By Owei Lakemfa
Mahdi Shehu, one of the supporters of the bloodthirsty Abacha military regime, runs around today in the outfit of a ‘human rights activist’. I don’t have any problem with that; anybody can call himself anything he wants.
He trashes the Buhari presidency when he has the opportunity.
As a Nigerian citizen, he has a right to his opinion and in any case, I do not hold the Buhari administration in high esteem. Besides, when the Abacha regime was sending innocent Nigerians to early graves, forcing some into exile, looting our commonwealth and employing terror, including bomb blasts against Nigerians, Shehu and Buhari stood by that nightmarish regime.
In the last fortnight, Shehu has gone on air to defend terrorist negotiator, Tukur Mamu, who the Department of State Security accuses of being a “logistics supplier, aiding and abetting acts of terrorism” and heavily benefiting from the proceeds of ransom payments. It is not my duty to prove or disprove such allegations. What is, however, clear is that Shehu and Mamu are part of a gang in alliance with Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, the ex-Army Captain who campaigns that terrorists are “are peaceful people” engaged in an “ethnic war”, and should therefore be granted amnesty.
However, in campaigning for Mamu, Shehu tried to present the patriotic journalist, Bagauda Kaltho as a terrorist who, he claimed, planted a bomb in the bookshop of the Durbar Hotel, Kaduna and was killed in the process.
Shehu claimed that he had been contacted by an American diplomat, Russell Hanks, to plant the bomb. He claimed that on his way out of Hanks Hamdala Hotel room, he met Bagauda and two hours later, there was the bomb blast. Shehu narrated what he claimed happened next: “Lawal Jafaru Isa (then Military Governor of Kaduna State) can confirm this – 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 brought to Abuja. I was able to see Abacha in his residence, and I narrated the story to him.”
Watch the video of Femi Falana’s cross examination of Police office, Zakari Biu at Oputa Panel below:
Before I point out the fallacies in Shehu’s narration, let me first state that I had known Bagauda as a young activist, and over the years when we practised journalism together. He was a humanist who would not engage in the mindless bombing of a public place. Secondly, he was an anti-imperialist youth who was anti-American; so he could not have carried out a terrorist assignment for an American agent. Thirdly, Bagauda believed not in terrorism, but in revolution. Fourthly, about the time Shehu claimed Bagauda went to see a politically- exposed Hanks in a well patronised hotel, he was in hiding as he was wanted by the Abacha regime. I met him in a safe house in Lagos and he left for Kaduna in order to relocate to Abuja because he believed the regime would not expect him to be in the city.
After stating these facts, let us examine Shehu’s story. He claimed that he met Hanks on December 21,1995 and two hours later, Durbar Hotel was bombed. In reality, the bomb blast at the hotel was January 18, 1996, that is: 28 days later.
Shehu’s claim is that the bomb blast occurred two hours after he left Hanks and Bagauda, so the bomber was the latter. Not logical. It was possible for a third or even a fourth person to have visited Hanks apart from him and Bagauda. In other words, if someone had seen him, Hanks and Bagauda two hours before the blast, it would not be logical to conclude that he had taken part in the bombing.
Shehu claimed he immediately sought and secured audience with Governor Isa and told him the identity of the bomber. He claimed that next day, he briefed General Sani Abacha about the incident. Going by this, it would have meant that within hours of the bombing, the government knew the identity of the bomber. If this were true, the same government would not have spent the next two years desperately trying to identify the bomber.
Mr Umaru Suleiman, the acting Police Commissioner of Kaduna State testified that the stomach of the victim was ripped open, his legs shattered and face burnt “beyond recognition”. So, how was the corpse confirmed to be Bagauda’s remains?
To show that Shehu lied about Bagauda, as at April 1998, the Abacha regime was still trying to unravel the identity of the bomber. The regime’s Head of Anti-Terrorist Task Force, Zakari Biu, at a press conference on Tuesday August 18, 1998 told the press that in trying to identify the bomber, investigators on April 18, 1998 secured a statement from Mr Babafemi Ojudu, Managing Editor of The News Magazine, employers of Bagauda, on the whereabouts of the journalist. Note that Ojudu’s interrogation was 27 months after the blast, yet Shehu claims to have informed the government of the bomber’s identity just over two hours after the blast.
Biu said it was from Ojudu, investigators got the address of Bagauda’s family in Billiri, Gombe State. It was from Mrs Martha Kaltho that investigators got her husband’s photograph which Biu claimed was used to match the face of the burnt corpse. So, Mahdi Shehu lied when he claimed that the regime knew the identity of the bomber, at least 28 months before.
Shehu emphatically claimed that the then Governor Isa was his witness as he reported the alleged involvement of Hanks and Kaltho in the bombing to him. But the latter, short of saying Shehu was lying, said last week he couldn’t recall such an incident.
So, why is Shehu concocting such story against a selfless patriot who paid the price for democracy with his life? My analysis is that Mahdi Shehu and his gang want to exonerate Abacha, Al Mustapha, Zakari Biu and their notorious killer squad from the murder of Bagauda whose corpse they have refused to release to his family or cannot produce.
On the other hand, it might be an attempt to link Bagauda, the pro-democracy movement and the anti-military National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, to terrorism. They can then start a campaign that anybody linked to NADECO should not be voted into office. Don’t forget that one of the 2023 presidential candidates was a NADECO chieftain who later named a public office after Bagauda Kaltho.
Whatever be the case, the attempt to portray Bagauda Kaltho, the fierce pro-democracy journalist and Pan-Africanist as a terrorist, will fail.
We have civilian rule in Nigeria today thanks to the sacrifices of uncompromising fighters like Beko Ransome-Kuti, Alao Aka-Bashorun, Alfred Ilenre, Chima Ubani, Gani Fawehinmi, Anthony Enahoro, Dan Suleiman, Ndubusi Kanu and Bagauda Kaltho.
*Owei Lakemfa, journalist and labour activist, writes from Abuja