When one Madhi Shehu, a medical doctor and activist said in an interview on the Arise Television recently that the late journalist, Bagauda Kaltho, was indeed the one who detonated a bomb at Durbar Hotel in Kaduna on January 18, 1996, it was apparent that he had stirred up the hornets’ nest. Mahdi, in doing what he did, was exhuming an old narrative which the original author had denounced. It was therefore not unexpected that such an attempt would evoke reactions from different quarters. Of importance was the reaction of a senior official of the then junta who he claimed was a witness. The official, Lawal Jafaru Isa, the military administrator in Kaduna State said he did not remember having that encounter with Mahdi. The doctor had claimed that he was invited to a Hamdala Hotel, also in Kaduna by Russel Hanks, then an official of the United States Department of State serving in Nigeria. According to him, the diplomat had tried to recruit him to plant a bomb at Durbar Hotel as part of campaign against the regime of late General Sani Abacha. He claimed that he declined the offer of N1 million for the alleged exercise, but before he left Hanks Kaltho allegedly met him with the diplomat. So, he said, when the bomb went off two hours later he concluded that it must have been detonated by Kaltho. He claimed that he swung into action giving information to security agents and the military administrator.
The latest reaction comes from the Independent Communications Network Limited, ICNL, publishers of TheNEWS and PM NEWS, and the employers of Kaltho as at the time of the unfortunate incident. In a release by the management of the company, it described Madhi as “a liar. A shameless liar.” The company detailed the discrepancies even in the claims of agents of government over the years, and the attempt to paint the employers of Kaltho in bad light, including efforts to mislead the family of the journalist. [SEE THE FULL TEXT OF THE STATEMENT BELOW].
Reactions also came from Martha Kaltho, widow of the journalist, Owei Lakebfa, former secretary general of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity, OATUU and Femi Falana, human rights lawyer and counsel to the company who also represented the company while presenting its petition on the issue before the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission [otherwise called the Oputa Panel, after the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa who was chairman]. Mrs. Kaltho said “There is no iota of truth in that claim. I don’t know what he stands to gain in painting my late husband in such a picture. It’s not true. That claim is totally false. I knew my husband so well. Bagauda cannot kill an insect, let alone plant a bomb to kill people. It’s a callous claim.” Lakemfa also said that the claim by Madhi was false. He said, “He [Kaltho] was a humanist who would not engage in the mindless bombing of a public place. Secondly, he was an anti-imperialist youth…so he could not have carried out a terrorist assignment for an American agent. Thirdly, Bagauda believed not in terrorism, but in revolution.” Falana is of the opinion that since the version by Madhi is at variance with the official account, the authorities should re-open the case for full investigation. That also is the position of members of the civil society organisation.
For instance, Adewale Adeoye, executive director of Journalist for Democratic Rights, JODER said this was the time to implement the recommendation of the Oputa Panel which in part asked for fresh investigation into the case of the journalist. He said, in his statement, “Shehu’s fresh attempt to link the death of Bagauda Kaltho to an official of the United States Embassy has raised fresh concerns not only about the heinous crime committed against the late Kaltho but also against the Nigerian media.”
The call for a comprehensive investigation into the fate of Kaltho has never been taken seriously by the authorities. Zakari Biu, then assistant commissioner of police and head of the anti-terrorist taskforce was the first to claim that the bomber was recognized by the security as Kaltho, though the body was blown out of recognition, and the book he was said to have bought at the Hotel bookshop same day bore a name different from that of the journalist. The government has also not responded to the appeal sent to it during the regime of General Abdusalam Abubakar in which Kaltho’s employer requested that the body found at the scene of the blast be subjected to a forensic examination.
