Seized by ‘security agents,’ presumed killed, questions trail disappearance of Kaduna mechanic

Seized by ‘security agents,’ presumed killed, questions trail disappearance of Kaduna mechanic

One year after alleged security operatives arrested a 25-year-old mechanic in Kaduna State, news of his alleged extrajudicial killing has left his parents and bride traumatised. Daily Trust on Sunday investigation reveals how the only suspect, a soldier arrested by the police, was released by the Nigerian Military, thus sabotaging police investigation.

November 17, 2022 marked one year since 19-year-old Hasiya last saw her husband, Saidu Yusuf Gamana; a mechanic, around Faki Road in Tudun Wada community of Kaduna State. The 25-year-old groom had stepped out of his home, 17 days after his wedding and assured his bride that he would return a few hours later. Hasiya recalled that her husband left the house around 4pm and sometime around 5pm, she had called to remind him to buy sachet water, popularly called pure water. 

“I waited till maghrib (sunset Islamic prayer) and he didn’t return, so I called his number, but it was switched off. I waited patiently till after Isha (night Islamic prayer). It was unlike Saidu to stay out late and so I became desperate and called one of his friends, Anas,” she said.

Anas, who had been instructed to lie to Hasiya, in order to avoid a panic, told her that a new job had suddenly come up and Saidu had travelled. “I was angry and confused at the same time,” she told this reporter, “I wondered why Saidu would suddenly travel without informing me, but Anas assured me that Saidu would return in the morning to explain everything.” That morning never came as Hasiya still awaits her husband’s return, one year later.  

To mark the 2022 International Day of the Disappeared, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in August, declared that Nigeria has 25,000 missing persons, the highest in Africa. The Federal Government, through the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Faruq, described the statistics as a “tragic reality” and vowed to collaborate with the Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigeria Police Force and other security forces to ensure missing persons are found.

But retired Warrant Officer Yusuf Gamana doubts the government’s sincerity. He says his 25-year-old son, Saidu Yusuf Gamana, is one of the country’s 25,000 missing persons and has had little or no help from security forces, whom he alleged arrested and possibly killed his son.

In an incident similar to the 2019 disappearance of the popular social media critic, Abubakar Idris, aka Dadiyatta, who was abducted by unknown persons in Kaduna, Saidu Yusuf Gamana was also taken in the state, albeit, by alleged security agents and in the presence of eye witnesses. Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the mechanic was initially arrested alongside his childhood friend, Usman Abdulrahman, but Usman was set free a few minutes later, while Saidu, like Dadiyatta, was never seen or heard from since then.   

How armed men arrested Saidu and friend

On the night of his disappearance, eyewitnesses say Saidu Yusuf Gamana had been taken by alleged security agents while hanging out with friends around Faki Road in Tudun Wada, Kaduna. “They came in two vehicles—a 4-Runner SUV and a black pick-up truck. Some of the men were kitted in black and armed with guns while one person wore a kaftan and held a device we assumed was a tracker,” said Saidu’s childhood friend, Usman Abdulrahman.

Abdulrahman, a butcher, who was sitting with the mechanic, said the men had demanded who amongst them was Saidu. “They asked for his phone and one of the security agents reached for my phone which was charging. I told him that he was reaching for the wrong phone and he slapped me.” Abdulrahman said his phone and Saidu’s were immediately confiscated, the two were handcuffed, blindfolded and pushed into a black truck.

A few residents of Faki Road remember the incident and described it as scary. A youth in the community who asked not to be identified for fear of intimidation said speculations ran rife as to why security agents, they assumed were men of the DSS, would arrest a local mechanic and a butcher. 

But the DSS spokesman, Dr Peter Afunaya, later told this reporter that secret service was not responsible for the arrest of Saidu Yusuf Gamana. In a Whatsapp message, Dr. Afunaya stated: “To the best of my knowledge, the subject/person under reference was never arrested by the DSS and not in its custody.”

However, few minutes after their arrest, Abdulrahman said the vehicles conveying them stopped and they were interrogated. “They asked why I had saved Saidu’s name as ‘campany’ on my phone and I told them it was a childhood nickname. They asked how long I have known him, what his occupation was and if I knew his parents. I answered all their questions.”

He said the man in kaftan now turned to Saidu and asked him when he returned to the city. “We were both surprised and Saidu told them he never travelled and that he had just gotten married. They went through his call records and asked him whose number was saved as “campany,” and he told them it was his wife.”

Abdulrahman said the man in kaftan then returned to the 4-Runner for what appeared as consultation and then returned and asked security agents to uncuff Abdulrahman. “They assured me that they would interrogate Saidu and that the family will hear from them. They dropped me off around Layin Mai turare, near Ibrahim Taiwo Road in Tudun Wada.” That was the last time Usman Abdulrahman said he saw or heard from his friend.   

