His name has been everywhere and on every Nigerian’s lips. His picture is all over the social media, yet nobody knows Captain Tijjani Balarabe’s life before the Taraba saga that made him a focus of public attention and keeps him so for weeks on end. Daily Trust on Sunday has dug up everything about him – a civilian, recruit, soldier, an officer; his house, planned bakery business and more .
In the early 1990s, the dusty streets of Tudun Fera, one of the communities in Jos North Local Government, the heart of Jos in Plateau State, would have been the most tranquil in the city centre, but for an energetic first generation of secondary school leavers. Freshly out of school and ambitious, these boys cut a new, boisterous image for a neighbourhood that hitherto knew only the austere and modest lifestyle of the Islamic scholars that first settled there – their parents. The youngsters played a lot of football to fill the vacuum their graduation from secondary school had created. But their eyes, buoyed by their individual aspirations and school certificates, were cast far afield.
Among these youths searching for what to do was Tijjani Balarabe, the now infamous army captain who has continued to grab the headlines over an alleged order he gave soldiers from 93 Battalion in Taraba to kill police operatives transporting a suspected kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Bala, alias Wadume. Three police officers from an elite detective unit, responsible for unearthing high-profile criminals evading arrest, as well as a civilian, were killed, while six others were injured on August 6.
The development resulted in a media war between the Police and the Nigerian Army, especially after the military labeled the detectives as “suspected kidnappers,” while explaining that the soldiers acted in reaction to a “distress call.” Wading in, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Chief of Defence Staff to probe the killings. Wadume, who the police accused soldiers of freeing, was re-arrested in a hideout in faraway Kano State, a distance of over 700km, on Monday, August 19.
How Tijjani enlisted in the army
Captain Tijjani grew up in Jos, findings by the Daily Trust on Sunday have shown. He was very popular among his peers and even juniors in Tudun Fera in Plateau State in the 1980s and early 1990s. At different times, he was nicknamed Teejay and Tijjani Dan Fari (light-skinned Tijjani). Young Tijjani was one of the boys from Jos who saw an opportunity when the Nigerian Army was recruiting men into the service between 1992/1993. Soldiers conversant with his military career said he joined the Army’s 35 Regular In-take of 1993, adding that another set was recruited subsequently, just before President Ibrahim Babangida created the now disbanded National Guards, all in the same year.
Ten years after he enlisted, a retired soldier disclosed that Tijjani joined the Nigerian Army’s 2 Battalion, then based in Bori Camp, Port Hacourt in Rivers State, as part of the United Nations-backed Nigerian contingent to Liberia in 2003. “He was one of the soldiers assigned to escort duties for our commanding officer,” he recalled. Other people close to the officer said he did not further his education beyond secondary school. They, however, described him as someone lucky to be working for ‘Ogas’ – senior military officers. “He was posted to be part of a team providing security cover to a former military administrator of one of the states in the North-East,” one of them said. All this while, Tijjani’s eyes were set on attaining higher ranks in the Army, and like every other soldier, he was being moved around states and barracks. He didn’t lose his focus, though. Soon, he was to be posted to one of the most respected, professional and prestigious military units in the Army, the Guards Brigade. While in the Guards Brigade Garrison, Tijjani, became a sergeant, and served as a driver to senior army officers. Sources said he was once attached to a former Director of Military Intelligence (DMI) as a personal driver. Soldiers remember seeing his face in Jaji Military Cantonment when he was attending a course at the Warrant Officers’ Academy. Service personnel who knew him at Mambilla Barracks where he was living with his family, said he was a nice fellow.
Trouble for aspiring officer
A military officer disclosed that Sergeant Tijjani, in the early 2000s, made an attempt to be commissioned an officer in the Nigerian Army. His application scaled through and he was shortlisted. During a screening exercise at Jaji, however, his certificates were found “questionable.” It was said that the secondary school certificate he presented to the screening board belonged to someone else. “For that, he was detained in the guardroom for over a year,” said the officer. The source said he did not find out how the issue was later resolved, leading to the release of the sergeant from detention.
After another 10 years …
The certificate saga did not kill the soldier’s zeal, and when he gave it another shot, he succeeded. In 2013, he attended training for Executive Commission category and was decorated a lieutenant. “Because he was popular at the Mambilla barracks, his friends who were doing business at Mammy Market adorned the walls of their shops with the pictures he took in his officer rank during pass out,” said another officer.
