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Taraba IRT Killings: Police embarking on media trial to pre-empt presidential panel report – Human rights group

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By Toby Prince

The Good Governance and Leadership Project in Nigeria (GGLPN) has accused the Nigerian Police of embarking on media trail in the Taraba Intelligence Response Team (IRT) killings with the motive of influencing the outcome.

In compliance with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, had on Friday, constituted a 7-man Joint Investigation Panel to unravel the circumstances that led to the unfortunate Wukari incident.

The panel, headed by Rear Admiral IT Olaiya, has a representative each from the Nigerian Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Department of State Service and the Defence Intelligence Agency.

The expectation was that the Nigerian Army and Police would temporarily seize further media clashes, allowing the panel to carry out its mandate.

But according to the GGLPN, the Police kept on with its onslaught against the Army and even took an awkward step, leaking the progress being made in the investigation to the media.

In a statement signed by President, Whyte Odili, the group said such media trial can only truncate the exercise in a way that the eventual culprits may evade justice.

The Good Governance and Leadership Project therefore urged the law enforcement agency to stop its ongoing media trial and campaign of calumny against the Army and instead allow the law take its course.

The group, however, warned the Police that any attempt to influence the outcome of the investigative panel would be met with stern resistance.

Read the full statement below:

Gentlemen of the press, the Good Governance and Leadership Project in Nigeria (GGLPN) is among organizations that were pleased when Mr. President ordered an investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of three operatives of the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) of the Nigeria Police Force following a mix up with troops manning checkpoints on the Ibi-Jalingo Expressway, Taraba State.

We noted the interventions made by specific individuals and organizations that sued for a ceasefire to the media war that erupted between the Nigerian Police and the Nigerian Army. GGLPN refrained from joining these calls for a ceasefire at that time because we believe that that the point has been made by all those that had intervened. The media war between two government agencies, albeit over a tragic incident, presents the country as divided and is therefore uncalled for.

It is disconcerting that the seeming unilateral cessation of hostile communication on the part of the Nigeria Police Force against the Nigerian Army has again resumed. Perhaps worse than the first phase of media war, the nature of activities being implemented by the Nigerian Police or by its proxies are detrimental to the country in the long term.

Our assertion in this regard is informed by the fact that the setting up of an investigation panel at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, should have commanded the highest level of consideration from all parties so that the probe panel will be allowed to do its work. This is necessary to ensure objectivity.

However, what we have seen is a situation where the progress being made in the investigation of the case is being leaked to the media. Our assessment is that this leakage of information is being done to create unnecessary sensationalism around the case. It has created a situation where what is a national tragedy is being serialized like a movie show or a crime novel. This approach to the issue trivializes the magnitude of loss the country has suffered while detracting from the focus needed on the part of the investigation panel to unravel what transpired.

The dangers associated with the media trial being conducted by the Nigerian Police are all too glaring. Understandably, the police are used to media trials of its suspects given the way it usually parades suspects without ever securing convictions against them. Continuing with the current trend of media trial is therefore likely to truncate the investigation into the incident in a way that persons that will eventually be indicted may be able to evade justice.

This is a situation we will not like to see because it is crucial that anyone found culpable in the Taraba killings is brought to justice, something that will not happen if the entire process is reduced into a charade or roadshow.

The Good Governance and Leadership Project in Nigeria (GGLPN) calls on the Nigerian Police Force to stop its ongoing media trial around the death of the IRT members. While this might have been the norm for some law enforcement agencies to criminalize suspects in the court of public opinion, it is a strategy that has no place in the current situation.

The Good Governance and Leadership Project believes that the Nigerian Police Force should desist from its campaign of calumny against the Nigerian Army through its provocative and irrational statements since the aftermath of the unfortunate incident in Taraba State.

The Nigerian Police must realize that the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces have directed that action be taken on the matter and it consequently behoves on it to stop further dramatizing of the whole issue.

The Nigerian Police must not attempt to influence the outcome of the investigative panel, where it has been making strategic moves to serve as the lead investigating officer. This is not only suspicious but raises a red flag in the sincerity of purpose of the Nigerian Police Force with regards to unravelling the actual circumstances that led to the death of the three IRT operatives in Taraba state.

The Good Governance and Leadership Project in Nigeria therefore states that should the outcome of the investigative panel be compromised by the Nigerian Police Force; Nigerians would indeed conclude that there is more to the death of the three IRT operatives that the Nigerian Police is trying to shield from members of the general public.

This would be the case given the level of desperation that has been exhibited by the Nigerian Police in laying the blame squarely on the Nigerian Army even before the outcome of the investigative panel report.

The Good Governance and Leadership Project in Nigeria calls on the Nigerian Army to continue to refrain its officers and men from having any confrontation with police officers around the country despite the high level of provocation that has characterized the activities of the Nigerian Police in recent times with regards to the incident in Taraba State.

The Good Governance and Leadership Project also charges the members of the investigative panel to be objective in this national assignment to put issues in proper perspectives for the benefit of all and sundry.

The Investigative panel is also enjoined to carry out a thorough investigation by not leaving any stone unturned as this is necessary to put paid to various speculations and narratives that have taken centre stage in recent times.

The Good Governance and Leadership Project in Nigeria wishes to assure the families and relatives of those involved that justice would be served at the end of the investigative panel.

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