Cpl Muhammad Umar aka ‘Danbalarabe’ brings news of Saidu’s death

Twenty-seven days after his son’s arrest and after moving from one police station to the other to either enquire or report the incident, Malam Yusuf Gamana said he learnt of his son’s death through a soldier. “I was at home when Usman Abdulrahman walked in with a stranger introduced as Corporal Muhammad Umar aka Danbalarabe or Danbala,” he said.  

Abdulrahman, who had earlier called the septuagenarian to prepare for their visit, said the soldier had walked into his butchery and asked for him on December 13, 2021. Even though the soldier was not acquitted to Abdulrahman, the butcher said he immediately recognised Danbala as a regular goalkeeper in the community before he joined the army. 

Narrating the event that transpired on that day, Abdulrahman said Danbala had informed him that he had just returned home from military duty and had information about Saidu. “He asked me to give him a few hours to get home and change before requesting I take him to meet Saidu’s wife and later, his parents,” he said. 

But before the soldier visited Malam Gamana, Saidu’s wife, Hasiya, told Daily Trust on Sunday that Usman Abdulrahman and Danbala had visited her. She said the soldier had insisted that she visit her in-laws the next day for an important announcement on her husband.

“I cried and begged him to tell me what happened to my husband but he insisted I come to the family house to find out. I asked Usman Abdulrahman to tell me what was going on but he also said he didn’t know,” Hasiya told our correspondent.

And so, on December 14, 2021 when Danbala visited Saidu’s family home, Malam Yusuf Gamana said the soldier informed him that his son had been extrajudicially killed and advised the family to perform the three-day prayer the next day.

Shocked and confused, Malam Gamana said he demanded answers as to what offence his son had committed, who killed him and where he was killed. Finally, he demanded the remains of his son but he said Danbala began to shift ground. “He initially said Saidu was killed in a forest and then he said it was along Kaduna-Abuja highway. I noticed he was being evasive,” he said.

As the family wailed, Saidu’s older sister, Maijiddah rushed in while Danbala was making his way out. “I immediately recognised Danbala and he was shocked to see me,” she said. “He asked what I was doing in the house and I told him Saidu is my brother and demanded to know what happened to him.” She told this reporter that Danbala had reiterated that her brother had been killed unjustly, based on ‘orders from above.’

“He told me my brother had done nothing wrong. I couldn’t believe it and I asked him how an innocent person could be killed, just like that, but all he could tell me was that injustice was committed upon my brother.” She said Danbala had promised to return to the family the next day with additional information but never did. 

Police arrest soldier, hands him over to army

The abduction of Saidu Yusuf Gamana, like that of Dadiyyata in 2019 is what the United Nations (UN) describes as enforced disappearance; a crime generally committed by State agents through abduction and arrest, with victims often held in secret detention. Amnesty International says enforced disappearance is frequently used as a strategy to spread terror within society. It says the feeling of insecurity and fear it generates is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects communities and society as a whole.

Therefore, whatever happened to Saidu Yusuf Gamana, only Danbala can say, Daily Trust on Sunday gathered from a top police officer familiar with the case. Investigations reveal that Danbala had admitted to Police officers during interrogation that he saw Saidu in detention, but denied that he brought news of his death to the family.

Our correspondent gathered that when the police arrested the soldier, he was moved to Gidan Gayu police station in Kaduna and from there to the State CID. While at the CID, soldiers from 1Division of the Nigerian Army had on December 21, 2021 retrieved him from the police for questioning. The Kaduna State Police Command confirmed this, saying on discovering that Cpl Muhammad Umar was a military personnel, the police had written to the Nigerian Army, following which the army requested for the suspect.  

“I personally went to 1Div on December 23 to get an update on the case,” said Malam Gamana, “but I was told the suspect had been moved to Garrison. Five days later, I returned and they told me that he was not there,” he said. “So, I went to Garrison and begged an officer to help me find out if the suspect had been brought for questioning and he came back with information that the suspect was in the guard room of the second battalion.”Ezoicreport this ad

The septuagenarian said he made several efforts to get updates by visiting the military facility but was restricted and told that the military would reach out to him after the investigation. “They have not reached out to us till today. Meanwhile, 1Div has released the soldier,” he said.

Findings by this reporter from the Nigeria Police reveal they have also been ignored by the military. “They (military) said if he is found wanting, on any of the allegations, he will be court-martialled. They are supposed to write back to us but they haven’t,” said DSP Mohammed Jalige, the Public Relations Officer of the Kaduna State Police Command.

He said the state command had written twice to the Nigerian army to find out the status of the case but there has been no reply from the Military. “Based on the IPO, the father of the missing person has been coming to the command. So, we wrote to the military because we expect that if they court-martialled the suspect, we should know, and if it is a case of returning our suspect, then they should return him with the report of their investigation so we can prosecute him, if there is need for that,” Jalige said.