Shot by Boko Haram
The young officer was soon to find out the difference between his former role as a VIP driver and the new one as troops’ commander, his former neighbour said, as he was shot during a deployment to the North-East. “He came back for home treatment and stayed in Mambilla Barracks until he was fit enough to return to active duty,” the source, now the security chief of a private company, said. But before the young lieutenant left the barracks, friends, mates and neighbours started noticing a strange air of superiority complex around him until they had little or no good thing to say about him, Daily Trust on Sunday learnt. They had even forgotten about him until the scandal of Ibi broke out and the social media brought his face back to them. But in Tudun Fera, the picture of the Tijjani they grew up with dominating social media, created a shock and disappointment. Though he has many siblings, none of them was available to comment on the recent incident surrounding him when Daily Trust on Sunday visited.
Shock in Jos
But residents who grew up together with Captain Tijjani in Jos said they least expected that the army officer could be linked to crimes. His mates described him as “one of the luckiest among us.” “All our parents were not rich, but they gave us the best training they could,” one of the friends of the army officer, who gave his name only as Musa said. Narrating how they grew up, he said: “Our parents are poor but humble. We grew up in this neighbourhood (Tudun Fera). We played football together at Filin Kuza and Army Barracks along Duala in Nasarawa Gwon, all in Jos,” he said. “I attended St. Paul Primary School in Jos and Tijjani attended Township Primary School, also in Jos. He did his secondary school in Jos, but I left for another town to complete mine, and that was how far we could go with our education,” he said. Another friend of the officer who does not want to be named, for security reasons, said. “I was shocked to the marrow when I saw the pictures of Tijjani on the social media as the army officer in the midst of the kidnapping saga. “I couldn’t look at his picture again when I saw it on the Facebook because I was grossly disappointed. I am yet to come to terms with the allegation that he was involved, or that he directly or indirectly aided nefarious activities like kidnapping,” he said. “The face I saw on Facebook reminded me of our childhood. We were brought up with a lot of discipline. His father was an upright man, very vast in Islamic knowledge and he did his best for his children before he died,” he said.
‘He is building a bakery’
A cream-coloured house with rusted roof along Bauchi Road, about 400 metres leading into Tudun Fera/Congo Russia area in Jos belongs to the family of the late Islamic cleric, Malam Balarabe, the father of Captain Tijjani Balarabe. Attached to the left side of the building is what appears to be a newly constructed apartment, which residents told Daily Trust on Sunday belongs to Captain Tijjani, saying his wife and children were living there. During our visit on Friday, it was learnt that his wife and kids were yet to return to Jos since they left for Sallah about two weeks ago. Sources explained that the last time the captain visited Jos was shortly before the Ramadan fast in May. Captain Tijjani was in Abia before he was recently transferred to a barracks in Takum in Taraba State, following which he relocated his wife and children from Niger State to Plateau State, it was gathered. He reportedly built a two-bedroom apartment on his section of the family home after the property was shared amongst his late father’s heirs. The source said Captain Tijjani’s father, who was from Kano State, died over 25 years ago, and his mother, who hails from a royal house in Jalingo, relocated to her ancestral home shortly after the death of her husband. Our correspondent did not notice any strange thing around the family house, but it was independently gathered that apart from the two-bedroom apartment, he was building a bakery in another part of Jos.
“He was on the verge of importing some modern equipment to kick-start production when this saga erupted,” said the source. Another source told our correspondent that the Wadume saga had left a bitter taste in the mouths of residents, who see the Balarabes as a decent and respected family. “Tijjani is from a reputable home. His father was an Islamic cleric who was well respected in the community. All the children are decent, and I can tell you that this came to us as a surprise and many people cannot believe that Tijjani is in any way connected to the killing of the police officers or have anything to do with Hamisu Wadume,” he said. Other sources said Captain Tijjani has blood relationship with Wadume from the side of his mother, but this could not be independently verified. Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that Captain Tijjani was the Operation Commander in charge of the troops he allegedly ordered to kill the policemen. Since the Chief of Defence Staff constituted an investigation panel, it was further learnt that the officer and his men have been in detention, awaiting its outcome.