•Saraki to send written response Tuesday after U-turn by police over firestorm
•Offa community warns, Nigerians polarised over issue
Deji Elumoye, Omololu Ogunmade, Senator Iroegbu, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja, Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos and Hammed Shittu in Ilorin
Following the invitation extended by the police to Senate President Bukola Saraki to report at one of its offices in Abuja to respond to allegations levelled against him over his purported involvement in the Offa bank robberies, members of the defunct new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) bloc of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Monday withdrew from the reconciliatory talks with the presidency and the ruling party.
This is just as Saraki accepted to send a written explanation to the police over the allegation linking him to the armed robberies, which led to deaths of 33 persons in Offa, Kwara State last April.
The Senate President’s decision to respond to the police in writing, came after they backtracked on their demand that the Senate President reports to the Force Intelligence Response Team office at Guzape, Abuja, to answer to the allegations levelled against him by the five suspected gang leaders of the Offa robberies and 17 other suspects.
Instead, the police, following the firestorm and pressure mounted on the Inspector General of Police (IG) Ibrahim Idris, sent a letter to Saraki asking him to provide an explanation in writing within 48 hours over his alleged involvement with some of “his political boys”.
The nPDP was scheduled to hold the second round of talks with the presidency and the APC leadership Monday to look into their complaints and to find ways of addressing them.
Monday’s peace meeting was to be attended by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (APC) and Deputy National Chairman (North) of the APC, Senator Lawan Shuaibu, while members of nPDP were to be led by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
However, the meeting failed to hold after the leadership of nPDP boycotted it blaming its action on the alleged “bad faith” exhibited by the presidency and the leadership of the ruling party.
The chairman of the nPDP group, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, in a statement, said the group could not continue negotiations in a “fouled and toxic atmosphere and environment of intimidation and threat to life”.
The nPDP bloc of the APC recalled that there had been ongoing talks between its members, the APC and the presidency in recent days.
It also recalled that a team from the nPDP led by Dogara and four others, were to meet with Osinbajo Monday.
“However, while we are truly and earnestly committed to achieving reconciliation, harmony, truce and cohesion in the APC as we approach the 2019 general election, it appears that the presidency is not interested in the talks and that they may have been negotiating in bad faith.
“We were alarmed that immediately after our meeting with the vice-president last week, the presidency misrepresented what transpired at the meeting by trying to blackmail some of the principal actors involved in the discussions in a national daily.
“Similarly, the leadership of the party (APC) went ahead to ratify all the congresses from wards, local governments, states and zonal where many of our members have complaints, effectively presenting us with a fait accompli,” Kawu said.
In an apparent reference to Saraki’s travails with the police, Kawu went on to state that the persecution of nPDP members using state security apparatus had continued unabated.
“We recognise the powers of the police to conduct criminal investigations, but by rushing to the public with the issue even when they have unfettered access to the leadership of the National Assembly suggests an attempt to undermine, caricature and humiliate the institution of the legislature.
“It appears that there is a fouled and toxic atmosphere and environment of intimidation and threat to life in which we now find ourselves, which may no longer be conducive for members of the former nPDP to continue with the talks.
“Given the unfolding events in the last 24 hours, where the President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, the executive governor of Kwara State, both of whom attended the meeting with the vice-president on Monday 28 May, 2018, have suddenly been accused of sponsoring an armed robbery by the police under the directives of the presidency.
“Similarly, on Saturday, June 2nd, 2018, the Department of State of Services (DSS) also suddenly withdrew more than half of all the security detail attached to the presiding officers of the National Assembly under questionable circumstances.
“The nPDP leadership has decided to brief our members on the unfortunate development and get a fresh mandate if good faith returns to the discussions,” he said.
Osinbajo Meets AGF, Others
But even as the nPDP withdrew from their meeting with the presidency and APC leadership, Osinbajo Monday met with Malami, the Police IG, and the Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, at the State House, Abuja.
The meeting, which was held behind closed doors, was preceded by an earlier meeting of Osinbajo and Malami with President Muhammadu Buhari.