The outrage to Madhi’s fresh claim is coming against the background of the inconsistency in the claims by agents of state which said the journalist was involved in the bombing saga. But ICNL recalled that the Police command in Kaduna countered Biu’s submission then. The same Biu who had addressed a press conference where the claim was first made was disowned by the directorate of State Security Service at the Oputa panel. Late Abubakar Tsav, retired commissioner of Police had said of Biu, “Everything he is saying is not true. I mean the evidence he gave in respect of Bagauda Kaltho.” Tsav had, in his lifetime, claimed that he was privy to investigations of high profile cases, including that of late Dele Giwa, editor in chief of Newswatch Magazine. While picking holes in the statement of Madhi, the media company said his antecedent does not suggest that he is capable of being believed.
FULL TEXT OF STATEMENT BY THE INDEPENDENT COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK LIMITED:
Bagauda Kaltho: The Many Lies of Zakari Biu and Mahdi Shehu
By Management of TheNEWS and PM NEWS
On August 18 1998, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Zakari Biu, who also headed the Task Force on Terrorist Activities, held a press conference at Alagbon Close, Ikoyi, Lagos. At the conference, he alleged that Bagauda Kaltho, our Kaduna State Senior Correspondent, died in a bomb blast at Durbar Hotel, Kaduna. Biu also made spurious and grave allegations against Independent Communications Network Limited, publishers of TheNEWS, PM NEWS, AM NEWS and TEMPO, saying that we were a terrorist organisation.
ACP Biu alleged that Bagauda Kaltho was the “unidentified” person who had allegedly planted a bomb at Durbar Hotel on 18 January 1996, and who was killed in the process. At the press conference, he showed reporters a video tape of the scene of the blast and two photographs. One was of a dead person whose body was burnt and who, he claimed, was Kaltho. The other was that of Kaltho as we– his colleagues and family members– knew him. The second piece of evidence shown by Biu was that of a video tape of an interview by Bauchi Television Authority (BATV) with General Muhammadu Buhari in 1994. The tape was allegedly found at the scene of the blast. Biu said this same interview had been published in TheNEWS of 4 September 1995, five months before the blast. ACP Biu also alleged that his Task Force on Terrorist Activities strongly suspected the management of ICNL of having connection with the Durbar Hotel bombing or else Bagauda Kaltho was acting independently of his employers.
We immediately called our own press conference to show that Biu was lying. In case you’ve forgotten, when Durbar Hotel was bombed on Thursday 18 January 1996, the police rapidly moved in to investigate the incident. Newspaper accounts of the blast and the ensuing tragedy indicated that the entire vicinity of the blast was terribly shattered, that the bomber was burnt “beyond recognition.” Umaru Suleiman, the acting Police Commissioner of Kaduna State at the time was quoted by The Guardian, among several other papers, as saying that the “stomach” of the victim was “ripped open, legs shattered and face burnt beyond recognition.” Suleiman was also quoted to have said the victim’s body “could not be identified because the smoke of the bomb had darkened him”.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) filed a similar report which was published in the A.M. News of 20 and 21 January 1996. In the A.M. News report, Suleiman was quoted to have said that a post-mortem would be carried out on the corpse. The Guardian report said the police gave the victim’s age as between 30 and 35. He said: “We met a young man of about 30-35 years who was blasted by the bomb. The man was carrying the bomb in the banquet hall. The man went inside the toilet in order to put the bomb down. After placing it there, the bomb exploded before he got up.”
One 24 January, The Guardian, quoting the same police commissioner, reported: “What we know so far as we in this command are concerned is that the management of Durbar Hotel could not identify the person. If somebody tells you this is the name of the person, the person must be a liar.” We did not see anything, any exhibit along with him that can identify the dead man. The only thing we recovered is a book which he had just bought from Durbar Hotel and the title of the book is The Man Died written by Wole Soyinka. “He wrote the name Y.Y. Yusuff on the book and the receipt. We took statement from those who sold the book to him at the Durbar Hotel bookshop and they could not identify the person that bought it from them. So, I think that it is very questionable for somebody to come and say this is the man that has done it. The receipt was found in a leather bag which contained the book”, Suleiman said.
