Indications emerged yesterday that the minister of police affairs, Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade and the inspector general of police (IGP), Hafiz Ringim, may be sacked over the escape from police custody of strongman of the militant Boko Haram who also is the suspected mastermind of the Christmas Day bombing at St Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State, Kabir Sokoto.
President Goodluck Jonathan has given the IGP 24 hours to produce the fleeing suspect or face severe sanction for negligence to duty.
The duo had been summoned to the presidential villa and queried yesterday following public outcry over the suspect’s escape under questionable circumstances. They were mandated to ensure that Sokoto was re-arrested.
Fielding questions from journalists at the presidential villa, Olubolade disclosed that he had already ordered the arrest of the suspected police commissioner, Zakari Biu, and the officers who followed the suspect for the purported investigation mission to Abaji.
Asked whether the IG has been queried and given 24 hours to produce the suspect, the police minister said, “That is true because he is the field officer, he has the responsibility to ensure that all operations regarding arrest and all that are conducted in the usual manner. If he is found guilty of complicity, he himself will have to account for his mistakes.”
Olubolade who described the escape of the suspected Boko Haram member from the hands of about 14 police officers as an unfortunate incident said, “Anybody could be sacked including myself.
“From the ministry, I have directed the IG to carry out full investigation and even at a higher level above that one, there will be another investigation to ascertain what led to the suspect’s escape.
I have also directed that the officers involved and the personnel involved should be detained immediately. You would have seen in the papers that the commissioner of police has been suspended. In fact, beyond that I have ordered that he be placed under closed arrest.”
He explained: “The IGP is the field officer. He has the responsibility to ensure all operations regarding arrest and all that are conducted in the usual manner. If he is found guilty of complicity, he himself will have to account for his mistakes.”
Asked whether the incident was an indication that there had not been good working relationship between the police and the ministry, the minister said, “It is not. If somebody has erred in his responsibility, the outcome of the investigation will prove that. What is important is that whatever steps we are going to take as a result of this neglect, we have to take it immediately.”
He however denied that the incident confirmed President Goodluck Jonathan’s statement that Boko Haram has infiltrated his government, “I cannot confirm that statement. What is important is that the suspect is missing and all steps must be taken to re-arrest the suspect.
“While that is pending, the officers involved who conducted the search must be detained so that the outcome of the investigation will lead to whatever punishment will be given.”
The police commissioner in charge of investigations at Zone 7 Police Headquarters in Abuja had reportedly led a team of 10 policemen to Abaji, an area council of the FCT, to search the residence of Sokoto which is believed to be the operational hideout of the sect.
But, in a dramatic twist, a gang of youths was said to have confronted the police team, facilitating his escape in the confusion that ensued.
LEADERSHIP reliably gathered that the embattled IG has instituted a nationwide manhunt for the escaped suspect who is said to be the second in command to the leader of the sect and has been on the police’s wanted list for sometime now.
A senior police officer who confirmed the manhunt said the police hierarchy has been under pressure following Sokoto’s escape, adding that the incident had sent a wrong signal to members of the sect and other criminal groups, hence the entire police force has been mandated to ensure that the suspect was re-arrested.
He expressed optimism that the suspect would be re-arrested as all police formations in the country have been placed on red alert regarding the re-arrest of the Boko Haram henchman just as his photographs have been sent to the borders to ensure he does not leave the country.
However, speculations are rife that Sokoto, who is resident in Maduguri and was in Abuja on his way to London on a yet to be ascertained mission before his arrest, may have left the country.
His escape is largely believed to have been facilitated on the orders of senior police officers sympathetic to the cause of the sect. However, the newly promoted commissioner, Biu, who hails from Borno State, which is the hub of Boko Haram activities may take the blame for the security breach.
Meanwhile, a chieftain of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Chief Audu Ogbeh, has called for the resignation of the IG for negligence and a judicial probe to unmask those responsible for the escape of the suspect.
Speaking to journalists at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja, yesterday, Ogbeh alleged that, “The so called escape was packaged at the highest level by an individual who hates this country, who wears uniform of security agency.
“How does anybody convince us that Kabiru Sokoto was arrested in a Governors’ Lodge in the presence of an air force officer, after he was searched for by the SSS for so many days and then he was handed over to Zakari Biu, who accompanied him nicely to the road and then told him to go home, and he is telling us that he escaped.”
Ogbeh said the ACN condemned those who killed or maimed people as agents of God, pointing out that if those involved escape the justice of man they cannot run away from the justice of God.
Sect members grated bail
In a related development, a Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday granted bail to six Boko Haram suspects alleged to be masterminds of the bombing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office in Suleja, Niger State, in a sum of N2m with one surety in like sum.
The accused persons who are standing a five-count charge on sundry acts of terrorism are Shuaibu Abubakar, Salisu Ahmed, Umar Babagana Umar, Mohammed Ali, Musa Adam and Umar Ibrahim,.
The Boko Haram suspects are standing trial for allegedly conspiring among themselves and others now at large to prepare, plant and detonate improvised explosive devices (IED) at various public places which led to the deaths of 16 persons at the INEC office in Suleja on 8 April, 2011.
Other offences alleged to have committed include the death of three persons at a political rally in Suleja on March 3, 2011; deaths of three peace officers on May 23, 2011, at Dakwa village in Bwari Area Council of the FCT, and the deaths of three persons at the All Christian Fellowship Church Suleja, on July 10, 2011.The suspects were also alleged to have been trained in weapons handling by one Ibrahim Bashir Madalla who is still at large.
In her ruling, Justice Bilikisu Aliyu also held that the surety must be a Grade Level 12 civil servant working under the federal government or the Federal Capital Territory Authority and must be resident in Abuja.
According to her, the surety is also to sign a bond of N2m while his status is expected to be confirmed and verified by the prosecution.
Justice Aliyu ordered the six suspects to be remanded in the Kuje prison pending when they would fulfil their bail conditions.
The judge however adjourned to February 7 and 8 for continuation of trial on the grounds that the court could not proceed with the trial of the accused persons due to the absence of the lawyer to some of the accused persons.
Justice Aliyu explained that the suspects were admitted to bail because the State Security Service (SSS) had concluded investigation on the matter
The accused had earlier pleaded not guilty to the five-count charge of criminal conspiracy and voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous means.