20 January 2012

Nigeria: CP Zakari Biu - Down, Up and Down Again


Controversy, bomb blast, Zakari Biu; does that all too sound familiar?

In the dark days of General Sani Abacha's regime, when this country had several episodes of bombs exploding in public places, the name of Zakari Biu, then a swash-buckling Assistant Police Commissioner, came into the limelight. He was the head of the police Anti-Terrorist Squad, which in those days was said to be in charge of preventing terrorist acts by opponents of the regime.

The Abacha regime's main enemies were members of the National Democratic Coalition [NADECO], who were campaigning for the revalidation [they called it "actualisation"] of the June 12, 1993 election which was annulled by the Babangida regime. General Abacha inherited this problem when he overthrew Chief Ernest Shonekan's interim National Government [ING] in November 1993. At first the pro-June 12 forces were convinced that Abacha will hand over to Chief Moshood Abiola, but when that did not happen, street protests resumed, mostly in the South West. After the regime cracked down on the protesters, some of its leaders fled into exile and matters soon took a violent turn.

The incident that first brought Zakari Biu into the limelight was the January 1996 bombing incident at Kaduna's now closed Durbar Hotel. A small bomb exploded in the public toilet on the hotel's ground floor and the corpse of a man was soon found there. The dead man had with him a few belongings, including Wole Soyinka's book The Man Died, which he had just bought at the hotel's bookshop near the reception desk.

Many thought the man may have been an innocent victim of the bomb, but the police soon said he was the suspected bomber, and that the bomb went off prematurely as he trying to assemble it. Around that time, the family of pro-June 12 journalist Mr. Bagauda Kaltho reported him as missing and said they suspected the security agencies of having abducted him.

About a month after the hotel episode though, then ACP Zakari Biu, who headed the investigation, announced that the dead man found at the hotel was Bagauda Kaltho and that he was the bomber. There were some doubts because the bomb had blown off the man's face and those who saw it said it was unrecognizable. Kaltho's family also insisted that he was somewhere in police or SSS custody, but the government continued to deny it. This matter featured prominently at the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission in 2001, at which the Kaltho family again accused the police of abducting and killing Bagauda Kaltho, but Zakari Biu and the police maintained their innocence.

Another Abacha-era episode in which Zakari Biu featured prominently was the explosion at the car park of the Murtala Mohamed International Airport, Lagos. The airport's Chief Security Officer, Dr. Sola Omatshola, was killed in the explosion. The anti-terrorist squad said Omatshola was a NADECO bomber, a charge vehemently denied by his family members and colleagues.

After Abacha's death, Zakari Biu run into trouble in the police, and at the start of the Obasanjo era in 1999, he was dismissed from the police. For the next 11 years, he quietly fought for his reinstatement and sometime in 2010, the Police Service Commission restored him to the force and promoted him to Commissioner of Police. By then, Biu's mate Hafiz Ringim had become the Inspector General. What role, if any, Ringim played in his reinstatement is not publicly known.

Biu was in the news again in October 2010 for a personal tragedy. His son, Tahir Zakari Biu, an EFCC agent, was killed by the bombs that rocked Abuja on the day of the 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations.

CP Zakari Biu was the head of investigation at the Police Zone 7 headquarters, Abuja last Saturday when Kabiru Sokoto, the suspected mastermind of the Christmas Day church bombing at Madallah, was captured and brought in. The investigation was handed over to Biu. In what has already become the biggest embarrassment to the Nigeria Police in a long time, Kabiru Sokoto escaped while being conveyed to his house at Abaji in the Federal Capital Territory. Biu was immediately suspended by Inspector General Hafiz Ringim, but an incensed President Jonathan is now threatening to sack Ringim too if Kabiru Sokoto is not re-arrested by Thursday night.

In the wake of this episode, many questions are now agitating the minds of observers. The suspicion now is whether Zakari Biu, Ringim himself or any other people in the police have Boko Haram sympathies and had arranged for the suspect to escape. Ringim can however point to the fact that he was the target of the massive Boko Haram suicide bomb blast at the Force Headquarters last June.

As for CP Zakari Biu, there are some unfortunate coincidences. He is a native of Borno State, the apparent nerve center of the Boko Haram sect. Although Boko Haram's most murderous activities were centered on Maiduguri and its environs, Biu town in southern Borno State has received a fair share of shooting and robbery incidents. It is one of the five local governments in Borno State in which a state of emergency was clamped on New Year's eve. One of the town's most prominent natives, the late Ambassador Sa'idu Pindar, was also implicated by the SSS of complicity with the captured former Boko Haram spokesman Ali Umar Konduga, alias Al-Zawahiri.

Incidentally, CP Zakari Biu was due to retire from the police next month having attained the mandatory retirement age of 60. But first, he must clear his name from this sordid episode of the escape of a very high-value bombing suspect in his custody.

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