Molly Kilete, Abuja
Before the tragedy of August 6, 2019, his name hardly rings a bell. However in the days that followed, he made headlines. And as the intrigue unravelled, Nigerians were confronted with a picture of evil unseen since the fearful days of Lawrence Anini when his Benin-based bloodthirsty robbery gang terrorized Nigerians in the 1980s.
While the pieces are still being put together, a grim portrait has emerged. Nigerians now know who Hamisu Bala Wadume is. He is the man responsible for the killing of two civilians and three police officers from the IGP Intelligence Response Team (IRT) on August 6 along Ibi-Jalingo Road, a super kidnapper who carved a fiefdom for himself in a corner of the Northeast. Wanted by the police, Wadume had engineered several abductions and made a fortune out of ransom extorted from relatives of the victims.
Detectives had been on his track for months until the police authority decided that fateful day was an opportune moment to bring him to book and a detachment of operatives from the Inspector General of Police’s Intelligence Response Team (IRT) was dispatched––on what turned out to be an ill-fated mission––to arrest him. The team did achieve its objective and was on its way to the Command Headquarters in Jalingo when Wadume pulled one last stunt that culminated in the butchery of August 6 at Ibi village where IRT operatives, led by ASP Felix Aidoloje were gunned down in cold blood by soldiers on Wadume’s payroll.
How was it possible for one man to orchestrate such a heinous crime? This and other pertinent questions cropped up in the aftermath. The outrage generated by the bloody event of August 6 in Ibi village was of such a high voltage that made it impossible to sweep the incident under the carpet. The public raged. The police fumed. A panel was constituted. At the end of two weeks, a can of worms has been uncovered.
In the unfolding drama of error and bloodletting, the tragic killing of the IRT operatives was the first act. It triggered an exchange of brickbats between Police Force Public Relations Officer Frank Mba and Army spokesman Saghir Musa.
Musa who stopped short of accusing IRT operatives of kidnapping with a claim that the soldiers had responded to a distress call, further accused the police of not informing the army about the operations knowing the security situation in the Northeast. The ugly incident, he reasoned, could have been avoided if only there was proper coordination of inter-service relations.
For the following few days, the friction between the Army and the Police heated the polity and drew public opprobrium. Then the Nigeria Police began the second act: a spirited move to re-arrest Wadume who was set free by soldiers. Police authorities thereafter moved men and means to recapture the high-target suspect who was the cause of the tragic incident and the key to unlocking the puzzle of August 6.
The best minds of the IRT, mobilised from Rivers, Lagos, Imo, Kaduna states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), assembled in Abuja, and received a briefing on “Operation Capture Wadume.” To ensure a hitch-free operation, they were backed by the force’s Technical Intelligence Unit (TIU). Over two weeks, the team scoured the FCT and five states, including Kaduna, Taraba, Nasarawa (where members of Wadume’s kidnap empire were rounded up, including drivers of his vehicles) and Kano where the manhunt climaxed in the arrest of Wadume.
The can of worms
Now, the complete story of Wadume is an open book. From previously known facts and titbits from his confessions and those of his associates, the backstory is easy to reconstruct. What emerged is a big picture of a frightening criminal enterprise. First, the grisly affair of August 6. News of Wadume’ arrest was related by his acolyte, Shehu Zuberu, to Army Captain Balarabe Tijani. Zuberu, who called Captain Tijani to inform him about the arrest of “his friend,” also described the vehicle brought by the team who made the arrest. However, by the time the information got to the Captain, the vehicle had already driven past the checkpoint where he was stationed. He subsequently commanded his men to go after the vehicle with specific order: Kill all the occupants. The IRT operatives upon sighting the pick-up van with soldiers coming behind them decided to slow down. Before they knew what was happening, they came under heavy fire from the soldiers. The assault resulted in heavy casualty. Half the team was slain by a hail of bullets; the other half escaped death by the whiskers, but with grave injuries.
After he was rescued, Wadume was first taken by the soldiers to the barrack, then moved to Captain Tijani’s house, where a welder was brought in to destroy the chain on his legs and his handcuffs, after the Captain reportedly asked his Divisional Police Officer (DPO) friend for the keys to the cuffs and got a negative response.
After he was set free, Wadume took refuge in the house of one of his friends where he spent the night. He remained indoors throughout the next day until midnight, when another friend organized a speedboat at Ibi waterside and ferried him to Tunga in Nasarawa State. The journey lasted three hours. The purpose of going to Tunga was for medical treatment as Wadume sustained injuries in the assault by the soldiers. However, the nurse, upon seeing the injury on his groin could not do much. She merely administered first aid and advised him to see a doctor for proper treatment.
After spending one night in Tunga, he departed for Lafia, the state capital. From Lafia, he boarded a commercial vehicle to Kano and paid a fare of N3, 000.
