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Sheikh Ja’afar murder mystery: Many arrests, no culprit

Although the police had last Thursday exonerated the executive vice chairman of the Kano-based Freedom Radio station, Alhaji Ado Mohammed, his arrest recently over his…

Although the police had last Thursday exonerated the executive vice chairman of the Kano-based Freedom Radio station, Alhaji Ado Mohammed, his arrest recently over his alleged role in the signing and issuance of a Bank PHB cheque of N100 million to the killers of the cleric is the latest development in the murder case. A number of arrests were earlier made by the police in the wake of the murder.

Also, from yesterday, reports began to trickle in of the arrest of Tukur Mamu, publisher of Kaduna-based news weekly Desert Herald. Top-level police sources told Weekly Trust that the arrest was indeed carried out, but not by the state command. When the Force PRO, ACP Emmanuel Ojukwu was asked he said he could not comment on the issue, as he was yet to be briefed.

The indictment of the state governor in the online medium’s report has made many people to point accusing fingers at Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, and since the publication hit the web, political opponents of the governor and some of the late Ja’afar’s followers reproduced copies of the report and distributed in mosques and social gatherings.

Fully aware of the circulating report, the state government then took a silent stance as it refused to come out with any official statement to that effect. Except for Freedom Radio, which aired the report, other state-based media outfits turned deaf ears to the report despite its apparent presence in the public court.

But long before the airing of some portions of the online report by the radio station, the alleged fertiliser scam report did not also go down well with the government, as it consequently dragged the radio station to court to seek legal redress. The case is still pending before a Kano High Court presided over by Justice Wada Umar Rano.

From a political angle, given the fact that one of the owners of the station is among the godfathers who anointed the governor in 2003, there was a cordial relationship between the station and the Shekarau administration during its formative days until some demands allegedly put them asunder. According to a senior government official who craved anonymity, Mohammed had lobbied for some positions, but the governor allegedly turned both requests down. Also, according to him, one of Mohammed’s brothers had requested the governor to buy for the state government, shares worth N70 million from an insurance company where he (Mohammed’s) brother had a substantial stake.

When the request was put before the governor, the official said Shekarau sought the advice of the state Ministry of Finance, which in turn replied that the transaction be stopped on the premise that the state government had bought such shares during the Kwankwaso administration.

If the insurance issue could be said to first tear the once political allies apart, then the airing of the fertiliser scam, and lately, the murder reports could be said to not only sour the relationship but make them literally to unsheathe their daggers. Many government agencies had since stopped placing their commercials in the station.

Mohammed’s arrest by police from Force Headquarters in Abuja last week was sequel to the petition filed before the Kano State Police Commissioner by Alhaji Bello Shehu Usman, a permanent secretary in the office of the Secretary to the State Government, who first reported the matter to the police for thorough investigation. Usman was accused in the Sahara reporters’ report of writing a cover letter to Bank PHB for the payment of N100 million fee for the killing of Sheikh Ja’afar.

Addressing a press conference last week over the arrest of Freedom Radio’s vice-chairman, the former Minister of Power and Steel, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the radio station, described the arrest as “official highhandedness.” Dalhatu noted that Mohammed had been friends with the late scholar to his last days.

“This official highhandedness started since 2004 when Freedom Radio did the most basic journalistic work by reporting the fertiliser scandal in which the Kano State government was embroiled,” Dalhatu alleged. He described as “false, malicious and irresponsible” the claim that the N100 million has been traced to the account of FILAPS, the mother company of Freedom Radio where Mohammed is also the vice chairman.

He said FILAPS account with Bank PHB with account No: 0081020000216 was opened on August 21, 2006 with N2,280,000 and that the last transaction on the account was a withdrawal of N7,000 on April 19, 2007 vide cheque No: 10196587.

According to him, the total turnover throughout the duration of the account was N3.9 million and the account has since been dormant.

“The bank statement of the account in question (copies of which we are making available to you) attests to the fact there has neither been a deposit nor withdrawal of any amount above three million naira from the account not to talk of N100 million.

“We are further aware that in the last two weeks, even though without informing us beforehand, the police have visited Bank PHB on Bello Road, Kano and have thoroughly investigated this account and had not found anything contrary to our position,” he said.

