The Nigerian Army late Wednesday said the police officers who were fired at in Taraba State on Tuesday were mistaken for kidnappers by soldiers.
Three police and one civilian fatalities were recorded after soldiers opened fire on a police team along Ibi-Wukari Road. More police officers who took part in the operation were also injured.
The police announced on Wednesday evening that soldiers killed an inspector and two sergeants as a police team was taking a high-profile kidnap suspect from a remote community in Taraba State to Jalingo, the state capital.
The police also said many officers were injured and the suspect was freed by soldiers.
The Nigerian Army blamed a communication gap for the attack, which the police described as ‘bizarre.’
The army said the troops attached to 93 Battalion, Takum, pursued a white bus conveying 10 persons they thought were kidnappers, not knowing that the bus was mostly occupied by police officers from the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) in Abuja. The officers were on a covert mission to arrest the kidnap suspect who was identified as Alhaji Hamisu.
The army also said troops responded to a distress call from villagers that Mr Hamisu was kidnapped, blaming the police for not properly coordinating the raid and causing confusion.
“The suspected kidnappers numbering about ten (10) and driving in a white bus with Reg No LAGOS MUS 564 EU refused to stop when they were halted by troops at three consecutive check points.
“The flagrant refusal of the suspected kidnappers to stop at the three checkpoints prompted a hot pursuit of the fleeing suspects by the troops.
“It was in this process that the suspected kidnappers who were obviously armed opened fire at the troops sporadically thus prompting them to return fire,” Army spokesperson Sagir Musa said in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES.
“In the resultant fire fight, four (4) suspects were shot and died on the spot while four (4) others sustained various degrees of gunshot wounds and 2 others reportedly missing.
“It was only after this avoidable outcome that one of the wounded suspects disclosed the fact that they were indeed policemen dispatched from Nigerian Police, Force Headquarters, Abuja for a covert assignment.
“However, following inquiries from a Police Station officer who was asked by the commander of the Army troops whether he was aware of any Nigerian Police team being dispatched to operate in the LGA, the Divisional Police Officer of Ibi Police Division responded that he was not informed about any operation by the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters thus lending credence to the distressed call from members of the community that the suspects who turned out to be Policemen on a covert mission were rather suspected kidnappers.
“This incident is indeed quite unfortunate and could have been avoided through proper coordination and liaison as the Nigerian Police Force are partners in the fight against crimes such as kidnapping amongst myriads of other internal security threats confronting our nation of which the Nigerian Police is the lead agency,” Mr Musa, a colonel, said.
The Army Headquarters and the Force Headquarters have agreed to conduct a joint investigation into the deadly incident, Mr Musa said. Michael Ogbizi, the deputy inspector-general of police in charge of criminal investigations, will lead the joint panel.
“Until the joint investigation panel concludes and submits its report, it will be premature to officially conclude and speak on the real circumstances that caused this unfortunate but very avoidable unfortunate incident,” Mr Musa said.
The army spokesperson did not return PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for a clarification on how the suspected kidnapper who was arrested and handcuffed by the police was freed after the firefight.