The police on Wednesday embarked on what appeared an effort to deceive Nigerians, issuing a haphazard denial to a PREMIUM TIMES story that detailed the disappearance of 167 police officers who were set to be deployed in active combat operation against Boko Haram fighters.
The fleeing officers, who have now been declared wanted with potentially grave consequences if found, were amongst the 2,000 additional police officers recently drafted by Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris to complement the efforts of the military against rampaging terrorists in the volatile North-east.
The officers did not submit their arms, ammunition and other official equipment in their possession when they fled, introducing a serious security threat to their abscondment, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Mr Idris deployed them after Boko Haram’s invasion of Nigerian Army 157 Task Force Battalion on November 18 prompted calls for intensified synergy amongst security agencies.
They were sent on an induction training at the Nigerian Army Special Forces Training School in Buni Yadi, Yobe State. But many of them started fleeing last weekend after learning that they would be deployed to locations where Boko Haram fighters are still active, especially communities along Nigeria’s border with Niger and Chad Republic.
Top security officials briefed on the development told PREMIUM TIMES the mobile police officers had expected to be deployed around Maiduguri, the capital of Boko Haram’s heartland of Borno State, and other relatively peaceful settlements in the region.
But hours after the story was published, police spokesperson Jimoh Moshood circulated a statement that the story was untrue, even though the story made stated that the findings were based on official documents and top security sources who knew of the abscondment.
Mr Moshood said the police leadership could “categorically state that the story is untrue, absolute falsehood and a deliberate attempt to cast aspersions on the efforts of the Nigeria Police Force in the ongoing fight against the Boko Haram insurgency.”
Mr Moshood emphasised that the police were unable to substantiate any elements of the story following an investigation conducted shortly after it was published, and there was no basis whatsoever for police officers to abscond from postings.
“The insinuation in some quarters and as reported in the story that 167 out the 2,000 additional police officers recently deployed by the IGP absconded is not correct and should be disregarded by members of the public.
“These 2,000 police personnel are to complement the efforts of the military to add new impetus to the fight against the decimated Boko Haram insurgency.
“This story was investigated and it was found out not to be correct, there is no reason whatsoever that Police personnel deployed for the operations in the North-East would abscond.
“These 2, 000 police officers recently deployed are in addition to several thousands of police personnel already engaged in the fight against insurgency with the military in the North-East,” Mr Moshood said.
He dismissed the list of 167 names published with the story as “fake”, adding that the officers whose names appeared on the list are actually “on the ground in the North-east.”
But PREMIUM TIMES stands by its story, and has also decided to publish the initially redacted part of the police document that showed the memo authorising the arrest of the deserters was raised by the police commissioner in charge of the mobile police unit.
Outside PREMIUM TIMES, some media reports, including Sahara Reporters, cited as many as 190 officers fled, but this newspaper was only able to confirm 167 based on official police documents.
A senior police officer at the Force Headquarters who was among those who confirmed the authenticity of the list to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday morning said the denial was a new low for the current police leadership.
“This is a new low for those of us running the affairs of this institution at the top,” the police chief said by telephone Wednesday evening. “Even plausible deniability does not have a place in what happened here, it is shameful to deny this.”
“This is laughable, shameless propaganda against the citizens and the state,” a military chief said in a message to PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday evening.
As stated in our original publication, the police signal was copied to several mobile police units across the country, presumably the units where the deserted officers were called-up for deployment to the North-East.
They include: Mopol 2, Keffi, Nasarawa State; Mopol 3, Enugu, Enugu State; Mopol 5, Benin, Edo State; Mopol 8, Jos, Plateau State; Mopol 11, Calabar, Cross River State; Mopol 16, Abeokuta, Ogun State; Mopol 17, Akure, Ondo State; Mopol 18, Owerri, Imo State; Mopol 19, Port Harcourt, Rivers State; Mopol 20/22, Ikeja, Lagos State.
Other affected units include: Mopol 23, Keffi Street, Ikoyi, Lagos; Mopol 26, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; Mopol 28, Umuahia, Abia State; Mopol 30, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Mopol 31, Asaba, Delta State; Mopol 32, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State; Mopol 35, Dutse, Jigawa State, Mopol 39, Osogbo, Osun State; Mopol 43, Lion Building, Lagos; Mopol 50, Kubwa, Abuja; Mopol 51, Oghara, Delta State, Mopol 54, Onitsha, Anambra State and Mopol 56, Ogoni, Rivers State.
A top official of one of the mobile police units who received the memo simply laughed it off when told the police spokesperson had denied it.
“You know our people, they can say anything publicly just to save face,” he said.