After Osinbajo and Malami left the president’s office, they were joined by the IG and DSS DG in the vice-president’s office.
There was speculation in the State House that the meeting may have been connected to the allegation levelled against Saraki over the robbery incident in Offa. But there was no official confirmation from the presidency in this regard.
After the meeting, the trio of Malami, Idris and Daura did not grant any interview. Instead, the IG referred journalists to the ADC of the vice-president for information on the meeting.
However, earlier Monday the Nigeria Police made a dramatic U-turn over their invitation issued to Saraki on Sunday over his alleged link to the bank robberies in Offa.
In a letter to Saraki through his ADC, Superintendent of Police Usman Dungunzu, the police denied asking him to appear before any of its divisions, commands or stations for questioning.
This contrasted with the statement by the spokesman of the Police Force, Moshood Jimoh who on Sunday said: “The Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki is being invited by the Nigeria Police Force to report to the Force Intelligence Response Team office at Guzape, Abuja, to answer to the allegations levelled against him from the confessions of the five gang leaders, namely: Ayoade Akinnibosun, Ibukunle Ogunleye, Adeola Abraham, Salawudeen Azeez, Niyi Ogundiran, and some of the other 17 suspects arrested for direct involvement and active participation in the Offa bank robberies and the gruesome killing of 33 innocent persons including some pregnant women and nine police personnel.”
But the police, in a four-paragraph letter to Saraki sent through his ADC Monday, only asked him to respond to the allegations in writing and not to appear in person.
One source informed THISDAY that Saraki had sent his ADC to pick up the letter of invitation so that he could honour the invitation of the police.
According to the source, “The Senate President sent his ADC to the police headquarters to collect the formal letter of invitation, after which Saraki was to go there to honour the invitation. But instead he was given a four-paragraph letter asking for a written explanation.
“In the letter, the police claimed that they did not ask Saraki to come to the police station but he should write a statement of all he knows about the robbery. That he is to write what he knows of the robberies and submit his statement within 48 hours.”
Confirming this, Saraki in a Twitter post Monday said he had directed his “ADC to get the letter of invitation from @PoliceNG in respect of the allegations raised yesterday (Sunday) — so that I can immediately honour the alleged invitation”.
“Following my earlier tweet, I have received the letter from @PoliceNG. They are no longer asking me to appear at any station, but to respond in writing to the allegations within 48 hours — which I plan to do,” he said later in another post.
THISDAY learnt that the Senate President’s response to the police was being prepared Monday and his ADC would present the response to the Force Headquarters before close of work Tuesday.
Further, findings also revealed that the police were yet to carry out their reported threat to withdraw Saraki’s security aides.
Sources informed THISDAY that all the police officers attached to the Senate President were still with him, but the DSS had reduced their personnel attached to Saraki from 15 to nine.
Confession of Gang Leader
THISDAY Monday was also able to lay its hands on a transcript of the confession made by the suspected gang leader of the Offa robberies, Ayoade Akinnibosun.
According to his statement made to the police, he said his nickname was AY and he identified himself as the chairman of the Liberation Youth Movement in Kwara South.
“My involvement with the Senate President, we are his boys! We work for him in Kwara South; we are the ones that hold Kwara South for him.
“We have three senatorial districts in Kwara State – we have Kwara South, Kwara North and Kwara Central. There are some people in Kwara North, there are some people in Kwara Central.
“We have been working for him since when we were in the Peoples Democratic Party, it has been long, when he was governor of Kwara State,” he informed his interrogator.
Question: When you say you work for him what is the nature of the work you do for him?
We are the ones that do political arrangement for him, for example were we can’t win, we make ‘dabaru’ (Yoruba for spoil) arrangement there. We scatter elections if we don’t win.
Questions: What is the connection between you and the Senate President and the armed robbery?
The connection between me and the Senate President is that he is the one that is arranging everything for us. For example, this car was given to me by His Excellency, Governor Fatai Ahmed, through the chief of staff as a gift from the leader Bukola Saraki.
Question: What has the Offa robbery got to do with Bukola Saraki, does it have any link with Bukola Saraki?
I participated in the Offa robbery, I took this Lexus car to Offa.
