Over 24hrs after the murder of Mr. Rinji Peter Bala, a Central Nigerian University kid, by military peacekeeping personnel in Jos, Plateau State, his father, Mr. Peter Bala has yet to speak to press.
A family relation had Wednesday assured journalists that Bala, a Nigerian Secret Service Official would speak on the crime before dusk.
However, the then father of three had unknowingly driven pass his son’s corpse by the entrance of the Special Task Force Sector 1 headquarters on Tuesday evening when he was told of the boy’s arrest.
Rinji, 20, was arrested in his neighborhood in Hwolshe, along with seven others on allegations of burglary.
He and seven others, a military source said were taken to the STF base and released after hours of “questioning, profiling and massaging (a codename for torturing)”.
“They were released because they didn’t find anything to prove they were criminals,” said the military source.
“They told us to run,” said a victim of the arrest, Emmanuel Dung. “But when we started running, they opened fire. Bobo (Rinji) fell few meters away from the military gate,” said Emmanuel.
Police resisted from taking custody of kids
A Police neighbor had attempted securing the release of the boys before they were taken away. When he was resisted, he notified Rinji’s father.
Speeding to the Special Task Force Headquarters, Jos, 2kms away from the scene of arrest, Mr. Bala was told no such suspects were brought there.
Same thing happened at the State Police Command and A-Division Police Headquarters in charge of the community of the arrest.
The shock of realizing it was his son laying dead at the Army base entrance, when he met Rinji’s fellow detainee was perhaps still fresh that he couldn’t speak when journalists sought his comments.
But perhaps more burdening is the fact that Rinji was Mr. Bala’s only son.
Rinji, a brilliant student of History and International Studies was the last of Bala’s three children.
Records from Buken Academy where Rinji had his highschool training show he was a smart, ambitious and well behaved kid.
His sister, Nenritmwa Bala equally describes him as “honest, cheerful and lovely” kid.
His good social records perhaps explain the protests that followed his murder.
Nine murder proofs against the military
The Army authorities have said they will ensure that justice is served on the matter.
However, their claims that the boy was shot by a personnel on sentry duty who mistook the kids as escaping suspects have yet to absolve them of wrongdoing.
The soldiers from Sector one STF base where the boys were detained first breached protocol, arresting suspects of a civil offense, while on peacekeeping mission.
Carrying out arrest over 10kms away, in the jurisdiction of a different Sector Command was yet another breach of order.
Having interrogated the boys and found nothing incriminating, the army had an obligation to return them to the point of arrest having detained them into a federal curfew time.
They could have been right to let the kids trek back home as punishment for being outside during lockdown.
However, it was only professional to notify the guards at the entrance that some suspects had been released and should be allowed to go. This they failed, and instead, told the already terrified kids to run, creating panic within the military premises.
Rinji may have truly been shot in error. But couldn’t he be saved in a hospital?
A boy running side-by-side with Rinji said when the slain kid was hit, he feebly got up, moved two steps and fell back on the ground, bleeding profusely.
Perhaps they didn’t have resources to take the dying kid to a hospital, but threatening his companion suggested a deliberate extra judicial killing.
“I tried to help him up but a soldier came with his gun pointed at me that he would shoot me if I touched him. He turned back when another soldier shouted “ceasefire”,” said the survivor.
This might be unreliable being one-sided, but the army never reported or admitted the offense, even when his father found out, until the media publicised it the next day.
The use of live ammunition on unarmed civilians itself is criminal. The Nigerian Security Charter allows use of minimal force, only in an armed confrontation.
The operative that pulled the trigger has reportedly been detained. But a lot needs to be answered. Several similar murders by military peacekeepers have gone unnoticed.
Will this end like one of them, where the personnel concerned are merely transfered out of the state in a bit to hold back justice? Only time will tell.