We found it curious that the ”recognition” coincided with the multi-faceted efforts by our organisation to locate the whereabouts of Bagauda Kaltho which included an appeal to the then Head of State, General Abdusalami Abubakar. In the light of the obvious contradictions in the position of the police, we once again appealed to the military authorities to set up a commission of enquiry to investigate Bagauda Kaltho’s disappearance and the police statement on the matter. We were of the view that at least one of the Intelligence organisations must know where “Bagauda’s body” was. To the best of our knowledge, during the 32-month ”investigation” that Zakari Biu glibly talked about, the police did not ask Bagauda’s wife, his relatives or our management to identify the now ”recognisable body.” We then begged the Head of State, General Abubakar, to give police an order to produce the ”recognisable body” for forensic and DNA tests.
Concerning the Bauchi Television tape containing an interview with General Muhammadu Buhari which Zakari Biu claimed it recovered at the scene, we admitted at our press conference that the interview was published in TheNEWS magazine of 4 September 1995. But the question we asked then was: Why did it take the police 32 months to link the interview with a video tape purportedly found at the scene of that bomb blast? Why didn’t the police in its earlier statement claimed that the video tape was one of the items found at the scene of the blast?
On Tuesday 7 April 1998 or thereabouts, the FCID detective arrested Mrs. Martha Kaltho in Billiri, Gombe state, and brought her to Lagos with her child and brother-in-law. They tortured them. They cajoled them. They told Bagauda’s wife and brother plainly that the ICNL management had killed Bagauda and used him for money ritual. If Biu was so sure that Bagauda had been used for money ritual by ICNL, how could the same Bagauda had been the alleged bomber in Kaduna? On Friday 17 April 1998, two policemen, posing as Bagauda’s brothers, came with Bagauda’s wife to our office. She, now cooperating fully with them, sought to know what new facts we had on her husband’s whereabouts. After taking the “brothers-in-law” to our two major offices in Lagos, she left for home with the N3,000 given to her by ACP Biu and the N10,000 provided by ICNL as transport money. On Monday 20 April and Wednesday 22 April 1998, ACP Biu led 50 policemen to invade our offices and arrest nine of our staff. Our offices were occupied by armed policemen for 41 days during which Biu and his men had video shots of staff, seized company documents and account books and our computers. Mrs Bagauda returned to our office on 6 August 1998 and held a meeting with management. She apologised for her conduct and confessed how the police had tricked her into co-operating with them. We should say, in passing, that we’re in constant touch with Martha Bagauda to whom we’re grateful for the strength she has shown in raising Bagauda’s children and his two lovely grandchildren.
In Biu’s press statement, the police sought to link our organisation with terrorism.
We did not take the matter lightly as we instructed our lawyer, Femi Falana, to take up the matter in the law court. Falana was about to file a suit when the government of Olusegun Obasanjo began to moot the idea of the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Panel. When the panel eventually took off, we appeared at its sittings in Lagos and Kano where the lies against our organisation and Bagauda Kaltho by ACP Biu, were debunked. With the weight of the evidence provided, under a rigorous interrogation of Zakari Biu by Falana, the panel recommended in its comprehensive reports that the case of Bagauda Kaltho should be reopened and thoroughly investigated by the federal government. Unfortunately, the government of Olusegun Obasanjo did not act on any of the recommendations of the Oputa Panel.
