More facts have emerged on the refusal of the military authorities to court-martial 10 soldiers, including their commander, Capt. Tijjani Balarabe, indicted by the police for involvement in the escape of a kidnap kingpin, Bala Hamisu, popularly known as Wadume.
Wadume was assisted to escape from the custody of the Intelligence Response Team by the soldiers attached to Battalion 93, Takum, who also attacked the police team conveying the kingpin to the Taraba State police headquarters on August 6, 2019.
Three policemen and two civilians were killed during the incident while five other police officers were injured.
He was subsequently re-arrested at his hideout at Layin Mai Allo Hotoro area of Kano State following a manhunt launched by the police special forces and IRT led by DCP Abba Kyari.
The Federal High Court in Abuja, had ordered the then Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, to release the Army officers, who were charged alongside Wadume but the military refused to obey the order.
Following the refusal of the military to release the men, the court continued with the trial of other accused persons.
On July 22, 2022, Wadume was convicted by Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court and jailed for seven years.
Nyako handed down the sentence after finding him guilty of charges relating to escaping from lawful custody, as well as illegal dealings in prohibited firearms.
However, the court struck out count one, in which Wadume was charged with kidnapping one Usman Garba (aka Mayo) and collecting N106 million.
The judgment attracted criticisms from Nigerians who insisted that he should have been convicted for kidnapping which carries life imprisonment.
Besides Wadume, the court also jailed Uba Bala (aka Uba Delu) and Zubairu Abdullahi (aka Basho) for seven years each, while Aliyu Dadje, a dismissed Inspector of Police, bagged three years.
Findings by The PUNCH indicate that the soldiers were cleared of wrong-doing by a military Board of Inquiry set up by the 3 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, Takum, Taraba State.
Military sources disclosed that the President Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) approved the recommendations of the panel absolving the soldiers of complicity in the attack on the policemen and escape of the kidnap kingpin.
A source said, “The 3 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, Takum in Taraba State set up a Board of Inquiry pursuant to Section 172 and 173 of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20, Laws of Federation of Nigeria 2004 (amended) whereof the outcome and finding has since be forwarded to ASA( Appropriate Superior Authority).
“Thereafter, the Presidency inaugurated a panel chaired by the then Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Olonishakin, whereby members were drawn from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, DSS, Ministry of Justice, Nigeria Bar Association and others. The outcome of the panel exonerated the soldiers of the crime.”
Our correspondent further learnt that the panel could not establish a prima facie case against the military officers.
A source stated, “Mr President approved the recommendations of the panel; in fact, Captain Balarabe has been promoted to the rank of Major since September 2021 and he is a Major in the Nigerian Army now.”
The Director of Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Onyema Nwachukwu, pleaded for time to comment on the exoneration of the soldiers when contacted on Monday.
However, he had yet to respond to calls and a message sent to him as of the time of filing this report on Tuesday.
Speaking on the failure of the government to prosecute the soldiers, the International Co-ordinator for Advocate For People Right and Justice, Giwa Victor, said the men cannot escape the wrath of the law if they had been indicted by confessions from the witnesses and the convicts, stressing that criminal cases had no time limit.
He said, “The good thing is that criminal cases don’t have a time limit; when they are brought back they can be tried as they ought to be.
“There is also a need for the judgment to be looked into if there is a way the testimony of the witnesses and criminals indicted the soldiers involved in the crime; that would be a good avenue to call for their prosecution either by the conventional court or military court-martial.”