- ‘There’s nothing wrong if I stole from a thief’
By CHIOMA IGBOKWE
Serving soldiers who were arrested with part of the ransom collected by suspected kidnappers of the wife of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Margaret Emefiele have told the police how they shared proceeds of the crime.
The suspects, Musa Maidabara, a corporal attached to the 322 Artillery Regiment and Edwin George of 371 Artillery Regiment in Maiduguri were arrested in separate locations with cash and other materials found in their possession.
Recall that weeks after the incident, a joint operation by the police and the Department of State Security led to the arrest of two Army personnel allegedly responsible for the abduction of Mrs Emefiele.
The victim was kidnapped along Benin-Agbor Road on September 29, 2016, alongside four others including her police details. Her abductors reportedly chased Mrs Emefiele’s security into the bush and took their victim to their den where she remained until the next morning. The kidnappers were said to have collected about N80million from her husband, Godwin Emefiele before releasing her the next day.
How they shared ransom money
According to reports, the military authority after dismissing the two on January 17, 2017, handed them over to the police for further investigation and prosecution. Now in the custody of operatives of the Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT),the soldiers claimed that they unknowingly collected the ransom from one of the kidnappers named Mohammed.
According to Musa aged 29, his secondary school classmate Ernest invited him to Benin to celebrate Nigeria’s independence. “ I was serving at 3 Division, Jos in Plateau State when my friend invited me to come to Benin and celebrate that year’s independence. Out of excitement, I also invited my closest friend in the Army to join us. His name is Edwin and luckily he was at Kogi State on a special assignment.
“The day we got to Benin which was on October 1, Ernest told me that his friend asked him to help him transport huge amount of money and that he was driving to the bush to pick him up. Since we were wearing uniform, we decided to help him out. When we saw his friend who he introduced to us as Mohammed, he was looking so dirty and was carrying a bag . He was also with another man who was carrying another heavy bag.
“Both wanted to join us in the car but I refused because they were both dirty and smelling. They agreed that Mohammed should go with us but that he should carry both bags for safety reasons.
“On our way out, I asked Mohammed why he was looking so dirty and he said that we should not worry that he would explain. He begged us to take him to a boutique so that he can buy a new cloth. When we got to the shop, we all came down except Ernest who was driving. While Mohammed was busy buying clothes, Ernest sent me a text message that we should escape with the money. He argued that the money was stolen. We were convinced because I cannot imagine where the Fulani man will get such huge money in cash inside the bush.
“We zoomed off and drove to Delta State where we shared the money. I got about 6.5million naira. I took my share to my brother’s house in Delta and hid it. We were planning to travel to Gombe where our parents reside when Ernest’s girlfriend called and said that she wanted to see me. We never knew that it was the police that asked her to call us.”
The second solider Edwin also aged 29 claimed that he got N6.2million from the loot. “I was on a special assignment at Oko Polytechnic, Auchi in Kogi State when my friend Musa asked me to join him in Benin. When Ernest persuaded us to escape with the money, I thought it was indeed stolen. It is common that most of these armed Fulani herdsmen will steal cows from others and sell. So I assumed that this was the case and there is nothing wrong if I stole from a thief. It was when I was arrested that I knew the real source of the money. I am aware of the dangers of kidnapping an influential person in this country. The whole security personnel in the country will be searching for the suspects. I can’t take such risk if I knew who was involved.”
Ernest , the man accused of luring the soldiers into kidnapping, said that he met one of the kidnappers, Mohammed a long time ago. “I am a native of Ndukwa in Delta State but I studied in American University of Nigeria, Adamawa. During the years that I spent in the North, I learnt how to speak Hausa. After my graduation , I returned home and was able to buy a small car which I used to go into transportation business.
“It was while I was on duty that I met Mohammed who I picked up at Ring Road and dropped him at Upper Sakponba road, both in Benin. During the trip, I started communicating with him in Hausa language and he was impressed. He relaxed and started telling me about himself. He was a big time cattle dealer who buys and sells cows in large quantities. He collected my phone number and promised to contact me anytime he is in Benin.”
As promised, Mohammed contacted him whenever he was in need of a private car that will take him around town. He also paid him very well. “All was well till I received his call on October 1, 2016. He called me around 6:20am and asked me to pick him somewhere around Bypass in Benin City. Before then, I was expecting one of my friends, a serving personnel of the Nigeria Army, Musa, who was visiting me from Makurdi, Benue State. When I got to the point where he asked me to meet him, he told me that he would like me to take him to his house in Upper Sakponba and I told him that I could not take him to his house because I was expecting my friend from Makurdi.
“Before I knew what, he handed me a huge amount of money which I didn’t count, but I suspected that the money was close to N2million. I was scared when he gave me the money because I saw another bag containing large amount of money, then I zoomed off with my car and went back home. When I got home, I met my friend Musa and one of his friends, Edwin, also a serving soldier and I told them about what was happening.
“Minutes later, Mohammed called me back while I was with my friends and was begging me to come and take him and he also has one of his friends who would want to follow us to his house. My friend Musa asked to speak with him. He told him that he was a soldier and he was also with one of his friends who is also a soldier. Mohammed begged us to come that he would pay us more money. When we got to where he was, Musa asked me to remain in the vehicle and he went out and he met him and other members of his gang. Musa then asked Mohammed’s gang members not to enter into the vehicle and we drove Mohammed and his money to Agbor where he said he wanted to buy a new cloth. While he stepped into the shop to buy the cloths, we drove off with his money. We went to my house in Ndukwa, we shared the money, we all got N6.5million each.”
The next day, Ernest travelled to Onitsha with N2million and bought a new car and furniture. “I also invited one of my girlfriends to meet me in Benin City but while I was with her, the police came and arrested me. I never knew that he was a kidnapper. I suspected that the money was stolen that is why I decided to take my share.”