A letter written by the Attorney General of Taraba, Yusufu Akirinkwen, to the state’s Commissioner of Police, Yakubu Babas, asking the police to release suspects is adding fresh fuel to the allegation that the state government is complicit in the June 2017 killings in a community on the Mambilla Plateau in Sardauna Local Government Area of Taraba State.
The attacks occurred between June 17 and 20, 2017 during a conflict between Nguroje and a community of herders.
Apart from the loss of lives, livestock and private properties were also affected.
After the crisis, the police commissioner, Mr. Babas, was quoted in the media as saying 18 people died, but the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria said the figure was far higher.
The police said they arrested some suspects a few days after the crisis was curtailed.
The Fulani herders community, through the state chapter of Miyyetti Allah, had earlier alleged that the state government and police colluded to shield the perpetrators of the killings from facing justice.
The community said the release of the suspects by the police was a clear indication that the massacre was sanctioned by the state.
The state government denied complicity in the attacks.
But a leaked letter, which the state’s Attorney General, Mr. Akirinkwen, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that he wrote, is being cited as vindicating the allegation by the group and other critics that the state government blocked the path to justice for families of victims of the crisis.
However, police spokesperson in the state, Davil Misal, told PREMIUM TIMES on phone that the police had nothing to do with the release of the suspects.
He said all of them were charged to court before the Attorney-General wrote to the state police command to release them.
Mr. Akirinkwen, who is also the Commissioner for Justice in the state, said the interest of peace and stability in the state was the reason the state government wrote to the police commissioner for the release of the suspects.
The letter which was dated September 8, 2017 and written on a letter-head of the Attorney General Chambers, Ministry of Justice, Taraba State, was titled “Advise Against Persistent Arrests and Prosecution of Persons Suspected To Be Involved In the Communal Crisis in Sardauna Local Government Area of State”.
The letter reads:
“Reports and/or complaints reaching my office, of recent, indicates that following the aftermath of the communal crisis on the Mambilla Plateau of Sardauna local government area, which broke out on 17th -20th June (2017) incessant, indiscriminate arrests, detention and prosecution of perceived suspects alleged to be involved in the said crisis is said to be carried out by your office.
“It has to be noted that shortly before the crisis broke out , there were intelligence report of land dispute skirmishes which prompted the State government to set up a judicial Commission of Inquiry on the sales and purchase of land on the Mambilla Plateau, inaugurated on the 13th of June 2017.
“It is also noteworthy that Government instated the inquiry in order to forestall the breakdown of law and order within the Community and it is also obligatory on all persons – individuals or groups, who are lovers of peace and are aggrieved by the actions or inactions of their perceived enemies to avail themselves of the opportunity offered by the government to ventilate their grievance before the Judicial Commission.
“It has been noticed that while the Judicial Commission of Inquiry is on-going, you Command has embarked on the arrest, detention and prosecution of those allegedly suspected to be individuals in the crisis by whatever yardstick; thus your action is viewed and does not only constitute contempt of matters that are sub-judice, but also negates the cherished principle of double jeopardy in the event that the same persons now being prosecuted by you are subsequently recommended by the Commission to prosecuted and punished.
“The list of cases of those detained and/or prosecuted by your Command parallel/or in sundry, abuses to the Judicial Commission’s sittings includes, but not limited to, the following.
1. COP (commissioner of police – vs Hassan Kisiri Wade, (CMC/84/2017) before magistrate Yazidu, still in detention in Jalingo Prison
2. COP vs Paul Yangbon, JUAC II/CR/301/2017 (given police bail)
3. COP vs Yangbon, Godwin Umaru, (and 13 others, now at large) JUAC II/CR/302/2017
4. COP vs Mohammed Ismaila, Isaiah Gelmbon (and 16 others now at large) JUACII/CR/228/2017 (given court bail)
5. COP vs Dahiru Ibrahim Juwa (on police bail, not charged to court)
6. Abubakar Rini vs Mohammed Njidda and 2 Other, at Chief Magistrate’s Court Gembu, before Magistrate Jika Lawan (on court bail)
7. COP vs Umaru Musa Tepsoh, CACG/CR/97/2017 at Criminal Area Court, Gembu (still in detention in Gembu Prison
“In view of the above circumstances and the interest of public peace and harmonious co-existence, it is my candid advice that all suspects be forthwith released from detention, and all charges of First Information Reports brought against them withdrawn”.
