JUST IN: Police, military culpable in Taraba killing of officers — Panel

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A Nigerian policeman stands guard as All Progressives Congress (APC) party supporters march towards the Independent National Electoral Commission Office in Port Harcourt during a demonstration calling for the cancellation of the presidential election in the Rivers State on March 29, 2015. Thousands of supporters of Nigeria's main opposition party demonstrated in the southern state of Rivers, calling for the cancellation of elections locally because of alleged irregularities. AFP PHOTO / FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR (Photo by FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR / AFP)

A panel of inquiry set up to investigate the killing of three police officers and two civilians in Taraba State in August has found that both the police and military were responsible for the incident.

The Defence Headquarters in a statement on Tuesday said the panel submitted its findings and linked the deadly confrontation to a breakdown in communication between the police team that went on an operation in Taraba State and the soldiers manning a checkpoint in the state.

Three officers from the police intelligence response unit were killed on August 6 while returning from an operation to arrest a suspected kidnap kingpin in Taraba. The team came under fire from a company of soldiers while transporting the suspect, Hamisu ‘Wadume’ Bala, in a police van to Jalingo, the state capital.

The suspect was freed by the soldiers afterwards. He was later arrested in Kano a few weeks later and has remained in police custody ever since.

Two civilians believed to be working with the police were also killed in the attack, which generated nationwide outrage.

The attack led to open recrimination between the police and the military, with the police insisting that the attack was premeditated by the soldiers in a bid to free the suspect.

Several media reports later said there were links between an army captain in the state, Tijani Balarabe, and the suspect. Police internal findings also showed that the suspect had a series of telephone conversations with senior police officers in Ibi, the community where Mr Bala was arrested.

The panel recommended additional investigation of Messrs Balarabe and Bala, four police officers and the divisional crime officer in Ibi, Taraba, to establish their involvement in the fatal incident before prosecution.

The panel was led by Ibikunle Olaiya, a rear admiral, with one representative each from the Defence Headquarters, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force, Defence Intelligence Agency, Nigeria Police and the State Security Service.

It was unclear whether the Force Headquarters had expressed confidence in the panel’s conclusion, which appeared to contradict the earlier police stance that the police team conducted itself properly and only came under an unjustifiable attack from soldiers who were trying to cover up their ties to the suspect.

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