A 29-year-old native of Gombe State, Musa Maidabara, had spent just six years in the Nigerian Army. But he saw his chance of becoming rich one afternoon.
That day, in company with two friends, a fellow soldier, Edwin George and Ernest Anthony, they stole two large sacks filled with cash from an acquaintance.
Unknown to them, the bags contained the ransom paid for the release of Margaret, the wife of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, who was kidnapped in September 2016.
At the time, the police announced few hours after the release of the woman from captivity that two soldiers had been arrested by the Inspector-General of Police Response Team in connection with the case.
Maidabara, a graduate of Quantity Survey from the Nigerian Army Institute of Technology and Environmental Studies, Benue State, enlisted in the Army in 2010 and prior to his dismissal in January 2017, he was posted to 3 Division, Jos, Plateau State.
Maidabara claimed that his friend, Anthony, a taxi driver, invited him to celebrate the 2016 Independence Day with him in Benin, Edo State.
He said, “I called one of my friends, George, who also attended the same Nigeria Army Institute of Technology and Environmental Studies serving in Maiduguri, Borno State, to follow me to Benin so we could celebrate Independence together.
“When we got to Benin, Ernest said that one of his friends gave him a large amount of money to escort him out of a bush. He even showed me the money.
“George and I put on our uniforms and asked him to take us to the man. When we got there, the man (identified only as Mohammed) was looking very dirty, he was carrying a bag. His companion also came out of the bush with another bag. They asked us to help them and I told them that I could not carry both of them.
“So, Mohammed’s friend offered us money to help him to carry his bag and he asked Mohammed to keep the bag for him. We then took Mohammed and the two bags out of the bush, while on our way, I asked Mohammed why he was looking so dirty and he said we shouldn’t worry that he would explain everything to us.”
Mohammed was described as a cattle dealer based in Benin.
Maidabara claimed that Mohammed begged them to take him to a shop where he could get some new clothes.
But while Mohammed left them in the car to buy clothes in a store, Maidabara and his three friends conspired and zoomed off with the two bags of cash in the car. According to him, it was Anthony’s suggestion.
He said, “Ernest (Anthony) said it was our opportunity to get rich because he suspected that the money was stolen. We drove down to Delta State and shared the money. I took my share to my brother’s house in Onitsha and hid it there.
Maidabara and Ernest said their parents live in Gombe State. They were planning to travel there when they were arrested.
The police tracked them down through one of Ernest’s girlfriends, Saturday PUNCH learnt.
She was said to have called that she wanted to see him, unknown to him, operatives of the IRT had laid in ambush for him.
Anthony, a Delta State indigene and father of three, said he picked Mohammed as a passenger while plying Benin as a taxi driver.
According to him, during the course of the journey, Mohammed discovered he could speak Hausa well by virtue of the fact that he grew up in Gombe State.
He claimed that Mohammed warmed up to him and even told him about his booming cattle trade.
Ernest said, “He requested my phone number and said he would like to use me as his taxi driver whenever he was in Benin City.
“He called me on October 1, 2016 around 6.20am to come and pick him somewhere around Bypass in Benin City. At that time, I was already expecting Maidababara, my friend serving in Benue.
“I met him and he asked me to take him to his house in Upper Sakpomba area of Benin. I told him I could not because I was expecting my friend from Makurdi. Before I knew what, he handed me a huge amount of money which I didn’t count, but I suspected that the money was close to N2m.
“I was scared when he gave me the money because I saw another bag containing a large amount of money. I zoomed off in fear. When I got home, I met Maidababara and one of his friends, George, and I explained everything to them.”
Ernest claimed that while he was at home, Mohammed called again and pleaded with him to come and pick him.
At this point, Maidababara reportedly asked to speak with Mohammed over the phone and identified himself as a soldier.
Ernest stated, “We decided to go and meet Mohammed. When we got to his location, Maidababara asked me to remain in the vehicle and he went out to meet Mohammed and other members of his gang.
“Maidababara only allowed Mohammed to enter the vehicle and we drove to Agbor where he said he wanted to buy a new cloth.
“After we fled with the two bags of money, we shared the money and got N6.5m each. The next day, I went to buy a Honda car for N1.5m in Onitsha and bought household appliances for N200,000.
“But I was with one of my girlfriends when I was arrested in Benin. I swear I did not know the money was from the kidnap of the wife of the CBN governor. But it was when I was arrested that I knew about it. I thought Mohammed stole it.”
George on the other hand said he thought they were stealing the proceeds of Mohammed’s cattle business.
He said he also bought a car for N1.5m from his share.
“My conscience troubled me. It was when I was arrested that I knew that the money was from kidnapping,” he said.
The police have said the suspects would be charged to court soon.