Bala, an alleged notorious kidnapper was at the centre of the tragic Army/police confrontation that led to the killing of three members of the crack Inspector General of Police (IGP) Intelligence Response Team (IRT).
So far, search for the fugitive has yielded nothing. “It is very much like Wadume vanished into thin air all of sudden,” explained a security source in Jalingo, Taraba State capital.
While this may be purely speculative, the method of the fugitive’s escape appears to give credence to this thinking.
Wadume strangely escaped custody despite being under police standard lockdown with hands cuffed to the back and legs in manacles. Police authorities have queried the Army who ambushed the team of police operatives on why the suspect wasn’t taken into custody and processed for future reference.
Even more, Sunday Independent investigations revealed what appears to be a strong link between the suspect and local politicians in Taraba State.
For instance, Gen. Ishaya Bauka (Rtd), a senatorial candidate in the state in the last general election in February, is believed to have been in bed with him as a political associate.
The General had contested against the Taraba South Senate slot under the All Progressives Congress (APC) along with others, but was defeated by a rampant politician, Emmanuel Bwacha, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
When asked by Sunday Independent what his relationship with the fugitive is, the retired Army chief answered in the oblique: “Who told you that he is my associate?”
When asked to explain that multiple sources in Ibi made the link to him, the General clammed up, stating that he would rather wait for the outcome of the ongoing investigation being carried out on the killing of the police before talking.
With his deep pocket suspected to be proceeds of crime, Wadume has been a regular donor to political campaigns, charity and other contributions. He is believed to have worked extensively for the retired General during the election in Ibi.
In the run up to the election in February, the fugitive was said to have bought speed boats for locals with the aim of wooing them politically to his side.
Again, the General was mute on this report. Efforts made to reach the state’s APC, chairman, Ibrahim Tukur El-Sudi, was not fruitful as he repeatedly declined picking calls made to his phone.
Police sources have rebuffed speaking officially on the matter since the probe commenced, but back channel efforts by Sunday Independent also yielded insight into the background leading to the Taraba police killing tragedy.
“We flew into the state on a need-to-know basis because there were credible intelligence that the suspect might be tipped off of our presence. The IRT is an elite investigative team with experience in tracking and effecting arrest of high profile suspects. They take a lot of factors into account in doing their tasks. So the Taraba matter was treated with the professionalism required,” explained the police officer.
But there are other angles to the matter and this has to do with the unending silent rift between the Taraba State Governor, Darius Ishaku, and the Nigerian Army.
For some, observers and insiders, the tiff may well account for the avoidable murder of three police officers along Jalingo-Ibi Road.
Governor Ishaku and high ranking indigenes of the state believe, and have been open about it, that elements responsible for the conflict in the state are strongly embedded in the Army operations in the state. Theophilus Danjuma, retired General, former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), had once sensationally alluded to a collusion between Army in Taraba and herdsmen militias then on killing rampage with equal reprisals from locals in Taraba.
The Governor had also been involved in open altercation with the Army high command on the matter, for which both he and the soldiers have traded accusations bordering on partisanship in the conflict.
“Operations such as the one going on Taraba can only be successful if the Army or any security agency has the maximum support of the state governor,” explained a security source in Jalingo.
According to him, the absence of such critical support exposed the Army to remote manipulation by men like Wadume with deep pockets and with ties to politicians.
Though President Mohammadu Buhari has ordered a probe of the incident that led to the killing of the three police officers and the investigating team comprising men of the Police, Department of State Services (DSS) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) have since swung into action on their mandate, Sunday Independent findings revealed troubling level of mistrust between the Army, on the one hand, the state government and members of the public on the other hand.
“It is an open secret that state governors provide huge logistics, reliable intelligence for security operations in conflict areas. With the volatile situation in Taraba, the Army will need to rely on willing partners. This is what men like Bala (kidnap kingpin) has been providing for the Army and other security agencies by proxy,” explained another security source.
This position was further heightened by Pogu Bitrus, the national president, Middle Belt Forum (MBF), who said “The recent killing of the police operatives on a covert assignment in the state after arresting and handcuffing Wadume, justified Danjuma’s allegations that the military is indeed colluding with insurgent elements to invade communities.”