A letter written by the Gamana family, through Lanke Odogiyan Chambers to the General Officer Commanding 1 Division of the Nigerian Army, demanding the report of the investigation of Cpl Muhammad Umar (Danbala) on the alleged killing of Saidu was received on August 29th but ignored.

But a senior military source told Daily Trust on Sunday that the soldier in question was handed over to the military police after which an investigation was conducted. The source said “after the investigation, the soldier was found wanting, he was deranked and locked up in the guardroom for a month.”

The senior military officer said: “I want to believe the missing person was presumed to have dealings with terrorists and was unfortunately killed in a cross fire during an operation. The soldier must have been among the soldiers on the operation and probably witnessed his death. But he was wrong to come and disclose such information to the family.” When Daily Trust on Sunday asked how Saidu Yusuf Gamana, who was arrested in the presence of witnesses could have been killed in a cross fire, during an operation, the officer became evasive. 

However, when contacted, the Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, 1 Division Headquarters Kaduna, Major Yahaya Musa, declined comment saying the matter was before a court. Major Musa however failed to tell the specific court, even though this reporter found from the police and the Gamana family lawyer, Barrister Josephine Nuhu that the matter has not been filed before any court.

Spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Onyema Nwachukwu, ignored calls, text message and Whatsapp message from this reporter on the release of Cpl Muhammad Umar. 

Multiple human right violations

The enforced disappearance of Saidu Yusuf Gamana is a crime that violates a range of human rights including right to security and dignity of person, right to a legal personality and fair trial, right to a family life and right to life (if the disappeared person is killed or their fate is unknown).

A Human Rights lawyer, Barr Inibehe Effiong, says enforced disappearance is also contrary to Nigeria’s 1999 constitution (Amendment) which guarantees presumption of innocence until proven guilty, in section 36 (5).

Section 33(1) of the constitution also guarantees the right to life. “So, even if someone has committed murder, the law says you have to try that person and the court must find that person, sentence him and the sentence must be carried out in line with the due process of the law,” he said.  

“There is no room for jungle justice or extra judicial execution of a suspect who is accused of one offence or the other. So, whatever offence the individual may have committed, he is entitled to life and no law enforcement agency, including the military, is empowered to take the life of any Nigerian, on account of suspicion of commission of an offence,” he said. 

The human rights lawyer described Saidu Yusuf Gamana’s disappearance as troubling and a very tragic case of human rights violations that needs to be investigated properly. “Let us assume that he has committed an offence, it does not justify his disappearance or being killed. Since someone has been arrested or identified in connection with the disappearance of the individual, it is important for the military authorities to come out clean and account for the whereabouts of the missing individual,” he said.  

He said military personnel are subject to service law and non-service law, adding that the police can request the military to release serving personnel implicated in an offence for investigation. “So, if the police have made that request, the military has a duty to hand him over. In the event that they fail to do so, the police have the right to go to his house and arrest him. He is not above the law and does not have immunity from arrest,” he said. 

Barrister Effiong however advised that the Kaduna State Commissioner of Police, Yekini Ayoku, could send a signal to the Inspector General of Police to take it up directly with the military HQ. “The family should also petition the Chief of Army Staff and the military authorities in Abuja. The matter should be taken beyond the state,” he said.  

The National Human Rights Commission in Kaduna, however, confirmed that it received a letter of complaint from the Gamana family in March. The NHRC Coordinator in Kaduna State, Terngwu Gwar, said the complaint was still ongoing and therefore cannot comment on it. He, however, said the commission had written letters to the police and follow up revealed that their letter had reached the D5, a unit in the CID. 

Cpl Muhammad Umar walks free  

While Cpl Muhammad Umar aka Danbala walks free with answers on what happened to Saidu Yusuf Gamana, the soldier now keeps a low profile. For one month, the corporal’s phone number was switched off. Our correspondent, however, traced his home address at Tudun Wada, Kaduna, where she was informed that he had travelled during the period. However, on the 6th of December 2022, Danbala’s phone rang for the first time in more than a month. When this reporter introduced herself and told him why she was calling, he asked her to call him back an hour later. Since then, his number has remained switched off.

While Danbala walks free, the mother of the missing mechanic, Ummakaltume, says she barely sleeps and wonders why such injustice can happen unchallenged. “He was not into drugs, no one has ever questioned his moral behaviour or reported him for any wrong doing,” she said of her son. “He was hardworking and honest. What have we done to deserve this? Even if my son was arrested for killing someone, I believe we have a right to be told of his crime,” she said.

One year later, Hasiya still dials her husband’s number, hoping for a miraculous answer from the other end. Saidu’s bride, who has returned to her parent’s house to continue her wait said: “Initially, when I call his number, I get a message that the number is switched off. But lately, the number does not connect, and that scares me,” she said. 

 

With contributions from Maryam Ahmadu-Suka and Idowu Isamotu

 


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