The Nigerian Police especially has adopted clownish hashtags such as ‘Where is EspiritDcorp’ and ‘Provide Answers Nigerian Army’ with which it rebukes the Army for its response and demands proper accountability.

The distressed public and other security experts have expressed confusion on why soldiers are mounting checkpoints and responding to distress calls – as claimed in their official response – in Taraba where a state of emergency has not been declared. The alleged kidnap kingpin freed by the Army has also not been accounted for, fuelling conspiracies in some quarters that it may have been a coordinated attack organized in collusion with kidnap cartels.

It is not the first time the Nigerian Army has made such costly error. In January 2017, it conducted airstrikes against a camp for internally displaced persons in Rann, Borno State, killing over 200 persons – including aid workers – and tried to cover up the ‘error’ before sustained media reports forced admittance and subsequent apology with ‘faulty intelligence’ taking the fall.

It also has a poor human rights record. Only last week, some soldiers were reportedly brought under investigation for gang-raping a female student of Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba, Ondo state at a mounted checkpoint after separating her from other commuters.

Despite the criticism of the Nigerian Army, many Nigerians have also expressed hesitation at taking the side of the Police or sympathizing with them – and this may be understandable. For years now, there has been a sustained campaign for a scrap of the Police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) notorious for abuse and extortion. Many of these calls have been met with derision or silence, with calls for investigation fizzling out without any real action.

On Monday, August 5, the police, emboldened by a tough statement from the IGP, clamped down on protesters across the nation, assaulting journalists in the process and imprisoning others for unknown charges. The attack and the wording of the IGP’s statement against the protest has been likened by some, including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, as reminiscent of Abacha’s military regime.

Unanimously, it could be said that, more than anything else, this reveals the collapse of the country’s security architecture as those charged with the responsibility of keeping her safe are turning their guns on each other – while criminals disappear – and coming to the public for justice.

In the first quarter of 2019 alone, there has been accounted 1,071 killings and 685 kidnap cases. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported Boko Haram’s resurgence indicated by mass, clandestine burial of hundreds of soldiers in unmarked graveyards. The Army denies this as it has other reports which turned out true.

Bearing all of these in mind, one wonders what the Army and the Police expect the dispirited common man to do with both of them presenting their cases in grandiloquent statements and graphics, revealing their confusion/incompetence.

Peter Adeshina is a journalist who reports politics, policy and governance.

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