He said the petition to the police alleged that the document emanating from the SSG’s office was used to give instruction for the withdrawal of N100 million from the account of the Research and Documentation Directorate of the state government. The former minister therefore said it was now up to the state government to come out and clearly confirm whether or not their account was actually debited with N100 million and who was the beneficiary of the withdrawal.

He also said the account in question was not Alhaji Ado Mohammed’s personal account and the signature on the cheque was a “crooked forgery” as it has no resemblance to Mohammed’s signature or of any of the authorised signatories to the account.

In its response, the Kano State government said the case in contention is not a government affair because it only involves Freedom Radio’s vice chairman and Permanent Secretary in the SSG’s office, Alhaji Bello Shehu Usman. When asked to comment on Freedom Radio’s accusation against the state government, Governor Shekarau said he did not see any wrong in the invitation by the police of Mohammed in the ongoing murder investigation since a number of personalities were invited by the police over the matter.

“You see, it is not a new thing for the police to invite a suspect for questioning; it is a normal thing the world over, and it is not surprising if you see Ado Mohammed released tomorrow if found innocent,” he said.

Governor Shekarau also said he really sympathised with Mohammed’s predicament, and therefore prayed to God to expose whoever has a hand in the murder of the renowned cleric. The governor said the relationship between his government and the private radio was cordial, saying if his government had any problem with the media outfit, he would not have been invited by the radio station last month to explain his government’s achievements in the last six years.

Corroborating his principal’s comments, the Director of Press and Public Relations to the governor, Malam Sule Ya’u Sule, said while addressing the press that the matter was still under investigation and therefore urged the people of the state to remain calm as God will eventually expose those behind the killing. Sule also revealed that the state government’s accounts were intact and they did not cry foul over missing N100 million as alleged by Dalhatu. “Our accounts are intact and we don’t have any missing money,” he explained. But the arrest of Mohammed did not bring relief to the followers of the late cleric as they accused the police of employing red-herring tactics.  

From Kano State government, rival religious sects and down to Panshekara attacks, the followers of the revered cleric burned candles at both ends in order to come up with varied hypotheses. While some people link the killing to the Panshekara incident which led to the loss of tens of lives, others say that rival Islamic sects in the state were the culprits. The killing of Sheikh Ja’afar came in quick succession after unknown persons attacked the Panshekara area, the headquarters of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and Sharada Police Station, all within the metropolis.

It will be recalled that rival Islamic groups were at daggers drawn with Sheikh Ja’afar because of his criticisms against some of their practices, which he often argued were outside the precept of Islam. Another theory, however, argues that Governor Shekarau is too benign to hurt a fly, saying that if ever the state government had hands in the killing, perhaps it might be a zealous lieutenant responsible.

Malam Balarabe Maikaba, a senior lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano, explained that going by his benevolent temperament, Shekarau is not the kind of politician who believes in resorting to violence in order to score political goals.

But others premised arguments on the fact that the late Ja’afar had resigned his position barely a year after his appointment by Shekarau into the Hisbah Commission.

Weekly Trust observed that after his resignation, Ja’afar became very critical of the state government and in the run-up to the 2007 election, the late scholar had stated at different fora that the government was not committed to Shariah implementation and that the rightful person for the people to vote on election day should be one who was not deceitful and would not treat Shariah issues with levity.

On the eve of the very Friday that he was killed, reports from his followers quoted the late scholar as saying during his last sermon that since the Shekarau government had failed its bidding, he would reveal the right candidate for the people to vote for.  Amid this confusion, the police in Abuja last Thursday came out with a new version of its reports. Many observers see the report as shocking and the arrest of Mohammed as a suspect.

According to the Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro, Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano State, the Kano Emirate Council and Freedom Radio, Kano have no case to answer over the murder of Sheikh Ja’afar.

Okiro, who was represented by the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of ‘D’ Department (Investigation), Israel Ajao, made the assertion at a press conference in Abuja, saying the police investigation has revealed that Shekarau, the Emirate Council and Freedom Radio were not behind the killing of Ja’afar. The IGP said the arrest of the Vice Chairman of Radio Freedom has nothing to do with the murder.

