On June 30, 2016, the Deputy High Commissioner of Sierra Leone to Nigeria, Maj.-Gen. Alfred Claude-Nelson and his driver were travelling along the Kaduna-Abuja Road with no idea of the danger ahead.
The time was 8pm, an hour the envoy and his driver would soon realize, they were filled with terror.
The envoy’s vehicle was accosted by a gang of kidnappers, who took them hostage for four days before releasing them after N1.5m ransom was paid.
The kidnappers, who are now in police custody, have made a series of confessions with some of them saying they used to be cattle rustlers but had to venture into kidnapping following the killing of some of their members by herdsmen.
They even said in their confessions that the ransom they got for the release of the envoy was used for the Sallah celebration, which held between July 5 and 7, 2016
No fewer than 11 of them have been arrested by the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team in collaboration with the Kaduna State Anti-Kidnapping operatives over the incident.
The suspects in custody are 45-year-old Alhaji Rabiu Yusuf (said to be leader of the gang), 27-year-old Garba Abubakar (second in command), Yusuf Adam (20), Hussaini Musa (25), Shuaibu Idris (35), Usman Bello (20), Muhammadu Abubabar (30), Sulaiman Abubakar (25), Musa Iliyasu (20), and 45-year-old Musa Ali, a security guard at the Paki Area Development Council in Kano State, who harboured the kidnappers inside a government building for two days.
In a single file that morning, they all looked humbled by their arrest as they told reporters the role each of them played in the act.
Abubakar, who was the first suspect to be arrested, said when they were planning the kidnap, they never had anyone in mind, as all that mattered to them was to raise money and have a memorable Sallah celebration.
The suspect, who hails from Katsina State, said he used to be a cattle rustler but switched to kidnapping after some of his colleagues were killed by herdsmen while attempting to steal some cattle in Kaduna State.
“I invited my girlfriend from Zaria during the Sallah celebration and we spent part of the money together. In fact, she was with me at Paki Local Government secretariat in Kaduna State, when I was arrested,” he added.
He said, when they staged the kidnap on the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway by blocking the Dutse end of the expressway, some of them were putting on army uniforms.
“When we abducted the man (the envoy), he and his driver thought we were genuine soldiers until we realised they were being kidnapped.
“We did not know he was an ambassador until we saw it on the news. We demanded N30m as ransom but accepted N1.5m.
“It was one Umaru, who collected the ransom, but he declared only N1m and I got N200,000 as my share. That operation was the third operation I had done with that gang.”
Another suspect, 20-year-old Balarabe Mohammed, said his job in the team was to drive any vehicle stolen from a kidnap victim to Niger Republic to sell and that was exactly what he did to Claude-Nelson’s car.
Mohammed, who was also into cattle rustling before he ventured into kidnapping, said he never got his share of the proceeds of car sale before the police came knocking on his door.
He said, “We struck that night and we were lucky that he (the envoy) drove into our trap. The moment his car was snatched, I drove it away. I took it to my colleague in Katsina and I allowed him to drive the car to Niger Republic alone. I got my share of the ransom, but I was waiting for Abubakar to bring in the proceeds from the sale of the vehicle when I was arrested.”
Yusuf, who is the leader of the gang, said when he and some of his colleagues were still into cattle rustling, they stole not less than 100 cows in the forest, usually when the owners were sleeping in the night.
The father of 10 said they always sold the cows to a man named Saleh, who is now dead.
He said two of his gang members were caught and killed instantly by the herdsmen during a cattle rustling operation.
Yusuf said, “We recruited more men after that but last year, Saleh died and there was no one else to receive our stolen cows, so I ventured into kidnapping. I recruited eight persons to form the kidnapping gang. Mohammed, Musa and Sule brought two rifles, 16 live ammunitions and two army uniforms which we used in our operations.”
According to Yusuf, before the envoy, the gang had kidnapped several other victims. One of such victims was a 55-year-old man, Sule Umar, who was abducted on June 15, 2016 on his way to Zaria.
Umar, who was at the Kaduna State police command headquarters to identify his abductors, confirmed that some of the suspects being paraded indeed abducted him and one of his friends had to pay N500,000 for his release.
“When they forced me to pull over, I was approaching Gidwa Takwas, a village off the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway. I thought they were soldiers, but before I knew what was happening, they started shooting sporadically into the air. I was terrified. They dragged me out of my car into the bush and by the next morning, they said I should call whoever would bail me.
“I called one of my friends, Aliyu Tahir, and they demanded N50m, but my friend told them nobody could afford such amount. But at the end, my friend ended up paying the sum of N500,000 to them before I was released. The kidnappers also made away with my Honda saloon car, my laptop, phone, ATM cards and the N65,000 that I had with me.
“It was a traumatic experience but I am grateful to God that all those who were involved have been arrested and they will be made to face the full wrought of the law.”
Meanwhile, Tahir told reporters that the kidnappers threatened to kill his friend if he didn’t look for the money they asked for.
He narrated, “I begged them not to kill him and the one talking to me on the phone rained abuses on me, I thanked him and he switched off the phone. When he called back after about one hour, we ended the negotiation at N500,000 and I was instructed to take the money to Maraba area of Jos within 24 hours or my friend would be dead.
“They also instructed that I should keep the police out of it. After a while, I got another call from them and I was told to go and pick my friend at Gidwa Takwas, which I did.”
He said he was surprised to see two of the kidnappers who collected the ransom from him in the newspapers, as it was heart-warming to identify those who kidnapped and robbed his friend.