Chioma Igbokwe

In the few hours after Alhaji Tukur Sabaru was kidnapped, it occurred to him that his abductors were familiar faces. He didn’t have to stretch his imagination far to recall that he had encountered some of the faces recently. Indeed they had all crossed his path variously posing as his customers, beggars and cobbler. Taken deep into the forest in Zamfara State, the Sokoto-based businessman, known locally as a cheerful philanthropist, was subsequently held hostage for seven days before his family secured his freedom with N100 million ransom.

Sabaru, who lived to tell his story, had petitioned the Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu, after his release. Operatives of Intelligence Response Team (IRT) were subsequently ordered to investigate and bring the kidnappers to book, an order that was executed to the letter.

Suspected abductors, identified as Rufai Muhammed, Isah Abdullahi, Abdulrashid Labaran, Abba Zayyanu, Zubairu Muazu and Rabiu Ibrahim were arrested in Sokoto, Zamfara, Kastina and Kano states.

The sum of N10million and the victim’s car, a Mercedes Benz C180, sold in Kano, were recovered.

The Sabaru kidnap is one of the cases that expose the Modus Operandi of organised kidnap gangs now rampaging across northern Nigeria.

The suspects confessed to the police that it took them five days of constant surveillance before they picked up their victim in front of his house on September 23, 2019.

Their confessions gave keen insights into the role played by prisons in facilitating fraternization among criminals which indirectly fuel the plague of kidnapping currently ravaging the country. In the Sabaru affair, the incubation of the criminal idea, the organisation and execution of the abduction, and ransom negotiation were all remotely controlled by a kingpin serving time inside Katsina Prison.


Victim’s ordeal 

The victim, a native of Sabaru area in Dange Shuni, Sokoto, husband of four wives and father of 23 children, is a successful businessman renowned for his philanthropy. Rather than insulate him against evil, his altruism was his undoing.

During an interview with Saturday Sun, Alhaji Tukur Sabaru, recounting his ordeal, dramatised how he was abducted and continuously assaulted for seven days until his family raised the N100million ransom.

His story: “On September 23, 2019, at about 8 pm, I went to pray at the mosque, and as soon as I was done, I drove myself back home. Getting to the entrance, I was about to step down from my car and open the gate when some men dressed in black suits and armed with AK47 blocked me. They ordered me to come down from the car and I refused. They threatened to kill me if I don’t step down. When they started shooting, it dawned on me that they might kill me.”

He obeyed and climbed into the backseat while one of them took over the car and drove off.

“On our way, they told me that they were sent to kill me, but if I pay them good money, they would spare my life. We drove for about two hours before they stopped by the forest and asked me to come down. Three of them took me into the bush. We trekked for another two hours before one of their members materialized with a motorcycle which was used to transport me to their camp.”

The gang’s initial demand was for a whopping trillion.

“But I assured them that whoever gave them that information was lying,” Sabaru narrated. “They kept beating me every day while negotiating with my brother and son until they agreed to collect N100million after seven days. I was released on September 30 the day they got their hands on the cash.”


The role of Katsina Prison

The suspects unravelled the remaining part of the story, starting with the confession of 25-year-old Rufai Muhammed.

“I am a native of Rofar Atiku area in Sokoto and a professional pickpocket,” was how he began his self-introduction.

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“We were nine in our house and there wasn’t enough food to go round, so my friends––Nura Umar and Shehu Khamilu––introduced me to pickpocketing in 2004 when I was 11 years old. We stole many valuables from people, especially watches, jewellery, phones and money. My friends were already experts, so they knew where we could sell the stolen items at Old Market, Sokoto. We became so notorious that the people identified us and reported us to the police.”

It turned out Muhammed was a jailbird of sorts: “I have been arrested several, but luckily the sentence is not always much. In Sokoto, I was sentenced to three months in prison. When I came out, I relocated to Katsina and formed another gang with some of the people I met in Sokoto Prison; unfortunately, they arrested us again after we spent about one year in the business.”

In Katsina Prison, he met Babangida, a notorious bandit who was serving time for armed robbery and kidnapping.

“He was well respected by everyone because he had plenty money,” Muhammed said. “He told us that he still had boys outside who were kidnapping and bringing his share to the prison. We exchanged phone numbers before I left the prison after serving my sentence. One day, I received a call from Babangida who still in prison and he asked if I knew anyone that we can kidnap. I was still going through my list of possible victims when an old-time friend, Muritala Dabiru came to my house. He told me that his boss was very rich but stingy and that it will be good if he was kidnapped. He provided all the needed information about the man, including his office and home address. I alerted Babangida who promised to handle the operation and asked me to bring some of my boys.”

He admitted that kidnapping was not his métier: “I have never kidnapped anyone before; that was why I decided to allow Babangida to invite the professionals.”


How the abduction was planned

The gang subsequently went to work by detailing four men to monitor their target for some days to decide the best place and time to abduct him. Those few days, they gathered valuable intelligence about him: “We observed that he loves driving himself. He owns a lot of houses in Sokoto and hardly sleeps in the same place,” he  recalled.

On September 23, they tailed Sabaru, from the time he left his office till they picked him up in front of his house when he was about to open the gate. “We took him to a thick forest at Damburum area in Zamfara State where we kept him for a week.”

On why they demanded an initial ransom of one trillion, he said: “Dabiru told us that he is richer than Dangote, that we should not believe him if he said that he has no money, [but] we had to reduce the price because after beating him for some days, the family insisted that they did not have that type of money.”

While they finally agreed to take N100million, the gang also sold his car in Kano for N600, 000.

“My share was N5.5million,” Muhammedww admitted. “Babangida arranged the AK-47 and the location where he was kept. After the ransom was paid, he gave me N23million to share with three of my friends, Labaran, Muazu and Isah whom I brought to join us. We all agreed to disappear until everything cooled down.”

Policemen arrested him before he could flee.

Another suspect, Isah Abdullahi, one of the amateurs brought into the gang by Muhammed, was assigned to the monitoring team.

“We were professional pickpockets, and we were satisfied with what we made from selling stolen phones and jewellery. In prison, if you are from a poor home, you will die of hunger and other inmates will abuse you. Babangida was our only source of help that was why we agreed to join him. He took care of us and we assured him that we will work with him if need be; we were all excited when he called,” Abdullahi recounted.

On how they monitored their target, some of them were instructed to visit the man’s shops pretending to be customers while others were stationed around his houses where his wives lived.

“As soon as those in his office area confirmed that he had left, I would station myself close to his house to monitor if he has some form of security that can challenge us when we want to pick him up. Sometimes, I would pretend to be a cobbler and sit close to his house pretending that I was looking for customers. I even greeted him one of the days that he came down from his car to open his house gate. This was how we discovered that it would be easier to pick him up in front of his house. We all wore black suits and masks on our faces before we attacked and picked him up,” he said.

He was given four million naira for the part he played.

Further insights came from Abdulrashid Labaran: “He goes to pray at the mosque close to Ola market in Sokoto town and to be sure that he was the one, I had to pray in the mosque severally. On the day that he was picked, I was in the mosque and joined beggars who greeted him when he was exiting. When he left, I called our members to get ready as he was heading home. I later joined others at the agreed spot along the road.”

He got N1.5million as his share of the ransom.”

“They also gave us his phones which we sold in Katsina,” he confessed.