The police on Thursday ramped up public criticism of the Nigerian Army over the killing of three officers in Taraba on Tuesday.
The officers were on an operation to arrest a suspected kidnap gang leader in a remote settlement in the northeastern state. After successfully apprehending the suspect, the police officers handcuffed him and drove him towards Jalingo, the state capital, police said.
But on their way to Jalingo between, Ibi and Wukari communities, the police team of 10 persons came under close-ranging shooting from Nigerian soldiers in the white bus they were travelling on. 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 on Wednesday evening.
The Nigerian Army pushed back against the account of the police late Wednesday. 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.
Although an investigative panel had been raised to urgently get to the root of the incident, the police appeared uncomfortable with how the matter was being handled.
On Thursday evening, 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 Nigerian Army to clarify to Nigerians around its culpability in the killing of detectives.
Security analysts said the strongly-worded public attacks the police have 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 acute insecurity.
The analyst also expressed concerns that the rescue of the kidnap suspect, now believed to be at large, by the soldiers could signal high-level connivance between criminals and security chiefs.
The suspect, identified as Alhaji Hamisu, had reportedly received N100 million as ransom in a recent abduction of an oil baron in Taraba.