For most people, the thought of kidnappers sends shivers down their spine. The image of a kidnapper in their mind is that of a hulk, blood shot eyed unsmiling guy. But when Saturday vanguard met with three kidnappers in one of the safe houses where they were being kept by the Inspector General of Police special team set up to track down and arrest kidnappers across the country, what we saw were men who are ordinary mortals, begging to be given a second chance to live normal lives again.
While two of the three kidnappers are in their twenties, the oldest amongst them is a forty five year old husband of three wives and eleven children. Saturday Vanguard spoke with them on their lives as kidnappers.
For Sani Ibrahim alias Sani Kwalba (Sani Bottles) because of his prowess at drinking alcohol) , kidnapping as a source of livelihood was the peak of his criminal career which started from petty thievery, metamorphosed into cattle rustling and peaked with kidnapping of persons for ransom. According to him, his life as a criminal was very rewarding as his marriage to his three wives produced eleven children and he lived a life of hedonism with alcohol as his constant companion anytime he was not involved in his nefarious activities.
He explained to Saturday Vanguard how his life as a kidnapper started: “I started when one of boys of my boss had an issue with somebody. We lured the person and kept him for 18 days until his people brought 400,000 and he was released. While he was in custody, I was the one that went to buy leg chain so that he would not escape in the night.
“After the first incidence, there was no going back again. My boss, Abdullaziz bought a gun for me and we were drafted at a point to join Buharin Daji ( a notorious kidnapper in Zamfara state who was killed sometime ago). We used to join forces with Buharin Daji. We fought alongside him any time the security forces tried to kill him in his hideout.
We were his back up army because his boys were being depleted by the constant encounter with the security services” he said He said he was into cattle rustling where he was taught not only how to use gun but also how to service them. In fact, he claimed that while he offered his services to Buharin Daji, he could service 30 AK 47 refills in few minutes, a feat that even his instructor, Musa was very proud of.
With the death of Buharin Daji, the leader of his gang, one Abdullaziz, collected his gun back and for a brief moment, the magnitude of his life as a a criminal dawned on him and according to him, he made vow before God that he would quit life of crime and be a responsible member of the society. ‘I swore to God that anytime I went back to kidnapping, God should expose me’. But it did not take long before he went back to his criminal past.
He explained how: “One day, some boys came to me that they wanted to kidnap somebody. They went to kidnap him. After a while, I was arrested and what I want to say is that I am asking for pardon. I will never go back to criminality again but will assist the police, especially the team that arrested me. I will cooperate with the government and the police. I have repented and I swear that I will ensure that all known criminals are brought to book. I am married to three women and I have eleven children” he said. Asked whether his wives knew him as a criminal, he said: “they don’t know me with any trade; they know I don’t have any cow yet I come back with money or sometimes with many cows that they know I never owned.
It’s natural that they would suspect I was doing something untoward” he said. Though he said he was ready to turn a new leaf if he was pardoned by the government and police, he did not show any remorse throughout the over one hour that Saturday Vanguard spoke with him. Like Sani Ibrahim, Rufai Haruna also started his criminal life as a cattle rustler before graduating into a kidnapper. The Rigachukun, Igabi local government of Kaduna state born 27 year old kidnapper said though he made lots of money from kidnapping, his wife never knew what he was into as he went the extra length to conceal his trade from her.
According to him, one of his friends who was into cattle rustling with him introduced him to kidnapping because according to his friend, kidnapping was more lucrative. He said during the course of his criminal activity that spanned more than one year, ransom as high as N5 Million naira was paid in one operation while some people paid N3 million while others paid N1.5 Million. Haruna said two incidences stood out during his career as kidnapper and they remain ever green in his memory. “There was a time we kidnapped one person and we took him where we kept people. We got talking and he said he was a colonel in the Nigerian army.
My friend, Ismail that we were assigned to guard him became hostile when he knew that he was a soldier. He would put the bread that was meant for the solider in the sun to get very dry before giving it to him. After that, they brought one lady and Ismail raped her. I was angry and left Ismail and Haruna. At another time, we blocked the Kaduna Zaria highway and kidnapped one Alhaji Isiaku, a member of the House of Representatives.
