The Nigerian Army has said the three policemen and a civilian killed by soldiers during a gun battle along Ibi-Wukari Road in Taraba State were mistaken for kidnappers.
A team of 10 Intelligence Response Team (IRT) operatives from Police Headquarters in Abuja on covert operation to Ibi came under attack by soldiers attached to 93 Battalion Nigerian Army Takum, on August 6 which left four dead, others seriously wounded and two missing.
The soldiers thereafter freed an alleged notorious kidnap kingpin, Alhaji Hamisu, the team had arrested and were moving to the command headquarters in Jalingo, a statement by police spokesman Frank Mba, a Deputy Commissioner (DCP) said Wednesday night.
Reacting to the incident, the acting Director Army Public Relations Sagir Musa, a Colonel, said it was an avoidable, unfortunate incident.
Musa claimed the soldiers had responded to a distress call from Ibi community that suspected kidnappers whisked away a victim and that the police team refused to stop at all three checkpoints they were flagged down.
He said the police team instead opened fire on the soldiers who were chasing them and thinking they were indeed criminals, the soldiers retaliated.
“On August 6, troops of 93 Battalion Takum while responding to a distress call to rescue a kidnapped victim exchanged fire with the suspected kidnappers along Ibi-Wukari Road in Taraba State.
“The suspected kidnappers numbering about 10 and driving in a white bus with registration number LAGOS MUS564EU refused to stop when they were halted by troops at three consecutive check points. The flagrant refusal of the suspected kidnappers to stop at the three checkpoints prompted a hot pursuit of the fleeing suspects by the troops.
“It was in this process that the suspected kidnappers who were obviously armed opened fire at the troops sporadicaly thus prompting them to return fire. In the resultant fire fight, four suspects were shot and died on the spot while four sustained various degrees of gunshot wounds and two others reportedly missing.
“It was only after this avoidable outcome that one of the wounded suspects disclosed the fact that they were indeed policemen dispatched from Nigeria Police, Force Headquarters, Abuja for a covert assignment.
“Following inquiries from a Police Station officer who was asked by the commander of the army troops whether he was aware of any Nigeria Police team being dispatched to operate in the LGA, the Divisional Police Officer of Ibi responded that he was not informed about any operation by the Nigeria Police Force headquarters thus lending credence to the distress call from members of the community that the suspects who turned out to be policemen on a covert mission were rather suspected kidnappers.
“This incident is indeed quite unfortunate and could have been avoided through proper coordination and liaison as the Nigeria Police Force are partners in the fight against crimes such as kidnapping amongst myriads of other internal security threats confronting our nation of which the Nigeria Police is the lead agency.
“In order to avert future occurrences of this nature, the Army Headquarters and the Force Headquarters of the Nigeria Police have agreed to constitute a joint investigation Panel to be headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Criminal Investigation Department, DIG Mike Ogbizi, to investigate and report on the true circumstances surrounding the unfortunate incident.
“Therefore, until the Joint Investigation Panel concludes and submits its report, it will be premature to officially conclude and speak on the real circumstances that caused this unfortunate but very avoidable incident.”