Excerpts of a press briefing by Sen. Ahmed Khalifa Zanna (PDP, Borno Central), whose nephew was arrested by the military in Maiduguri last week for alleged membership of the militant Boko Haram sect. Zanna was a businessman before he ventured into politics, eventually winning the 2011 senatorial election after beating the then outgoing Governor Ali Modu Sheriff of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP)
I am sure you know about the story going round in the country or in the world about Boko Haram issue or security issue in Nigeria. The current story emanated from JTF. It is actually as a result of an interview which I carried out on BBC last week, asking for their (JTF) withdrawal from the state because they are not working according to the rules of engagement. I noticed that they are just killing innocent people, detaining them unnecessarily, harassing the public, extorting money; all these have been going on and I became so concerned, and particularly the killing and burning of houses became an order of the day. At least 300 hundred houses were burnt within the last one and half months. And it will not be an exaggeration for me to say that up to 500 people were being killed by the bullets of JTF.
I called for their recall because even the Boko Haram cannot do more than that. If they have come to protect us they are not supposed to be humiliating our young ones. Most of the people affected are the young ones. According to the information that I got, even yesterday, they have started even killing old men. Somebody who was about 70 was killed. He was sitting down listening to the radio and JTF now came and they said, “Baba, come.” So, they just took him to a certain distance and they shot him. This is the type of thing that has been happening in this country, particularly in the north.
So, my people are helpless and they don’t know where to run to. When they are ejected out of their houses they go to another place and tomorrow they (JTF) will go to that place and then start harassing the same people; so, people are just moving around with their luggage on their heads all the time. So, that warranted me to react.
For that, on Thursday they went to my house. I was in Warri at that time; I went for an oversight function. My wife called me and said, “The army people are at our gate.” Actually they went with four armoured vehicles; about 40 of them were taken to my house. They searched all the rooms and when they went to the children’s room they broke their cupboards, searched everywhere. When they couldn’t find anything they assembled all the boys in my premises, took them out and put them under the scorching sun of Maiduguri, and before doing that they beat them up; we had to take them to hospital later.
Under this traumatized condition they now asked them whether they knew one Shu’aibu Bama. They said, “Of course, we know.”
“Where is he living?”
One of them volunteered to go and show them where he lives. As they were going, when they were about to reach the house, they stopped, before they blindfolded the boy, they stopped and one of the officers asked the other army personnel to come down so that they should follow him to the house, without the boy showing them where the house is. As they started going the other officer sitting down asked him, “If you know the house why should we pick this boy?” So, an argument ensued between them and after some argument they went to the house and arrested the boy it was in Rabi Street, where the house is located and then the house belongs to Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
I reacted because they said a serving senator and on Damboa Road. I am the only senator who lives in that street. I really don’t understand why they did all these things. I am confused. And if they want to frame me up, they have failed in that one because they did not get that boy in my house, so, I have nothing to answer for that. Let them go and ask the person where the boy stays, the person who owns that house. They shouldn’t have mentioned my house. I saw even NTA going to video the house yesterday when they did not even report what was happening in Maiduguri. They have never reported all these killings, never. When the Boko Haram is being killed that is what they are going to report, but killing the innocent people they have never reported that.
That is why I said let me disabuse your minds on what they said and what I have said is from the bottom of my heart. It is the truth.
Actually what is happening in Maiduguri is beyond anybody’s imagination. It has never happened in this world, in this our current world; even in Afghanistan it has never happened. I seek your indulgence to tell the world the truth.
Is Bama really your nephew?
Yes he is. He is my sister’s son.
Has he ever lived with you?
Yes. He came to my house, when his behaviour… Actually he is a drug addict; he beat up my children, he abused my wife, I sent him away.
When was that?
That was a long time ago, almost about a year. And for whatever reason I don’t know he came to my house once last week and I told my wife that he should leave the house immediately.
Since he is your sister’s son, did you ask your sister if she knew the lifestyle of her son and try to dissuade the boy from his way of life?
