It was a fateful evening of April 24, 2018. Mr. and Mrs. Sirajo Ladan were at home somewhere in the sprawling city of Sokoto, and the holy month of Ramadan, a period when adult Muslims are expected to fast for a month, had just kicked off. The husband, Malam Sirajo, had just returned home. His struggles to get paid some debts were unsuccessful, and so he returned home to report the bad news to Hindatu, his faithful wife.
It was about two hours to the break of fast of that day, and as they were putting heads together thinking of a way out, a small boy came to announce that the husband had visitors that wanted his attention. Thinking it was Mother Luck wanting to smile on him, he quickly dashed out to meet the visitors, consisting of two males and one woman. Pronto, but with courtesy, the visitors told Malam Sirajo that they were policemen in Sokoto, and that they needed the attention of his wife in respect of a case of a stolen phone.
When they saw the alarm on his face, the police officers assured Malam Sirajo that there was no cause for alarm; that all they needed was to go to their station with his wife, and that she would return almost immediately. He reluctantly yielded to their request and went in to bring Hindatu, his wife. He, however, insisted in going to the police station with them, which they agreed to.
Once at the police headquarters in Sokoto, however, the story changed entirely. The police who were friendly at the home of the Sirajo’s now wore a stern face. They wasted no time in putting Hindatu behind the counter, narrating to her that her kidnapping activities had been uncovered, and that they were taking her to Jos the following morning to answer charges for the kidnap of two adults.
The young woman was shell-shocked. In her entire life, she had never stepped outside the walls of Sokoto city, not even to the suburbs. And here was she being told that she had kidnapped two male adults in Jos, a city whose name she had never even heard of. She was a full-time housewife who had never attained Western education. She did not have even television at home.
It sounded like an expensive joke to Hindatu, but the police were in no mood for jokes. They used diplomacy to lure her from her home and now that she was safely in their net, the officers clamped her into detention. The husband was asked to leave the premises, and when he dragged his feet, insisting in justice for his wife, the policemen threatened him. They immediately forced him out of the premises.
Alone in her cell, and in the dead of the night, a hefty man appeared from nowhere, asking her to sleep with him. She reminded him she was a married woman, to which he countered that it was just a brief thing that would last a few minutes. She stood her ground, and the man only left after she threatened to shout and raise the alarm.
As early as 5am the next morning, Hindatu was brought out of her cell and pushed into a waiting vehicle. She was sandwiched by two police officers, and they took off for Jos, a city whose name she had hitherto never even heard of. They arrived after almost 11 hours of the tortuous trip. She was profusely crying throughout.
When Malam Sirajo, the husband, arrived at his wife’s place of detention around 6am the following morning, he was told that she had left with the police officers that arrested her about an hour earlier. He, therefore, made immediate arrangements to follow her to Jos, also a city he had never been to. For him, the farthest from Sokoto he had been to was neighbouring Gusau.
Once in Jos, Hindatu was clamped into detention. Nobody cared about the fact that she was fasting, and that even the previous day when she was arrested in Sokoto, all that the police officers gave her was a sachet of pure water that she used in breaking her fast of the day. In Jos that night, she was confronted by some people who kept pouring all sorts of invectives on her, saying they were relations of the adults she had “kidnapped,” and they kept promising her fire and brimstone. She kept pinching herself to confirm whether the whole thing was real or not.
A few days later, Hindatu was charged to court, after which she was remanded in Jos Prison. She was to remain there for more than two years, with the case being severally adjourned because the police claimed they had not concluded investigation.
At the time of her arrest in 2018, Hindatu’s youngest child was barely a year and a half old. And because of distance between Sokoto and Jos, coupled with the fact that the husband did not want to subject the children to another trauma, he could not take them to see their mother in detention. And so the youngest of the four children, Usman, grew up without knowing who his mother was.
In April 2018, my attention was brought to the plight of the young woman. The people who brought her case to me wanted me, as a journalist, to publish her story and get some justice for her. They told me that the relations of the kidnapped adults were hellbent in ensuring Hindatu was jailed, and that since they were indigenes of Plateau State and she was from Sokoto, the likelihood of her getting justice was almost non-existent. I got the phone number of Malam Sirajo, the husband, and called to ask him for details of the case, which he readily obliged me. I asked him to give me the phone number of Hindatu’s lawyer, which he also obliged me.
I was very apprehensive when the lawyer’s name turned out to be Barrister Nantok Dashuwar. Firstly, he was of the same Berom ethnic stock as those said to have been kidnapped by Hindatu, and whereas she was a Muslim, he was a Christian like them. I wondered whether such a man could really defend Madam Hindatu, given the realities of contemporary Nigeria.
But my fears were soon dispelled the moment I called the lawyer and he explained everything to me, assuring me that he carried out his own investigation and found out Hindatu was simply being framed for an offense she knew nothing about. He said that there was no way he, a Berom and Christian, could defend Hindatu if he was sure she had kidnapped two members of his ethnic stock.
I then got ready for a trip to Jos, and, once settled in my hotel, I invited Barrister Nantok for a meeting. It was at the meeting he gave me more details, telling me the case was already set for judgement, assuring me that he had done his best, and that he was optimistic that unless sentiment was allowed to prevail, Hindatu was going to be freed by the court.
Sadly, the lockdown occasioned by coronavirus ensures the judgement kept getting postponed, until Monday, October 19, last year when it was delivered.