We kept him for three days. We gave his car to Saleh Kura to take to Sokoto and sell. We were paid N1.5 million while the Colonel brought N3 Million Naira. The lady that my colleague raped also brought N1.5 Million Naira. He explained that the soldier was singled out for such a harsh treatment because he was security personnel. He said they could not harm him because their boss left a firm instruction that on no account should a victim who is not violent be killed.
“What we did to the soldier was a sort of punishment because he was a military man. We would put the bread in the sun to get very dry before giving it to him to eat without water. I have been into kidnapping for one year. I graduated into kidnapping from cattle rustling. Between cattle rustling and kidnapping, I have spent three years. I am married with two children. My wife does not know that I am into kidnapping.
When I get my share from the kidnapping, I would give my share to a friend to keep so that my wife would not see me with so much money. Asked What he did with his share of the ransom Haruna who said he is 27 years old said he lavished it on ‘beautiful women who were imported into our camp by our superior. “I spend my money on beautiful women. I did not buy even a chicken. We look for beautiful girls. They come to the camp where we stay” he said. He said unlike other kidnappers from Zamfara state that preferred the Abuja Kaduna highway to operate, his operational base was the Kaduna-Zaria road because he is more familiar with the area, having been born in Rigachukun. “My area of concentration was Kaduna-Zaria road.
From Birnin Yero to Zaria was where we operated. Anytime we kidnapped somebody, we would take him to the farm house of General Wushishi. It is an abandoned house that has an underground section. The house had been there even before I was born. The people around the house knew nothing about the fact that we kept kidnap victims there. It is between Rigachukun and Mararaban Jos” he said. Despite rejecting all entreaties from his victims to be set free when they were kidnapped, Haruna said he would never go back to crime again if the government gave him a second chance. He said he would dedicate his life to fighting crime in the society, especially kidnapping and cattle rustling. “I guess my time was up. I plead with the Nigerian government and the police to forgive me.
I regret what I did. If God gives me a second chance, I will swear with the Koran and I will never take what does not belong to me ever again” he said. While Rufai Haruna and Ibrahim Sani all vowed that they never took any soul throughout their kidnapping Career, the story of 20 year old Sani Haruna is totally different. He admitted that he killed so many people during his career that he lost count of how many people he killed.
He said though he killed many people, he was not really into kidnapping but was assigned by his superior, who trained him on how to use a gun, to guard kidnap victims. He narrated his story: “I used to guard kidnapped victims in Katsina. I have been doing this for one year. Before this, I was a herdsman. They approached me and said I should abandon cow herding to come and be their guard. I was herding cows for somebody but we parted ways and he refused to settle me.
It was after parting ways with the person that I met these kidnappers. I know them and they also have cows. I told them they should give me their cows to look after. But they kept me in charge of kidnapped victims. At the end of every operation, they used to give me between ten and twenty thousand Naira”. He said his bosses told him that anybody that failed to pay ransom after a particular time should be killed because if he did not kill them, he (Sani Haruna) would be killed. “Between me and my God, I can’t tell the number of people I killed. They are many.
I’ve lost count of the number. My bosses told me that if I didn’t kill them, they would kill me. We must kill them. I am married but my wife did not know what I did. I guarded them in the bush. If I was going to be away, I would tell my wife that I was going to visit some people” he said. He explained that just like he lost count of people he killed, he had also lost count of people that were kidnapped and brought to him. I lost count of the people that were brought for me to guard.
I lost count of the people kidnapped because they were too many.” The young kidnapper who appeared remorseful in custody said he should be given a second chance because he was forced to kill people against his wish. “Before I was arrested, I prayed to God that He should do something that would make me leave the bush and live normal life again. It was not my intention to kill but my bosses told me that if I didn’t kill them, they would kill me.” After killing the kidnappers had a Mallam who prayed for the corpses and they were buried according to Islamic rites. “I am appealing for forgiveness from government so that I can continue to cooperate with the police operative that arrested me. I have repented. I will never return to the bush again.
To the people that I have killed, I appeal to their family to forgive me. I have made mistakes and I have accepted my mistakes. But I need government to forgive me and give me a second chance to assist the police put a stop to the kidnapping in the country” he said.