Question: We want to know the link; did the Senate President and governor encourage you people to be stealing and killing people in Kwara?
The Senate President and governor of Kwara State we have been their political thugs so that was what encouraged us to do what we were doing.
Question: How did you get this weapon?
It was through one retired policeman, Michael Adiku, he was the one that came with this ammunition.
Question: Describe the robbery.
That faithful day, it was me, this man sitting beside men here, the five of us, I came to join them at Ajasse Ipo, then we took off to Offa. On getting there, me I now positioned everybody. Me I stood at that Total fuelling station junction, on getting there we now met that Michael, that dismissed police officer. He came down from one Audi, there was a Nissan parked in front of us, he came down from the Audi and removed guns from the Nissan – five AK47s and gave it to us, and I shared it between the five of us inside our Benz.
Question: Back to this question again were the state governor or Bukola Saraki aware of the robbery before you went for it, did they send you?
They did not send us to the robbery but because we are their political thug that was what led us to that robbery.
Question: Who gave you the two guns for the political thuggery?
It is the chief of staff to Abdulfatai Ahmed, the Kwara State governor, Abdulwahab that gave us the guns, the chief of state was not aware of the robbery.
Offa Community Warns Police
Meanwhile, the people of Offa in Kwara State have dismissed the allegations by the police linking Saraki to the incident. They also warned the police against implicating him.
Similarly, a coalition of Kwara youths under the aegis of the Kwara Agenda, asked the federal government and the Nigeria Police to stop politicising the Offa robbery incident.
Also, elders of Ajikobi Central Ward in the Ilorin West Local Government Area where Saraki hails from, said that they received with shock the invitation of the Senate President by the police in respect to the unfortunate Offa armed robbery attacks.
The people of Offa comprising youths, market women, artisans had besieged the palace of the traditional ruler of Offa, the Olofa of Offa, Oba Mufutau Gbadamosi Esuwoye 1, Monday to protest against the persecution of Saraki over the bank robberies in the town.
The youths came with placards stating: “We are one with Saraki in Offa,” “Don’t politicise Offa robbery,” “Baba IGP, this is too much for our leader,” “Saraki is the leader in Kwara,” “Offa robbery cannot be used to settle political scores.”
Speaking with journalists at the palace of the Olofa, their leader, Mr. Peter Kayode, said the current scenario was unacceptable and uncalled for.
He said it was inconceivable that the Senate President could be linked with the armed robbery in Offa community, being the first dignitary that paid a condolence visit to the community after the tragedy.
He also applauded Saraki for the important role he played to quickly facilitate the release of an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) to the community to beef up security in the area.
While urging the police authorities to stop playing politics with the incident, he warned that thousands of Kwara youths including secondary school pupils would trek from Ilorin to Abuja in protest over the incident.
Responding, the traditional ruler said: “What has happened we leave to God, but we don’t want the innocent to be punished. We want the police to go after the real culprits.”
Represented by the Ojomu of Offa, Chief Bayo Akinola, the traditional ruler said the police must only fish out those that were involved in the incident rather than trying to implicate innocent persons.
According to him, “The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki was one of the first government functionaries that paid a condolence visit to Offa and even made promises to the town and has fulfilled the promises to us, so we don’t believe that he can be involved in such act.
“The Nigeria Police Force should ensure that those allegedly involved should be made to face the full wrath of the law and not use the issue to make any political point.”
Also, the elders of Ajikobi Central, in a statement signed by their coordinator, Alhaji Salihu AbdulWahab Agbaji, said: “It is illogical and unthinkable that the Senate President and the political leader of Kwara State will ask bandits to kill the citizens that he leads.
“The plot against our son is as a result of his growing popularity across the country, a situation which is making some of his political rivals uncomfortable. We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently call the Inspector General of Police to order so as to allow our hard earned democracy to blossom.”
Despite the overwhelming support Saraki got from his home state, the police summon and allegation levelled against him pitted several Nigerians against one another.
While those in support of the Senate President tagged it a witch-hunt, others opined that there should be no sacred cow when it comes to crime and its consequences.