The recent fatal clash between soldiers and police officers could have been averted if the police officers were properly dressed and if there was synergy between the two federal government security agencies, security experts have stated.
The police had two weeks ago ramped up public criticism of the Nigerian Army over the killing of three officers in Taraba.
The officers were on an operation to arrest a suspected kidnap kingpin in a remote settlement in the northeastern state. After apprehending the suspect, Hamisu Bala, aka Wadume, officers handcuffed him and drove him towards Jalingo, the state capital, the police said.
But between Ibi and Wukari communities, the police team of 10 persons came under fire from soldiers. Three officers and a civilian were killed in the process, while several others were injured.
The soldiers then freed the handcuffed suspect, police spokesperson Frank Mba said when he first made the development public.
But the Nigerian Army immediately pushed back against the account of the police. Army spokesperson Sagir Musa admitted soldiers from 93 Battalion were responsible for the tragedy. He, however, blamed it on poor communication on the part of the police, saying the officers were mistaken for kidnappers.
The army also claimed that villagers made a panic call to soldiers that kidnappers had come to operate in their community, leading to the hot pursuit that ended in the killing of three police officers.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview, Haliru Bala, a retired colonel of the Nigerian Army, mentioned some of the actions the police could have taken to avert the problem.
“I don’t think any reasonable army officer would deliberately open fire on police officers who are on lawful duty.
“What the police officers ought to have done was to dress in their proper uniform,” he said.
Another private security expert, Mathias Baba, said while the clash by the two agencies was highly condemnable, there were laid down procedures for such operations.
‘’The first thing to do when drafted for this kind of operation is to first of all report to the state headquarters of the police before proceeding to any part of the state.
“Secondly, if possible, there ought to be another communication to all other security agencies within that area.
“Thirdly, whenever these operatives are accosted by sister security agencies, they are expected to introduce themselves adequately,” he said.
When asked if the police uniform could have saved the situation, Mr Baba said not all police operations require dressing in uniforms.
“There are covert operations that require a high level of secrecy, the most important thing here is proper identification.”
Although an investigative panel had been raised to get to the root of the incident, the police appeared uncomfortable with how the matter was being handled.
Mr Mba condemned the army’s description of their personnel as suspected kidnappers and challenged the military to provide evidence of its claim that villagers made a distress call to soldiers.
Mr Mba also raised a series of questions for the army.
A security analyst who recently spoke to this newspaper said the strongly-worded public attacks the police had been directing at the army showed that President Muhammadu Buhari was not handling the issue well and the police felt helpless.
“For the police to be releasing statements to the media and coming to Twitter to scream about this showed they are helpless and not getting the support they need from the president,” Cheta Nwanze, a security analyst, told PREMIUM TIMES Thursday.
Mr Nwanze urged Mr Buhari to urgently resolve the dispute, saying Nigeria cannot afford a total breakdown of harmony between the police and the military, perhaps the two most crucial institutions combatting the country’s security challenge.
The analyst also expressed concerns that the rescue of the kidnap suspect, Wadume, who has since been rearrested by the police, by the soldiers could signal high-level connivance between criminals and security chiefs.