After a long trail and eventual arrest last week of Lawal Kwali, a dreaded kidnap kingpin and 11 members of his gang in Niger State, operatives of the Inspector General of Police Special Anti-Kidnapping Squad have another unpleasant task to accomplish. They might be saddled with the responsibility of identifying the locations and exhuming the corpses of 19 victims murdered while being held hostage in Kwali’s den.
“I ordered the killing of 19 of my victims in separate instances, but I did not kill them personally. I usually gave directives on who to be killed. If I found out in the process of questioning my hostages that any one of them knew us or that the relatives cannot pay the ransom demanded, I ordered my boys to kill,” he confessed to a bemused team of police operatives.
He says of about 50 persons abducted by his gang before his recent arrest, 19 were killed and buried in shallow graves in a forest. “I have people whose job was to dig graves to bury dead victims,” he further revealed. His arrest came as a big relief for residents of the state, particularly those living in communities where he held sway.
For two years, the inhabitants of Erena and Alawa in Shiroro and Pandogari, Rafi Local Government Areas of the state had been under siege following the activities of Kwali, described by the police as a notorious kidnapper, and members of his gang. Within this period, they lived in frustration and fear of who would be the next victim of the gang. They abducted residents and killed with glee.
Age or sex was no factor, as Kwali and his men abducted anyone on sight and killed victims whose relatives failed to pay the ransom demanded.
In some cases, they killed victims who are acquainted to them even after collecting ransom from members of their family.
Zakari Mamman, aka Sarkin Yaka, which translates to chief slaughterer, was the main executioner of the gang, who killed victims as directed by the leader. “Before we kill any victim, we usually took directive from Lawal Kwali. He told us who to kill and how. Sometimes we slaughter; at other times, we just shoot the person to death,” he disclosed.
A 12-year-old boy and his father were among victims killed, and Mamman said that was an incident that stretched his beastly instincts to a limit. But he couldn’t challenge Kwali’s directives and had to murder them when nobody could pay the ransom to secure their freedom. “The man pleaded with us to leave the child and kill him but my boss refused. He said the two of them should be killed. We slaughtered the boy and shot his father.”
It was a pathetic scenario at the Niger State police command headquarters in Minna, the state capital, when Adama Umarin, a 54-year-old Fulani woman who hails from Erena, broke down in tears as the police whisked away Kwali and his gang members to Abuja without telling her the whereabouts of her son, Abubakar Umarin, suspected to have been abducted by the gang on October 6, 2017.
After spending months in Zamfara State where he had taken his cattle for grazing, Abubakar, aged 27, visited his two wives and five children he left at Erena, his community. Barely two days after, he was on his way to a local market when he was abducted. Since then, he has not been found despite several attempts by his mother to secure his release.
“When my son was abducted, I met Lawal Kwali and he told me it was his men that kidnapped him, and that I should provide a sum of N200,000 before he would be freed. I spent four days in his house begging him to tell me the whereabouts of my son and he kept assuring me that my son was alive, but that I must look for money and pay the ransom before they can release him,” his distraught mother narrated.
However, she thought Abubakar had been rescued when she learnt that Kwali and members of his gang had been arrested by the police. But it turned out to be a misplaced optimism when she dashed to the police headquarters and discovered that her son was nowhere in sight. Neither was she given a clue as to his whereabouts. When the kidnap kingpin eventually confessed to the murder of 19 of his hostages, she broke down in tears. She feared her son might be among the dead victims. “Up till now, I don’t know where my son is. I don’t know whether he is alive or not because nobody talks to me. I want the police to ask Lawal the whereabouts of my son,” she pleaded.
Her husband, Shehu Umarin, died three years ago when he was shot by suspected cattle rustlers. Abubakar is the only male child among her three children, and had taken charge of the 70 cattle he inherited from his late father. In 2016, he relocated to Zamfara State to evade the onslaught of cattle rustlers, but visited members of his family at intervals. Unfortunately, he fell victim to kidnappers on his last visit and his family couldn’t pay the sum of N200,000 demanded for his freedom.
20-year-old Bello Mohammed and his friend simply identified as Saidu were, however, lucky as their parents paid N350,000 on each of them to Kwali and members of his gang for their release.
“I was captured at Erena. He (Lawal) stopped me and asked if I know him and I said no. He said he is the Lawal Kwali and asked if I had N50,000 on me; I said no. Then, he said my friend, Saidu, and I should follow him and he immediately handcuffed us and led us into a bush. He called my father and asked him to bring N1 million but later my father paid N350,000. Saidu’s father also paid N350,000 before we were released about 8:30pm,” Mohammed recalled.
Residents of Shiroro, Alawa and Kagara communities went into wild jubilation last week after the police arrested Kwali and members of his gang. Apart from the 19 hostages killed, two policemen also lost their lives to the gang. The cops were killed when the gang invaded a police post at Alawa, Shiroro Local Government Area of the state, and set it ablaze. Earlier, the gang had stormed a mosque in the early hours of November 15, 2017, during which they abducted seven worshippers and took them to their den, where all of them were murdered after collecting N700,000 from each of their families.
Alarmed by the activities of Kwali and members of his gang, IGP Ibrahim Idris, who hails from the state, deployed a special crack squad to track them. Code-named ‘Operation Absolute Sanity’, the exercise yielded result as the blood-thirsty kidnap kingpin and his comrades-in-crime were reined in last week.