Upon his arrival in Kano, he stayed with a friend for four days. In the meantime, he was taken to a private hospital. The doctor after examining the injury to his testes told him he would no longer be able to father a child because of the damages. Thereafter, he went to stay with his uncle who is a school teacher. He was there recuperating when detectives swooped on him and arrested him on the fourth day.
Unbundling his criminal enterprise
In many ways, Wadume is unrivalled as a criminal. He is a much bigger predator than the notorious billionaire kidnapper, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, alias Evans. In terms of organisation, weapons, networking and scope of operation, Evans is a Liliput beside Wadume.
Wadume, the young man from Ibi with four wives and four children, started as a petty thief and gradually graduated into big-time crimes of fraud and kidnapping. For his first known act of criminality, he stole a goat in his village. Apprehended, he was given the beating of his life by members of the community. Angered by the punishment meted to him, he resolved to go into bigger criminality. To succeed in his chosen path, he made friends with personnel of security agencies comprising the army, police, Civil Defence, Immigration and DSS operatives amongst others.
For someone who cannot speak a word in English, the ease with which he made friends with security operatives beat the imagination. Once he had cemented solid relationship with security operatives he acquired lethal working tools for his operations.
Like a good businessman, the men he employed were of his kinds. He organized them into groups. According to insiders at the Police location where he was grilled, Wadume reportedly confessed to having three kidnap gangs operating in the Taraba-Nasarawa axis. With such a structure in place, all he did was to coordinate the day-to-day activities of the groups, such as supplying them information on potential victims and formulating plans of how to execute abductions. One of the groups is headed by his associate Shehu Zuberu. The second is led by Baba Runs, while Ibrahim, another of his right-hand men, is in charge of the third group.
He backed up his nefarious activity with an arsenal of over twenty AK-47 rifles which he claimed were procured from various sources. Five of the assault rifles were in his custody, while the remaining 15 were shared among the three groups. To the Zuberu group, he gave four rifles, while the gang led by Ibrahim was given five. He handed over three rifles to Baba Runs and his boys.
The five rifles in his custody were kept away from prying eyes of security operatives in a hole inside the generator shed in his compound. He explained the logic: “Security agents never bother to search such places as they usually concentrate on the main house for their search.” On the day of his arrest, one of his boys had gone to the spot where the weapons were buried and removed them. The weapons have since been recovered by the police.
During interrogation, he reportedly declared: “I don’t kidnap; I only give instructions.” His defence: His main racket is 419, not kidnapping. That opened another chapter of his enterprise. His criminal enterprise is not limited to kidnapping. He was also into big-time 419 rackets. His success at defrauding victims, he confessed, was largely due to his connection to powerful spiritualists that he consulted regularly for supernatural powers to manipulate wealthy targets to part with huge sums of money.
By his confession, his biggest catch reportedly gave him a whooping sum of N30 million. His other damning revelations included the use of dark powers from spiritualist to influence wealthy people to part with their properties which he usually disposed of for profits.
His uncommon generosity
Like Pablo Escobar, the infamous Colombian drug lord whose criminal exploits were made into a Netflix’s hit series, Narcos, Wadume is held in high esteem by the common man in his constituency. Up until the day of his arrest, he was regarded as a pillar of the community, a very generous man who had empowered most of the youths in his hometown with vehicles, motorcycles, Keke NAPEP, monies and other gifts to start their businesses.
His generosity endeared him to his people so much so the traditional ruler of his village, enthralled by his philanthropy, almost conferred on him the title of Youth Leader but for the opposition from prominent indigenes of the village who stopped the plan. He has also been a benefactor to his uncle in Kano, with whom he sought refuge. It will be difficult for the primary school teacher uncle to plead ignorance of his nephew’s nefarious activities, because the house where he lived, bought for him by Wadume, is evaluated to worth over N3 million and was renovated with millions of naira.
Through his generosity, Wadume was able to charm, muzzle and reduce security operatives to mere pawns in his chess of crime. Police and soldiers at security checkpoints regularly received largesse from him to ensure smooth passage on all the routes mounted by military, police and other security agents. The Wadume windfall comprised of at least N20, 000, to each personnel and N200, 000, to their leaders. That way, he won their loyalty.
He made it his duty to meet with any security agents––soldiers, police, Immigration or DSS–– newly posted to the town. He courted, secured and serviced their friendship by all means.
His relationship with Captain Tijani started last year. Before the bubble burst, it had been mutually beneficial to both parties. Tijani and his boys reportedly received regular windfalls from Wadume. There is incontrovertible evidence of this. For instance, a few days before his arrest by the IRT team, he had withdrawn one million naira from his bank account; out of the sum, N200, 000 was deposited in the FCMB account of Captain Tijani. Wadume had also gifted the army captain one of his cars, a Peugeot 406, with a promise to buy him a brand new car soon.
Completely unmasked, Wadume is still singing in his police cell and detectives are still connecting the dots. From all indication, dusk has descended on the reign of one of the forces behind the criminal venture of kidnapping in the country.