The Attorney General, in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said he asked the police to release the suspects because their detention would inhibit the investigation into the crisis by the Commission of Inquiry set up by the state.
He said the trial by the police may also result in double jeopardy for the suspects should the commission of inquiry find them guilty of the same offences the had police charged them with.
According to him “The commission of inquiry has concluded its assignment and submitted its report to the Taraba state governor, Mr Ishiaku Darius, who has set up a white paper committee on the report.
“The Commission of enquiry has concluded their assignment, and they have made their reports and recommendations and handed it over to the government and the state government has also appointed a white paper committee which we are waiting for their report now,” said the Attorney-General.
But Miyyetti Allah’s legal adviser, Dahiru Abbo, argued that the suspects were charged with committing capital offences after the commission of inquiry was set up.
He said most of the suspects took part in the attacks on the Mambilla plateau, which came up long after the Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate a different conflict that had to to with land dispute.
Mr. Abbo said their release on the order of the state government was a deliberate move to hinder the smooth administration of justice.
He argued that even if the suspects were already before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, the fact that they allegedly committed fresh offences that attract capital punishment evacuates whatever protection the principle of double jeopardy may have bestowed on them.
“As a legal practitioner, I can tell you that it is not proper for the Taraba Attorney-General to release suspects before trial,” he said.
“Of course the Attorney General may have acted under the constitutional power vested in his office, under Section 211 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which gives him the power to discontinue, or take over any case at any state of proceeding; but subsection 3 of the same constitution provides that in exercising his power, the Attorney-General must have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice, and the need to prevent abuse of office.
“So to my opinion as a lawyer, the Attorney General Acted wrongly by advising the commissioner to release all the suspects. Mind you, almost all the cases are capital offences. They are all culpable homicides and armed robbery.
So the state attorney general could have allowed the file to transmit to his office before the director of public prosecution to see that whether these suspects were arrested with or without any genuine evidence against them, before writing to the commissioner of police.
“Immediately he wrote that letter, the police commissioner of Taraba state, released all the suspects and the first information report (FIR) against them and they were discharged. The commissioner of police did not waste time in carrying out the order from the AG. They directed the prosecutors handling the cases and they all withdraw their FIR.
“Any how you view it, you would see that there is conspiracy on the part of the government on the massacre of our people in Sardauna local government.
“Now God has vindicated us by this letter. All the persons arrested by the security agencies who have the power to arrest were set free without any trial because there was a directive from the Attorney General who has the power under the constitution of the country to discontinue any case.
“But even the police commission shouldn’t have rushed to act on that letter because the Attorney General cannot stop the police from investigation; the proper channel he would have followed is to go to the court to file their own complaint, but not acting on simple which can be challenged in court. I think both of them are conspirators.
The Public Relations Officer for the Taraba state police command, David Misal, a deputy superintendent, said the police did not carry out the order. According to him, the suspects were already charged to court before the letter from the AG got to the police commissioner.
“The letter was received by the police command here in Jalingo; but you know it came as an advise and not a directive per se,” Mr. Misal said.
“You know this is a democratic dispensation, and anyone can be advised on any issue and that is what the letter was all about. But it was not a court order or directive; it was rather a form of advice on the grounds that there was an existence of an constituted commission of inquiry to investigate the issue. But the fact of the matter is that all arrested were charged to court even before the letter came. So I will not be in the position to talk about what happened after the suspects were charged to court.”
