Wadume’s trial: Matters arising

ON March 16, Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja issued an order compelling the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Burutai, to produce in court, the 10 soldiers who allegedly killed three policemen in their bid to effect the escape of millionaire kidnapping kingpin, Bala Hamisu, alias Wadume. To the nation’s dismay, when on Wednesday June 8, the suspects were brought to court, the 10 soldiers who were listed as 2nd to 11th defendants in the charge sheet by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Adamu, were absent. Explaining the absence of the suspects, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), said the army authorities had yet to release the soldiers to his office for trial. This, in his professional wisdom, necessitated that the names of the soldiers be expunged and the charges amended from 16 to 13.

It will be recalled that on August 6, 2019, a detachment of policemen attached to the Intelligence Response Team had succeeded in arresting Wadume, whose alleged reign of terror had held an entire zone in a vice grip. They were transporting him from Ibi town to Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, when they came under a hail of bullets fired by soldiers attached to the 93 Battalion in Takun, Taraba State. The soldiers led by one Captain Tijjani Balarabe allegedly killed three policemen and two civilians, while injuring five other policemen. The three deceased policemen are Inspector Mark Ediale, 36, Sgt. Dahiru Musa, 40, and Owolabi Babajide, 24, while the two civilians are Farouk Bashir, 30, and Usman Danazumi, 44. Even though he escaped at the time, the police eventually rearrested Wadume in Kano State.

Wadume had, in his statement, identified his accomplices, including 10 soldiers and two policemen. They are Captain Tijjani Balarabe; Staff Sgt. David Isaiah; Sgt. Ibrahim Mohammed; Corporal Bartholomew Obanye; Private Mohammed Nura; Lance Corporal Okorozie Gideon and Corporal Markus Michael. Others are L/Corporal Nvenaweimoeimi Akpagra; Staff Sgt. Abdullahi Adamu and Private Ebele Emmanuel. The two police suspects are ASP Aondona Iorbee and Ahmad Suleiman, also known as Dan Ball. The IGP had, in February, slammed 16 counts bordering on terrorism, murder, kidnapping and illegal arms running against Wadume, eight alleged civilian accomplices and the 10 soldiers. The prosecuting lawyer, Mr Simon Lough, on behalf of the IGP, had requested the Chief of Army Staff to present the soldiers in court, citing Sections 89 and 159 of The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 which empowers the court to so declare.

Quite understandably, AGF Malami has come under serious attack for removing the names of the 10 soldiers in the rescue saga. Explaining the legality of his action, the AGF, in a statement issued by Dr. Umar Gwandu, his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, said:“The interest of justice requires and legitimately allows for segmentation of the case in the interest of speedy trial. It is a common practice that absence of a co-accused will not constitute impediment to the progress of a case. Those available are entitled to fair trial and to have their cases determined within a reasonable time as a matter of constitutional rights, especially looking at the fact that the available accused persons are not to be held responsible for the unavailability of the co-accused persons.”

It is quite unfortunate that such a very grievous case as Wadume’s is being handled with the kind of laxity displayed by the Federal Government. If it is true as the AGF said that his office had “taken steps to procure the availability of the co-accused,” then he owes Nigerians the duty of information on why such effort(s) proved fruitless. Or are soldiers above the law? It is preposterous to submit that soldiers serving under the Federal Government could not be presented by the same government before the court of law to face the charges preferred against them. If the suspects have fled the country, the proper thing to do is to declare them wanted and notify Interpol accordingly. But to date, the Army authorities have not indicated that any such thing happened. And it is an indictment on their part that they have not chosen to address such a grievous matter that involved loss of lives. This development is capable of breeding bad blood among the rank and file of the armed services and must be addressed quickly. There is fear among Nigerians that the case will eventually be swept under the carpet, judging by the slipshod manner in which the prosecution under the chief federal law officer in the country has taken off. This fear is, we dare say, highly justified.

The government must ensure that it does all it can to earn the confidence of the people in its ability to take over a case “in public interest and the need to prevent abuse of the legal process.” At all times, it must punish crime diligently and avoid a situation where it is seen to be aiding and abetting it. That done, the tendency by aggrieved persons to resort to self-help would have been significantly curbed. The accused soldiers in the Wadume saga must be presented in court, where their innocence or otherwise will be established. Justice Nyako’s order must be obeyed.

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