Actually he is a drug addict, as I told you; some time ago he even threatened to kill the mother. So, the mother is not even comfortable living with him. She narrated that to me and so that is why I don’t want him to come near me.
Did you know him to be a member of Boko Haram?
I didn’t know him to be a member of Boko Haram. I knew him to be a drug addict.
Have you been contacted by the security people over this?
No, no contact at all.
And your phone lines have been open?
They’re open. It’s only this morning I saw a text message that the SSS DG wants to see me tomorrow.
SSS DG in Abuja?
What do you suspect is going on?
What I am suspecting is that they wanted to frame me up for telling the truth.
How do you know that that house where they got the boy belongs to the former governor?
It is a known house to everybody around that area. Before it belonged to one Cameroonian and later he sold it to late Tijjani Banki and Sheriff bought it from Tijjani Banki.
Do you see the hand of Sheriff in all this?
I wouldn’t know. I don’t know why the boy is there and then suddenly last week he’s appearing in my house.
Is there any relationship between you and Senator Ali Modu Sherif?
I defeated him in the race hands down. No relationship at all. He has never won election.
What is your take on Boko Haram?
There are different types of Boko Haram. The political Boko Haram is there, that is the Sheriff own. And that is why I don’t take my security lightly. The actual Boko Haram are there. And then there are some who are chipping in and claiming to be Boko Haram, harassing people and extorting money from people. Actually all these killings of today…..the army people went to my house, some Boko Haram went to one of my aides’ house, not Boko Haram per se but those robbers, they went to his place and said, “Senator sent N1.5 million to you to distribute for rams, so, where is the money?” Truly I sent N1 million that day. And he said, “You know it was not given to me but somebody else and that person has bought the rams and distributed”. They ransacked his house and they were able to get about N250,000. They collected the money and said, “Tell Senator he should give us N10 million.” It was the same day the army went to my house. This happened around 8 o’clock and the army went there around 10.
Why do you think they want to frame you up?
You know, I am more prominent than any of those people, because I am a sitting senator, so they cannot take this lightly.
The chief security officer, that is the governor, said he will not be able to guarantee the security of anybody. Why?
Let me tell you one thing. The chief security officer that you are talking about is not the actual governor. Ali Modu Sheriff is the governor. When Sheriff is sitting on a chair, that man (Governor Shettima) cannot sit on a chair, he will sit down on the floor! Take, for example, the deputy governor went to a site where some people were killed and he was walking in the midst of public and he condemned what happened and later on when he came back, Sheriff now told him to revise his statement.
Who told you?
He said it, he said they are not corpses but they are sleeping. He said it on radio. In terms of giving welfare to the people, it is zero. I don’t know where the money is going; they are just sharing the money, whatever Sheriff does with the money, that is it.
I said the JTF should withdraw if they are not going to engage themselves according to the rules of engagement. They are not there to kill people; they are there to counter the insurgence of Boko Haram.
Do you see a link between what is happening to you and what happened to Senator Mohammed Ndume?
Of course, Mohammed was also framed. But my own is very clear, a very clear frame-up, the difference is that my own is known to everybody, it is open, unlike Ndume’s own where the telephone numbers of Boko Haram members were found and this and that.
Had there been any bad blood between you and your main opponent, Sheriff, which climaxed into what is happening now?
Of course, I have bad blood between me and the man I defeated. He is so bitter and he wants me to be hanged anytime. And I used to also call his name in various interviews and say that he is the architect of Boko Haram. It’s very clear.
Do you have any proof of this allegation?
In order to suppress information, he was the one who directed the police to kill Mohammed Yusuf. So, what evidence do I need more than that?
Did the JTF hold your children?
They did not. Actually, some are my guards, some are watchmen, one of them is my brother’s son and the other two are my wife’s brothers. The very boy who led them to that house is my neighbour’s son. They have been released. They called my wife to identify them and she came to identify them.