Though the Attorney General’s letter indicated that about four suspects had not been charged to court as they were either in police custody or granted police bail, the police spokesperson insisted that all the suspects had been charged to court before the advice by the state government for their release.
“As far as I am concerned, at that time that the letter was received, we didn’t have anybody that had not been charged to court. All the people in question were already charged to court. At their own level, they wouldn’t have known when we made the arrest and when we charged them to court before they wrote that letter”, said Mr Misal who was recently posted as PPRO Taraba state police command
Miyyetti Allah in Taraba State said the release of the suspects had not only frustrated efforts to seek justice for the families of the alleged 800 persons that were killed, but it has also emboldened the perpetrators and their cohorts to carry out more attacks on the Fulanis.
“The release of these suspects is directly responsible for the continuous hostility on Mambilla Plateau,” the group said.
“Look, the Fulanis have been living peacefully with other people on the Mambilla for over 150 years without any problem whatsoever. The genocide was perpetrated by the people that are known on the Mambilla. As a matter of fact, the perpetrators apportioned names of those they would kill. Each time they visited any Fulani settlement for an attack, you would hear them saying, ‘I am the one that will kill so and so person, while you go and kill so and so person’; they know them by names and locations.
“These are accounts given by the survivors of that genocide; if you interview them, you will hear everything from them. We know all of them. Immediately after committing this havoc some of the perpetrators ran to the Cameroon Republic to hide.
“But after they returned, the police picked them; the police have their names, so they picked them.The complainants were invited from Gembu to come to the police CID office to testify and the directly pointed at them that, ‘yes this was the person that killed my father’, and so on.
Miyetti Allah’s legal adviser, Mr. Abbo, insisted that it was an error on the part of the Attorney General to order for the release of suspects facing charges that are culpable homicide.
“Like the first case on the list of cases mentioned in the letter which was COP versus Kisiri Wade, is a case of culpable homicide, armed robbery and kidnapping, and some of the cases happened before the crisis. Hassan Kisiri kidnapped two of our brothers while on their way to their ranches; they detained them for over 24 hours before they released them.
“The other case of COP vs Paul Nyangbo was a case of culpable homicide punishable under section 221; all are capital offences.
“This case of COP vs Muhammed Ismaila, Isiaiah Ngelbo was the case that led to the whole crisis. On a particular day before the crisis took place, a group of armed Mambila men about 250 went and attacked one Fulani elder, by name, Alhaji Rimi. They matcheted him and were about to kill him, the police was able to kill two men while intervening and arrested some of the suspects who were transferred to state CID for further investigations. When they were at the CID they named some of their cohorts and police sent their detectives to go and arrest them and one Umaru, who was the brain behind the crisis was arrested. That was when Mabila people started to kill Fulani men. This particular case did not occur during the crisis and the Attorney General ought to have investigated before ordering their release. Sadly the police that even know the antecedents of the cases just obeyed instruction and released the suspects. These suspects who were accused for causing the death of over 800 people are today walking freely because all the charges against them have been withdrawn.
“So we are calling on the world, the federal government and all the security agency, through the media, to call for this letter to be investigated, because it now obvious that this was a plan by the Taraba state government to attack and kill our people. Because it was on record that the Speaker of the Taraba state House of Assembly had said, before the crisis started, that they were the ones in government and that even if they kill our people (Fulanis) nobody will be arrested, and even if they were arrested they can release them”.
The legal adviser said they have recorded audios to prove that the killing in Mambilla plateau was state-sponsored.
“We have all these audios to which which we even called on the attention of various security agencies through writing but no one took it up”, he said.
“But today, most fortunately for us, this letter written by the AG to the COP was leaked and God has vindicated us in that regard.
“Nobody can say this is a falsehood or a propaganda against the state government because God has vindicated us. And the AG cannot write this letter without the consent of the state governor. It was the government that instructed him. But as the chief law officer of the state, he could have advised the governor on the right thing to do. He is a professional, but he acted wrongly”.
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