Beyond the story of heroic criminals and villainous security agents, Wadume’s case exposes, once again, the roots of the plague of criminal activity across the country in recent times. There is a class war raging in Nigeria and the security agents appear to be compromised on both sides.
Last week, this column wrote about the urgency of the re-arrest of Hamisu Bala, the suspected kidnap kingpin who vanished into thin air after being freed from police custody by soldiers along the Ibi-Wukari road in Taraba state. Fortuitously, the police announced the capture of the runaway suspect on Tuesday, August 20, even before the piece landed on the streets. The development is commendable, and it is an honour to the memory of the slain members of the elite police crew who were gruesomely killed by soldiers while transporting the arrested suspect to Jalingo in Taraba State.
The re-arrest of Alhaji Wadume, as the suspect is popularly known, is the first piece in a long line of actions that can restore some dignity to the police in this matter. It will also afford the army the opportunity to redeem itself. In the bigger picture of things, it currently seems like it was best that Wadume was recaptured by the police, rather than the army, who, as we were made to believe, were hot on the chase for Wadume. The next step is to find answers to the multiple questions that arose when this matter came to light on August 6.
Already, it is being reported that Wadume is making a lot of revelations, including disclosure of details of his escapades with Balarabe Tijani, an army captain. Tijani appears to be central to Wadume’s apparent close relationship with security agents in Taraba and may have been a chief beneficiary of Wadume’s largesse in the state. Other details about Wadume’s involvement in political thuggery and alleged deals with top government functionaries in Taraba and beyond are also gaining media attention. News media report that Wadume is making all kinds of confessions, except to the one thing he was arrested for – kidnapping. In July of this year, the Taraba State House of Assembly passed a minimum of life imprisonment and maximum of death penalty for kidnappers.
Whatever the truth is about the details of Wadume’s activities, the police have a job to do in investigating and managing the information coming out about his case. Unlike the articulate press release the police issued when its men where killed, the communication from police sources have been haphazard since his re-arrest, especially with an apparent media attack on the army still brewing in the police. This is demonstrated by the carefully prepared video of Wadume confessing to his rescue by soldiers, who allegedly cut through the restraints placed on him by the original police arrest team. It is the only section of his interrogation released by the police.
While Nigerians sympathise with the police over the death of its men, it is important that the police is not now consumed with vendetta against the army. The police should concentrate on extracting actionable information from Wadume that can be used in combating the bigger issue of kidnapping that the police authorities are supposedly investigating. To maintain credibility in the on-going investigation, the police must also be transparent, or at least consistent, in its release of information concerning the case.
For many Nigerians, the death of the policemen in Taraba does not wipe away decades of public distrust in the police itself. The apparent manipulative release of information about Wadume’s case already raises suspicion. This suspicion is reinforced by seeming attempts by the police to brush the possible involvement of its own officers under the rug. There have been reports of policemen who were on Wadume’s payroll as well. Then there is that one outstanding issue, about missing police incidence forms, which could prove police involvement at some level, if true.
On the evidence of past police precedents, there is the possibility of Wadume’s arrest being monetised. Possibly implicated VIPs can be exploited in exchange for keeping the lid on their involvement. Also, without prejudice to the police’s previously expressed fear of the army snuffing life out of Wadume, the more connections that are discovered between Wadume and powerful Nigerians, the greater danger to his life, even in police custody.
The police has a long history of deaths in custody or unexplained disappearances. Countless cases of people dying of injuries in detention litter police records. As news reports have stated that Wadume sustained some injury in the hail of soldiers’ bullets on the police vehicle conveying him to Jalingo on August 6, there may be a window for another police abracadabra. Even though he appeared fine in the video released by the police, anything is possible.
On June 8, 2005, the police opened fire on five traders and a friend of theirs, now known as the “Apo Six” at a checkpoint near Apo, Abuja, under controversial circumstances. In the cover up that followed, which included the subsequent killing of two survivors of the incident in police custody, Chief Superintendent Othman Abdulsalam, the Divisional Police Officer in charge of the area at the time, mysteriously vanished from his detention at police headquarters. That issue remains unresolved till today. Also, the sudden, inexplicable death of the prime suspect in the more recent Offa robbery, just last year, is another case in point. Since there is no telling which way Wadume’s case will go at this stage, there is a need for constant pressure to be applied on police leadership to ensure this case is pursued diligently.
The fear expressed here comes from Wadume’s confidence before his arrest. He had worked his way into the heart of the people of Ibi in Taraba state through acts of generosity that increased his profile, rather than lowering it, unlike the typical criminal. He was bold enough to seek public office, and mix with leaders of his local community openly. Although his high profile is no proof of any strong connection with powerful Nigerians, it does speak of a person confident of his contacts in powerful places. If one assumes that level of confidence suggests contacts beyond an army captain and some men in the local police division, perhaps, one can be excused.
Beyond Wadume’s criminality or otherwise, the authorities will also have to contend with the subtle class war that fuels kidnapping in Nigeria. In his local town, it is reported that Wadume is seen as a hero, even after his arrest. By stepping into government’s role to fill the void in rural empowerment in Ibi through provision of bore holes, motorcycles etc, Wadume commanded the loyalty of local boys. These boys may have contributed to the death of the policemen and may have (willingly) formed part of Wadume’s kidnapping network if the allegations against him are true. Working against a robin hood complex in the town and environs will make the investigation all the more difficult.
Beyond the story of heroic criminals and villainous security agents, Wadume’s case exposes, once again, the roots of the plague of criminal activity across the country in recent times. There is a class war raging in Nigeria and the security agents appear to be compromised on both sides. The police, army and other government authorities have a major problem on their hands, especially when the stark social/economic divisions exist within their ranks too.
Today, the focus should be on breaking the alleged kidnapping network of Wadume and his possible associates through diligent investigation. Reconciling police/army differences in this matter will go a long way, and it will involve openness and mutual respect between the two security agencies. After Wadume, the problem of widespread crime will still remain and it can only be conquered through honest collaboration.
The greater problem of uneven distribution of economic resources is a problem that can only be solved when the country works for everyone. Although Nigeria has an unenviable reputation internationally, many of our problems come from the uneven distribution of wealth and the wide class divide. The Wadumes of this world and the 77 suspected fraudsters of Nigerian origin arrested by the authorities in the US recently are mere manifestations of that problem. Perhaps, it is time we table these issues and seek lasting solutions.
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