Because of the series of postponements, neither I nor the husband were in court on that day. But Barrister Nantok kept assuring us that Hindatu was going to be freed, as his written final address to the court exposed very terrible loopholes in the police investigation of the case. More importantly, he added, one did not need much convincing to see very clearly that Hindatu was only being framed by a wicked system that places lots of premium on money at the expense of justice.
About an hour later, Barrister Nantok called me on phone to say Hindatu had been freed by Justice Dorcas Agishi, asking me to give him a little time to get her warrant of release from prison. He followed the prison officials to Jos Prison, and the officials were also kind enough to quickly process her release, and I made immediate arrangements for Hindatu to be brought to Abuja by air.
It was the period of the #EndSARS protests, which had by then taken a terrible shape in Jos. There was no way she could be taken to the airport, as rampaging youths had taken over the road and were molesting passersby. So, through my respected senior, the Wazirin Bukuru, Alhaji Yakubu Mohammed, I got Hindatu to be transported to Kaduna, where she slept at the residence of my brother-in-law. She was taken to the Rigasa Train Station early the following day, Tuesday, and, on arrival in Abuja, my wife took her to the airport, and escorted her to Sokoto, where she was reunited with her husband, her parents, four beautiful kids and thousands of well-wishers.
Usman, the youngest of them, did not know who she was, and that also broke Hindatu’s heart. Up to the time I paid them a visit a week later, young Usman was still seeing his mother as a stranger, as he did not know her.
An online newspaper, Lightbearernews, published the story thus:
The Federal High Court in Jos, on Monday, freed a suspect, Mrs. Hindatu Sirajo, held for the disappearance of Plateau College students, Mr. Darlington Davou and Mr. Steve Rowland Ronku since March 2018.
The students of Plateau State College of Health Technology, Zawang, Jos, are thought to be abducted sometime between March 12th and 17th, 2018, when they were conspicuously missing from school during examinations.
The case reported to B Division of the Plateau State Police Command was believed to have been abandoned, forcing parents of the missing kids to engage the now dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Bukuru.
Mr. Davou was reported to have called his mother on April 3, 2018 using an unknown MTN line.
He was said to have hurriedly uttered in a trembling voice, “Mama don’t cry” three times in Berom language before going off the phone after a brief disturbance that suggesting the phone was snatched from him.
Relatives say they called the line back but heard a different male voice, which warned that it was a wrong line before the phone went off.
The Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Jos reportedly tracked the phone line to Mrs. Hindatu Sirajo in Sokoto, Northwestern Nigeria.
A female voice had reportedly warned family members calling Mr. Davou’s phone line in Hausa language, that they should stop disturbing.
Mrs. Hindatu, the prime suspect was traced and arrested after families of the missing kids facilitated the transportation of police agents from Jos to Sokoto.
An independent cyber investigation sponsored by families of the missing students to obtain call logs for the phone number used by missing Davou to reach his mother, adding to persistent pressure from families reawoke the case in 2019.
However, only records submitted by the students’ families were relied upon to hurry the case to court.
After trial with the accused in detention at the Jos Correctional Service Centre, presiding Judge, Justice Dorcas Agishi, dismissed the suit for lack of sufficient evidence.
Passing her judgment at the Federal High Court 1, Jos, the judge pointed to “loopholes” in the arguments of the government prosecutors, saying, “the needful has not been done properly.”
According to her, to prove a kidnap case, prosecutors needed to have established that the victims were seen taken away without their consent and without any lawful excuse, which they failed.
“The evidence provided on this matter is very scanty to enable the court take a reasonable decision in favour of the prosecution,” said Justice Agishi.
The judge opined that the disappearance of the students was “sad” as it causes “emotional trauma”, but insisted that investigation on the case was “very porous”.
Mrs. Agishi hoped that the affected families find proper “justice” on the matter.
Defense council, Barr. Nantok Dashuwar of G.S Pwul (SAN) and Co. said the judgment was victory for justice.
The prosecution council, Barr. Gideon Zi, of the Plateau State Ministry of Justice, said there was no likelihood of an appeal.
Some family members, however, say they will seek proper council on the possibility of an appeal, through private prosecutors.
This column congratulates Justice Dorcas Agishi for braving the odds and setting aside primordial sentiments to dispense justice with full fear of God. She and Barrister Nantok Dashuwar are clear living examples that there is hope in the Nigerian project, as not all Nigerians could close their eyes to reality in favour of some ethnic sentiments. By her example, Justice Agishi has further proven that the law is the last hope of the common man, and that there are judicial officers who are driven by their conscience and the fear of God. At personal level, these are two Nigerians I will forever cherish and celebrate. They are fully deserving of every honour and accolade.
The officials of Jos Prisons also deserve commendation. Though almost all of them are Christians, they never, not even for once, maltreated Hindatu. She was also allowed to practice her Islamic religion unhindered, and many of them, especially the female personnel, took her as a true sister and treated her with utmost kindness. It was obvious to all of them that she was innocent, and that she was only a victim of a wicked system that ropes in the innocent while allowing the guilty to go scot-free.
This column, in conclusion, prays that nemesis catches up with all the police officers who deliberately framed up Mrs. Hindatu Sirajo and other innocent Nigerians in detention on trumped-up charges. The police admitted in writing that they confirmed Hindatu had never left Sokoto in her entire life, not to talk of coming to Jos, but still insisted she was the one who kidnapped the two adults, as if she were a spirit. No country could ever make any meaningful progress with this kind of injustice.
Our prayer to the Lord, therefore, is for Him to decisively deal with these wicked souls posing as police officers and expose them as the wild animals that they truly are.