EXCLUSIVE: Zakari Biu speaks out, denies aiding Kabir Sokoto’s escape

Embattled police commissioner, Zakari Biu

Dismissed Police Commissioner, Zakari Biu, whose removal on Wednesday on account of the escape of Boko Haram kingpin, Kabir Sokoto, has denied denied complicity in the escape that humiliated the force, and triggered public anger.

The former officer currently faces charges over the escape, and his sack, announced by the Police Service Commission yesterday, came two weeks after former police top boss, Hafiz Ringim, was fired.

It also came a day after the Senate voted in support of the speedy trial of Mr. Biu and others, accused of “improper conduct” that led to the escape of Mr. Sokoto, a high-target Boko Haram operative.

Mr. Sokoto has since been recaptured in a raid the Department of State Security Service, DSSS, drew so much attention to, characterizing it as a “joint operation” with the army. Mr. Sokoto is being held at a fortified secret location.

Knowledgeable sources in the presidency exclusively told Premium Times Thursday, “Biu is just an unfortunate victim of interagency peer rivalry whose controversial past is more to blame for his sins than any blemish in the case of this Sokoto guy.”

This view appears to match Mr. Biu’s formal reaction to the police query on the incident, exclusively obtained by Premium Times yesterday, in which he denied all grounds of misconduct and made clear how he planned the operations with the full knowledge of the former Inspector General of police, Hafiz Ringim.

In this January 19, 2012 letter, Mr. Biu denied any role or foreknowledge of the incident, and rejected Mr. Ringim’s charges of “negligence, discreditable conduct, disloyalty and that of an act unbecoming of a public officer”.

“With the highest sense of responsibility and humility, I wish to state that from the time of my enlistment in the force almost 35 years ago, I have never been adjudged disloyal to the force or to my superiors officers,” he wrote, insisting that “I have always discharged my official duties creditably and with due diligence, patriotic zeal and commitment to professionalism in conformity with the ideals of the force.”

At one point in the tightly argued eight-paged response, the former police commissioner described the mob action that overpowered his men at Abaji, and the eventual freeing of Mr. Sokoto, as an “avoidable human fallibility,” and at another point, suggested it was at best “an error of judgment”.

“The regrettable error of judgment was based on the fact that since the escaping felon was physically restrained with the leg chain and hand cuff on him, it was not envisaged or contemplated that the issue of escape could have arisen,” he said.

Mr. Biu, who is still being detained at an unknown location, traced his personal and professional history with combating crimes and militancy, both as a police officer charged with fighting terrorism, and also as a bereaved father who lost a son, Tahir, in the Independence Day bomb attack carried out by militants in 2010. The MEND militants operating in the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for that attack less than a kilometer from the Eagles Square in Abuja.

Recalling the experience of his son’s death, who was an award winning financial crimes detective with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Biu said that experience only made him an improved human being, absolved of hatred, but enriched with a deepened commitment to stamp out terrorism.

How those rationalizations played out in the ears of the highest level of police decision-making is still unclear, but Mr. Biu’s sack, as insiders familiar with the investigations noted, appears to be a pre-determined assessment necessary to pacify livid Nigerians who, in all alarm, had grown weary of police conduct in the face of a clear and present existential danger of terrorism increasingly open-ended, and probably getting out of control.

Mr. Biu’s letter was sent in reply to the query of the former IG, Mr. Ringim, who himself had been questioned by the ministry of police affairs. Administratively, Mr. Biu’s rejoinder is expected to serve as the basis of the IG’s response to the minister’s query.

Mr Biu has had a troubled career. In 2000, he left the force after former President Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly said he could not work with him.

He was recalled 10 years later after the end of Mr. Obasanjo’s tenure, and the Police Service Commission recently told the senate that Mr. Biu was recalled because he had never been issued a query or suspended before 2000, the same point Mr. Biu argued in the response to his recent query.

Sources close to the country’s counter-terror operations confirmed in confidence that Mr. Biu and his team had made the farthest inroads in the country’s battle against terrorism, pointing at the irony that his team initially arrested Mr. Sokoto and that the claim suggesting they willfully released him doesn’t add up.

“How logical is it for them to again release the suspect to flee with his hands and legs in manacles? It just makes no sense.” our source queried.

In Mr. Biu’s response to his query, he also dismissed the possibility of infiltration and sabotage by his team members, arguing that the same team that searched Mr. Sokoto’s apartment, and lost him in the process of a mob attack on them, was the same he had worked with since 2010 and that had recorded tremendous officially acknowledged successes.

Ahead of Mr. Sokoto’s initial arrest, Mr. Biu explained he was in touch with the Inspector General of Police on the procedure to be followed after his team of detectives zeroed in on the suspect and reported that he could be arrested.

Acting on that, an apparently elated Inspector General of Police directed he should immediately return to Abuja from Kano where he had travelled to coordinate some other arrests, the former commissioner said.

After the arrest had been made, Mr. Biu said, the IG directed that the suspect’s house be immediately searched and since he, Mr. Biu, needed to file a written report to the IG, he dispatched a unit of his team to Mr. Sokoto’s house at Abaji near Abuja.

He dismissed claims that he should have accompanied the team on the search of Mr. Sokoto’s home.

According to Mr. Biu, it had never been the practice for police commissioners to accompany search teams to suspects’ residences.

Ending his query response with a request, he urged the police hierarchy to reconsider the charges of misconduct against him and clear him of any wrongdoing.

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