CHARLES OKOH For those who have never believed in Nigeria’s touted fight against corruption and criminality, you can be excused. The joke called fighting insecurity by government and governmental agencies continues to question our collective rationality, sensibility, sense of decorum and decency. In 2019, Nigerians woke up to a chilling story of how one alleged billionaire kidnapper, Hamisu Wadume, who operates a high-profile kidnap gang in Taraba state, was set free allegedly by military officers in the state.
Wadume was being transported to Abuja on August 6 after his initial arrest by police officers on a covert operation before being attacked by troops of 93 Battalion based in Takum, Taraba state.
The attack led to the death of three officers including a civilian while Wadume was set free by the soldiers. The deceased officers were Inspector Mark Ediale, Sergeant Usman Danzumi, and Sergeant Dahiru Musa.
The force disclosed that the trio was part of the team responsible for the high-profile arrest of notorious kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, also known as Evans, in 2017.
They also contributed to the rescue of Musa Umar Uba, an in-law of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was in captivity for two months.
They were also part of the teams that arrested Umar Abdulmalik, a Boko Haram commander, as well as 22 Boko Haram terrorists responsible for the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno.
The story of Wadume’s release by the soldiers was the peak of inter-agency rivalry and of the worst hue. It was a story of how policemen, who were only carrying out their legitimate duty providing security to Nigerians, were mowed and killed like chickens and their memories and patriotic zeal to an uncaring nation sullied with politics that gives excessive power to the government apparatchiks.
Wadume was rearrested by the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team in the late hours of Monday, August 19, 2019, in his hideout at Layin Mai Allo Hotoro area of Kano state.
The trial of Wadume was stalled at some point after the Federal Government failed to arraign him and five other suspects as a result of the absence of 14 key defendants in the case. The presiding judge, Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako subsequently adjourned the trial following an application by the Prosecutor, Shuaibu Labaran who informed the court that the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami had taken over the trial and withdrew the names of the soldiers from the charge sheet, ostensibly to allow them to undergo a court martial.
The investigative panel was set up by former Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonishakin, as ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari. The panel indicted the Police and Army over the incident. Only Malami can tell the world what the outcome is as Captain Balarabe and his murderous accomplices walk freely.
On July 22, 2022, Nyako convicted Wadume of only two counts of escaping from lawful custody and dealing in prohibited arms.
In the trial that lasted three years, Wadume was convicted on counts two and 10 of the 13 counts brought against him and six others by the Attorney General of the Federation.
Meanwhile, on February 22, 2022, a Lagos High Court in Ikeja sentenced kidnap kingpin Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike popularly known as Evans and two others, Uchenna Amadi and Okuchuwkwu Nwachukwu, to life imprisonment.
Justice Hakeem Oshodi handed out the sentence to the trio after convicting them on two counts of conspiracy and kidnapping of a businessman, Donatus Duru, the managing director of Maydon Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
In convicting the trio, Justice Oshodi held that the prosecution had successfully proved the charge against them beyond a reasonable doubt.
A classical case of similar offences, same status of the suspects, both of them notorious billionaire kidnappers, however, while one will spend the rest of his life in jail, the other has been given a slap in the wrist and sooner than later will be set free to return to do what he knows how to the best.
The difference, perhaps being that while the Lagos State government presented a water-tight case against Evans, Malami and his cohorts took sloppiness to a new height and so Wadume from the north will soon be free to dance on the grave and the memory of the slain policemen and their other numerous victims and God knows how many other lives they had taken while plying their trade with full institutional backings. That is how we roll in the fight against banditry, kidnappings and insurgency.
The difference between both cases is that while Evans was an orphan, Wadume had godfathers and institutional backing.
Wadume’s story ended the way many had predicted because from all indications, it was clear that there was more to it than meets the eye. The patterns have always been the same. It was under Malami that the nation rushed to declare IPOB a terrorists group. It was under Malami that Sunday Igboho was hunted in Benin Republic after attacking his home and killing his aides, because he challenged the killings of innocent people in the south west. While in the same nation it took the general condemnation and persistent criticisms from Nigerians for the government to designate the so-called bandits who have killed and continued to kill our people in their thousands as terrorists.
Malami’s fight against state government’s launch of vigilance groups to check the incursion of the rampaging Fulani killer herders is that he and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari have continued to turn the blind eye to activities of the group that have chased indigenous people from their farmlands and fed their cattle with crops and farm produce of the poor farmers who like Evans have been left as orphans while the herders openly commit their atrocities unhindered.
We must be clear on the fact that Evans got what he deserved and the Lagos state government must be commended for what is clearly a pain-staking effort to ensure that justice is not only done but is also seen to have been done.
However, how do we reconcile the fact that Wadume would soon be walking a free man after taking the lives of several Nigerians? How do we preach patriotism to the children left behind by these slain policemen? How do Nigerians believe that their lives are worth anything, when a man as murderous as Wadume is given a punishment that even a man caught for stealing a goat cannot dream of?
Wadume’s case must be revisited and retried. Anything short of that would send the wrong signals to Nigerians. Those soldiers who aided his escape that Malami shamelessly left off the hook must be brought to justice. The balderdash Malami told the nation as reasons for withdrawing the case and handing it over to the military authorities is shameful and disgraceful.
The shameful role played by Malami in this unfortunate incident has again lent credence to calls for the separation of the office of Attorney General from that of the minister of justice. The damage he has done to the nation as the number one law officer will not be forgotten in a hurry.