The fleeing officers, who have now been declared wanted with potentially grave consequences if found, were amongst the 2,000 additional police officers recently drafted by Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris to complement the efforts of the military against rampaging terrorists in the volatile North-east.
The officers did not submit their arms, ammunition and other official equipment in their possession when they fled, introducing a serious security threat to their abscondment, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Mr Idris deployed them after Boko Haram’s invasion of Nigerian Army 157 Task Force Battalion on November 18 prompted calls for intensified synergy amongst security agencies.
They were sent on an induction training at the Nigerian Army Special Forces Training School in Buni Yadi, Yobe State. But many of them started fleeing last weekend after learning that they would be deployed to locations where Boko Haram fighters are still active, especially communities along Nigeria’s border with Niger and Chad Republic.
Top security officials briefed on the development told PREMIUM TIMES the mobile police officers had expected to be deployed around Maiduguri, the capital of Boko Haram’s heartland of Borno State, and other relatively peaceful settlements in the region.
“It was after their training when they were told that they will be deployed to the frontlines that many absconded,” the official said under strict anonymity because the matter was still being handled with utmost secrecy amongst the military and police leadership. “They thought they will be deployed in town to mount checkpoints and be extorting innocent citizens.”
The official, however, said the public should be reluctant in condemning the police officers, saying their action was largely informed by the recent development in the counter-terrorism operations.
“They are seeing how the operation is being mismanaged by an incompetent and corrupt Army leadership, and therefore do not want to suffer the same fate as soldiers who are being wasted carelessly in large number,” the official said.
Another senior mobile police officer in one of the units affected questioned both the training and deployment of the officers.
“When did the police start sending its officers to army training school when we have our own. Even when they are deployed for joint operations, each agency trains its own,” the officer said. He confirmed that the various heads of the mobile units had been informed about the deserters and given orders to find them.
PRODUCE WITH ESCORT
Neither the police nor the Nigerian Army was willing to comment on the development when reached by PREMIUM TIMES Thursday morning. But this newspaper has obtained documents showing that all the 167 officers who absconded have been declared wanted.
Security sources said messages had been sent to different mobile police units where the 167 officers were respectively drawn, with strident instruction that they must be tracked down, arrested and produced with escort because they might be harmful, especially since they fled with their arms.
The alert was sent to about 25 mopol units in 20 states across the country, with their names and service numbers attached. Like the military, there are usually serious consequences for refusing deployment in the police.
Since the officers are still within the rank-and-file, they are likely to face orderly room proceeding if found, and disciplinary actions could range from long suspension to outright dismissal, depending on the trial officer and individual context.
A WORSENING INSURGENCY HUSHED UP
Military sources said the disappearance of the 167 police officers, when considered alongside the string of attacks on military bases by Boko Haram, showed that the military leadership was insincere about the state of the war against the insurgency.
Mr Buratai often warns military personnel against sending out details about developments on the battlefronts, saying such disclosure could demoralise troops.
This is despite President Muhammadu Buhari and service chiefs’ perennial insistence that the insurgency had been defeated, ascribing frequent deadly attacks to the sect’s remnants hibernating along the fringes of Nigerian divide with Niger and Chad.
“The situation is really terrible in the North-East,” a military chief said of the nearly 10-year-old war. “It has never been as bad as it is right now.”
Security analysts acknowledged there were initial successes between late 2014 and late 2015, but this was largely attributed to foreign mercenaries who were contracted by the last administration.
Dozens of attacks have been carried out against Nigerian military formations since July, leaving hundreds of soldiers dead amidst fear of a resurgent sect.
But the military rejected insinuations that the insurgents had regrouped, pointing to its recorded gains of pushing them back into the fringes of three states of the North-east, as against several states they were operating in before 2015.
The military said asides being confined to fewer states along the Nigerian border with Niger, Chad and Cameroon, the sect has also been prevented from being able to carry out attacks on major Nigerian cities like Kano, Abuja and Kaduna, where it detonated several explosives in the past, including the bombing of the United Nations office in Abuja.