Five Nigerian soldiers have been declared wanted by the Nigerian Army after they absconded with a large amount of cash owned by a 'VIP' (Very Important Personality).
Nigerian Army insiders told PREMIUM TIMES the victim of the robbery is Hakeem Otiki, the general officer commanding, 8 Division of the Army, based in Sokoto. The officer could not be reached for comments Sunday morning.
Sources said the soldiers were detailed on July 11 by Mr Otiki, a major general leading the military operation against bandits in Nigeria's troubled Northwest, to escort huge cash to Abuja. The source of the money and exactly where it was being taken to in Abuja remained unclear.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that after they escorted the cash from Sokoto to the Nigerian Army airstrip in Jaji, Kaduna State, the soldiers refused to load the money into a military jet that was supposed to airlift it to Abuja. They had conveyed the cash from Sokoto to Jaji in a convoy of a Toyota Hilux truck and a Buffalo gun truck.
The VIP (said to be Mr Otiki) was said to be in the white Toyota truck while the soldiers were in the gun truck during the roughly 400 kilometres journey.
According to our sources, on arrival at Jaji, the five uniformed men -- two corporals and three lance corporals -- connived amongst themselves to share the cash. They then deserted military service, sources said.
"They also removed all their uniforms and abandoned their rifles in the vehicles at the air strip in Jaji," a top military source with details of the incident told PREMIUM TIMES.
It was not immediately clear how much the cash was, but military sources estimated it ran into billions.
The spokespersons for the Nigerian Army Headquarters in Abuja and the 8 Division Headquarters in Sokoto were not immediately available for comments when reached by PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday morning.
A familiar terrain
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the soldiers were detailed from the Nigerian Army Infantry Corps Centre, Jaji, where Mr Otiki was once a commander. He moved them to Sokoto when he was transferred to head the 8 Division in March.
A military source said the soldiers have long been monitoring the activities of their superiors based on the functions they had delegated to them in the past.
"But after spending a long time handling transactions for them (senior officers) while they (soldiers) remained in penury, they decided to take their destiny into their own hands with the latest opportunity," one officer told PREMIUM TIMES.
"The soldiers acted in a breach of trust. However, this is the outcome of soldiers seeing huge financial transactions being carried out by their principal but were not taken care of financially themselves."
"The soldiers have decided to abandon military work in order to settle down with the money."
The officers provided the details to PREMIUM TIMES under anonymity to avoid jeopardising their careers because military authorities did not want the public to know about the latest scandalous development.
Military sources identified the five soldiers to PREMIUM TIMES as Gabriel Oluwaniyi, a corporal; Mohammed Aminu, a corporal; Commander Haruna, a lance corporal; Oluji Joshua, a lance corporal; and Hayatudeen Abubakar, a lance corporal.
An aggressive manhunt has been launched to track them down and escort them back to their base for prosecution.
Their last known locations have been identified with geolocation equipment, a source said.
The Army had also commenced efforts to freeze their bank accounts amidst the manhunt.