“There isn’t an iota of evidence of the involvement of Governor Ibrahim Shekarau and the Kano Emirate Council in the killing of Sheikh Ja’afar Adam. Again, Freedom Radio is not in any way linked to the murder of the late Sheik as the police have no evidence in that direction,” the IGP said.

He said the deceased was killed by four assailants while he was leading the morning prayer at Dorayi Juma’at Mosque in Kano on April 13th, 2007. Okiro added that police investigation has revealed that prior to the death of the sheikh, he had received series of death threats from different quarters both written and verbal, including the receipt of a shroud. He said the threats were extended to his followers. He said the sheikh was also alleged to have been attacked in June 2006 while preaching at Indimi Mosque in Maiduguri, Borno State.

“On April 18, 2007, police officers were detailed to uncover the identity of the murderers who had obtained statement from eyewitnesses. Other relevant evidences such as expended empty shells of ammunition and copies of letters of complaints and threats to the Sheikh’s life were recovered. The investigators also visited Sharada Divisional Police Headquarters attacked by some unidentified armed men who killed two policemen and made away with some fire arms and ammunition on April 11th, 2007,” he said.

He said the police have arrested seven people including a Nigerien national based on information received during investigation as prime suspects in the murder case. He said police detectives visited relevant towns and places, including Dakin-Gari in Kebbi State, the Embassy of Niger Republic in Abuja, Maiduguri and the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS), Kano to ascertain claims that some suspects in the SSS custody who were arrested over an incident in Panshekara Kano by a joint police and military team have confessed to the killing of the sheikh.

“The following facts emerged after painstaking investigation.

(1) That the Sheikh was attacked and killed at about 5:30am on April 13th, 2007 by gunmen at Almuntada Jumuat Mosque, Dorayi, Kano, while leading morning prayer. (2) During the attack on the Sheikh, one Jamilu was killed while Abdullahi Abubakar and Malam Hamisu Mansur sustained bullet wounds. (3) Evidence eventually linked the killing of the Sheikh to serial killings committed in Kano between April 1 and 17 2007 by some fundamentalists. It is our strong belief that these fundamentalists were likely to be among the killers of the Sheikh because some of the arms stolen from the police station attacked were recovered from their hideout in a shootout with the joint military/police team during which 24 of them died,” he said.

He said the suspects arrested in 2007 were released on bail in view of the fact that there was no evidence to prosecute them. The IGP said sometime this year, there were some stories on the internet and in a daily newspaper accusing the Kano State governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, his ADC and the Kano Emirate Council of involvement in the killing of the sheikh. He said the internet publication alleged that one Tijjani Garba received N50 million from the Kano State governor in conspiracy with the Kano Emirate Council to kill the sheikh. He said the publication further claimed that students of the late Sheikh Ja’afar jointly signed a document demanding the investigation of the allegations on the internet.

“The police investigated the matter during which all the personalities mentioned in the publication made written statements to the police investigation team led by a senior officer. The investigation revealed the following facts. (1) The internet publication was authored by a faceless writer, as the Islamic body alleged to have originated it dissociated itself from it completely. (2) All the signatories to the document who claimed to be students and sympathisers of the late Sheikh Ja’afar do not exist as efforts made to contact them yielded no positive results while none of them is known to the Usman bn Affan Islamic Trust of the late sheikh. (3) The alleged confessional statement by the faceless Tijjani Garba is a false document, as it bore no address and was neither on a police statement form nor endorsed by any police officer,” he said.

He said the characters referred to as Alhaji Abba Gana and Malam Tijjani Garba cannot be traced, pointing to the fact that the internet has only created an atmosphere of tension and chaos in Kano. He said for the purpose of emphasis, the nexus between the magazine of the berretta pistol recovered at the scene where the late Ja’afar was killed and the berretta pistol without magazine recovered from the enclave at Panshekara Kano where the suspected fundamentalists were overpowered by the joint military and police team strongly supports the interference that Sheikh Ja’afar’s killers were among those killed by the joint military/police team there.

Then with the arrest of Mamu, new elements are being introduced into a story which was beginning to look concluded, giving it a new lease of life.

If the police’s latest report in the murder case is anything to go by, members of the infamous Panshekara enclave are the culprits. But has the murder of Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmud Adam reached a cul-de-sac or a dead-end, or where and how exactly does it end?