There is now a new twist to the case of Bagauda Kaltho. Twenty-seven years after Kaltho disappeared, Mahdi Shehu claimed in an interview on Arise TV that Russell J. Hanks, a Political Counsellor at the American Embassy, invited him for tea at Hamdala Hotel in Kaduna on 21 December 1995. At that meeting, according to him, Hanks said: “Mahdi, we are worried. The American government is doing a bomb campaign against Abacha. We don’t want him. We are promoting a regime change. This parcel is what I want you to do. See Durbar Hotel, just away there – 600 metres. Go into the bookshop and drop this parcel – small parcel. This is N500,000 for you and another N500,000 waiting for you. Once you drop the parcel, please come back to collect the second N500,000. I said, Russel, you have miscalculated. When I addressed Adamu Ciroma as the Minister for Agriculture in that seminar, you’re referring to, when I addressed Abubakar Rimi as the Communications Minister, when I addressed Ismaila Isa Funtua as the Chairman of Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, I did that as a citizen, not because I didn’t like my country. I dressed him down. I abused him. He said, Mahdi, Mahdi, now I know you’re a good citizen. I’m just trying to test you. You are nationalistic. We look forward to working with you to stabilise Nigeria.”
According to him, Hanks then asked him to leave, but he did not. Shortly afterwards, he said, there was a knock on the door. The man at the door was Bagauda Kaltho. He said not long after that, precisely two hours later, there was a bomb explosion at Durbar Hotel at the bookshop. He said he rushed to meet the then Kaduna State Governor, Colonel Lawal Jafaru Isa, to report his encounter with Hanks. “I drove straight to the government house to see the governor. For what reason? Urgent security reason. I was ushered into Lawal Jafaru Isa’s office, and I told him what happened. The following day, I was taken to Abuja. I was able to see Abacha in his residence, and I narrated the story to him. Before they could say Jack Robinson, four days later, Russel Hanks flew out of Nigeria. Ten days later, security operatives came to Kaduna to interview me. When I gave them the narrative, one of them took me aside and said, ‘Mahdi, keep off. We are very jealous. Security agencies are very jealous institutions. Don’t ever give any public comments on it. Don’t give interviews, don’t give anything because if you talk, our failure would have been seen very clearly.” Mahdi Shehu gave this interview in the wake of the arrest and detention by the Department of State Services (DSS), of his friend, Tukur Mamu, who has deep connections with different gangs of kidnappers in Kaduna.
Fact check: Durbar Hotel was bombed on 18 January 1996. Not 21 December 1995 as Mahdi claimed in his interview on Arise TV. Colonel Jafaru Isa has denied that Shehu was in his office to report the incident. If indeed General Sani Abacha had known of this story, would he not have asked the likes of Chief Tom Ikimi to weaponize it in their campaigns against America and the pro-democracy activists? Remember that was not long after Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists were hanged leading to condemnation all over the world. Who were some of the security officers who told him not to talk about the incident? Could Hanks as a secret service agent had worked in a lousy manner the way this fellow has described his interaction with him?
The truth is that this man is a liar. A shameless liar.
Last year, Mahdi Shehu was arraigned in court in Katsina over corruption allegations that he sensationally levelled against Governor Aminu Masari’s government. The video of the allegations is still being shared on social media. Many people believed his story until a judge in Katsina asked him to appear in court. Mahdi Shehu suddenly developed cold feet, pleading ill-health. When the court insisted, he was brought to the court on a stretcher. Walking with the aid of crutches, it took him close to thirty minutes to get inside the court. He pretended that he was dying, that his pain was excruciating, that his political enemies were bent on killing him. Unknown to him, while he was in court, a secret camera had been installed in his cell in Katsina Prison. As soon he returned to the cell the pretense was gone. The video showed that the man was hale and hearty after all. In fact, he led a muslim congregation in prayer that same day. The video subsequently went viral. Mahdi has been making frantic efforts since then to clean up his dented image.
It is sad that our government has failed woefully to investigate the gruesome murders of Bagauda Kaltho, Dele Giwa, Chief Alfred Rewane, Chief Bola Ige, M.K.O.Abiola, Barnabas and Abigail Igwe, Dr Harry Marshall, Victor Nwankwo, Chief A. K. Dikibo, etc.,etc, It is sad indeed that reprobates like Mahdi Shehu are now encouraged to play game with the treasured memories of these victims