The police in Borno on Thursday paraded four soldiers of the Nigerian Army for alleged armed robbery.
The soldiers, who confirmed they are serving under the Operation Lafiya Dole Theatre Command in Borno State, were paraded by the police alongside 84 other suspected criminals.
Addressing the press at the Borno police headquarters, the new commissioner of police, Muhammed Ndatsu, said the mass arrest of the suspected criminals came barely two weeks after he launched the command’s version of “Operation Puff Adder”, a special anti-crime operation introduced by the new Inspector General of Police.
Mr Ndatsu said when he launched Puff Adder on May 3 this year, he promised the people of Borno that there would be no more hiding place for criminals.
He said the successes recorded since his assumption of office about a month ago was in “compliance with the Inspection General of police’s order.”
He said upon the launch of Puff Adder in Borno State, his command swung into action and made some high profile arrests of criminals in different parts of the state.
His said the Borno police have “so far arrested 88 suspects” who are currently being investigated for crimes, ranging from armed robbery, extortion, drug peddling, murder, and kidnapping.
He said on May 13, 2019, operatives of SARS arrested a serving soldier of the Nigerian Army, Corporal Hilary Ozuoma Godwin, with intake No.09NA/63/3117, who is attached to 242 Battalion Monguno after he and one Lance Corporal Kolawole Samuel (now at large) “criminally conspired and robbed one Ibrahim Mohammed of Old Airport area, of his tricycle (Keke NAPEP) with body number 471 valued at N600,000.”
“The suspect at large (Kowale Samuel) who were armed with AK 47 rifle fired sporadically and dispossessed the victim of his property,” the CP said.
He said the investigation is ongoing to arrest the suspect who is at large.
When interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Godwin said he was a victim of circumstance. He said he was lured into the commission of the crime by Mr Samuel, his course mate.
According to him, “I was at a joint taking my beer when Lance Corporal Kolawole came to me that I should accompany him to Wulari, that he has chattered a Keke Napep, but on the way, I noticed he was having issue with Keke NAPEP rider and I didn’t want to be part of it, so I quickly alighted and took another Keke NAPEP
He said it was the next day that he was called upon and arrested at the place where Mr Kolawole asked him to join him in order to collect some money.
He said Mr Kolawole, whom the police said is at large, has been arrested by the military police.
“I don’t know if the army is aware of my being in the detention of the police, ” he said.
Another robbery case involving a serving soldier of the Nigeria Army had to do with two army privates, Mohammed Abubakar 17NA/76/15521, and Ibrahim Musa, 17NA/76/4381 of 154 and 151 Alagarno and Banki Junction in Bama local government.
The police chief said the two soldiers “criminally conspired with one Mohammed Mustapha of Damboa road and Sani Abdullahi of Bulunkutu Ward in Maiduguri to rob one Sani Abdullahi of Sheraton of his handset valued at N5,000.”
The two soldiers insisted that the case for which they were being detained was not a robbery case.
They said it was a minor disagreement that was mistaken for robbery.
One of the soldiers, Mohammed Abubakar, said he returned to Maiduguri after suffering an ambush by Boko Haram during which his commanding officer (CO), a lieutenant colonel, was killed.
“On that day, I ran into my old friend back in the days of our training at the Depot . .. and we together boarded a Keke Napep heading for Post Office area, when suddenly my friend saw another Keke Napep and asked us to wait for him. He went there and then returned to us. I never knew he collected the phone of the other Keke Napep rider, until when I later discovered that we were being followed by policemen.
But Mr Abdullahi, who was caught with the phone, argued that he had some past disagreement with the owner of the tricycle and had wanted to use the phone as a bait to get to the actual person whom he had a score to settle with.
The suspected civilian culprits were the riders of the tricycles used by the soldiers, and another passenger. Both of them said they were innocent and victims of circumstance.
In a related event, another private of the army, Igwe Sylvester, attached to 254 Task Force Battalion in Damboa, allegedly connived with one Nnamani Michael from Enugu State to commit armed robbery during which they stole a Volkswagen Golf car, valued at N1 million.
The two suspects were later arrested by the police in Bayo local government after a tip-off.
“The two suspects confessed to the crime and a locally made pistol with nine cartridges were recovered from them alongside the stolen car, ” said Mr Ndatsu.
Asked why he went into robbery, the private said though he regretted his action, he was pushed by the poor remuneration being paid to junior soldiers of the Nigerian Army into committing the crime.
“I was posted to Borno since 2015 and for once I was never redeployed outside the theater, ” he said.
“I am married and have children but the money they pay us in the army is just too small. I regret my action and if pardoned or given a second chance I’ll go into business so that I can take care of my family.”
The police commissioner also mentioned several other cases that involved kidnapping, organised robbery of bank customers, drug peddling, housebreaking, shoplifting and killing of newly born babies.
He said there is no safe haven for criminals in Borno.
“I call on all criminals to give up their trades, come forward and submit themselves for profiling and possible orientation and reintegration into the society. Or else with Puff Adder, the police is further reinvigorated to smoke out all criminals from all nooks and cranny of the state.”
He said all suspects will be charged to court as soon as they conclude their investigations.
The military in Maiduguri has not responded to the development. Calls put across to the spokesman of the 7 Division of the army, Colonel Isa, was not returned, neither was the text messaged sent replied or acknowledged at the time of filing this report.