By Owei Lakemfa
THEY were tough times. The mid-1990s. Times when General Sani Abacha ruled with an iron fist, generals terrorised the populace and the military dictated at gun point. Times when critics like Chief Alfred Rewane and Mrs. Kudirat Abiola were despatched with bullets and the writer-environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa with a rope. They were the times when public and military buses were bombed, journalists and pro-democracy activists jailed for phantom coups and many patriots fled into exile.
I was then Editor of a national evening newspaper, TNT (Today’s News Today) and Lagos was the hot bed of popular opposition to military rule. So it was no surprise that the tough cop, Abubakar Tsav, the Police Commissioner Kano, Abacha’s home state, was redeployed to take charge of Lagos. He immediately went about trying to beat everybody into line, including the opposition and even policemen. But after a few weeks, there were wide jubilations at the State Police headquarters and a number of police stations and barracks based on a signal redeploying Tsav.
We had a good Crime Reporter, Owolola Adebola who went round capturing the mood of the policemen and interviewing some of them and we published it. But Tsav was retained and he sent his anti-robbery squad after us. They met me but I convinced them that I was not the editor, and escaped. So did Adebola. When the squad realised that they actually met me their prime target and had slipped through their hands, they became enraged packing whoever they found and eventually decided to detain the News Editor, Tokunbo Oloruntola and another staff, holding them as hostages, but I refused to hand in myself.
Tsav had first come to national attention when he investigated the murder of leading journalist, Dele Giwa who was killed by a parcel bomb in October 1986. He was convinced that top security officers in the Babangida regime carried out the murder, and had the courage to seek permission for their interrogation which was denied.
There were several bomb blasts, especially in public locations, including the Lagos airport. He, at a press conference on November 28, 1996, claimed that the bombings were being carried out by the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO and “Wole Soyinka’s National Liberation Council, NALICON”.
In the case of the late airport security chief, Dr. Sola Omotsola who was killed in a car bomb, Tsav said his men broke into his office immediately after the blast and found incriminating evidence, including a radio frequency counter and computer spare parts.
But the victim’s daughter, Omodele Omotsola challenged Tsav’s claims pointing out that the police had on November 15, 16, 17 and 18, 1996 searched her late father’s office more than four times and found nothing incriminating; so how come Tsav was two weeks after the blast claiming bomb-making equipment was found in her father’s office? She accused the regime of planting the so-called evidence.
Tsav When confronted with such evidence by the Newswatch Magazine (December 16, 1996 edition) Tsav said: “I have not entered that office once myself; as soon as the blast occurred, we assigned men to investigate the case; the first and second teams went in with bomb disposal experts and the police … they did not conduct a thorough search initially…but what really gave room for discovery of additional incriminating pieces of evidence was that when the police visited the office again they went with mine detectors, the mine detectors will find anything, and that was what allowed the police to get the additional information.” But NADECO Chairman, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin said Tsav lied: ”We have no agents of violence and in our demands we have been calling for dialogue.”
Three years later when he appeared before the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission (the Oputa Panel) Tsav admitted he lied against the opposition. He said the series of bombings in Lagos were by agents of General Sani Abacha, adding: “I believe the explosives were planted in Omotsola’s office by the SSS (State Security Services).” He also revealed that the then Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Coomasie ordered people arrested, especially for bombing without any evidence of wrongdoing.
On the state murder of the journalist, Bagauda Kaltho and the claim by Abacha’s terrorist chief, Deputy Commissioner of Police Hassan Zakari Biu that a man who died on January 18, 1996, in the Durbar Hotel, Kaduna bomb blast was Kaltho, Tsav said: “Everything he (Biu) is saying is not true. I mean the evidence he gave in respect of Bagauda Kaltho. He said he got photographs from the wife of Bagauda Kaltho. He also said he got reports from the SSS through the Inspector General of Police, which said the person who was killed in the bomb blast at the Durbar Hotel was Bagauda Kaltho. “And he said that he never met Bagauda anywhere in his life. Then how could he come to that conclusion that the man killed was Bagauda Kaltho? He merely saw his pictures. He should be in prison. As far as I’m concerned, he is a prisoner on parole.”
Tsav saw the military as a problem: “Soldiers now commit crime, and behave as if they are above arrest, whereas soldiers are supposed to be subject to civil authority… After the (1966) coup, the military destroyed the police, and from then became law unto themselves.”
On the police from whose loins he was produced, Tsav argued: “Our problem in this country is the Nigeria Police Force, it is not the government. If you like, give the police the Central Bank, give the police a general assembly plant, give them all the communication outfits, they will still not perform.”
On insecurity, he argued that: “Banditry and insecurity are created by politicians and the politicians know who the bandits are. They know why these people are doing this. If the police are courageous enough to search houses and monitor activities of politicians, you will see what they will recover from them.” Despite growing distrust, mass dissatisfaction and disenchantment with the Buhari administration, Tsav believed: “Buhari is the best person to lead Nigeria now. He is incorruptible, and his war against corruption has been exposing looters” adding that the only drawback is that “he is too slow, and some of his aides are corrupt.” On Monday June 8, 2020, he took his eternal bow. Tsav was a nationalist who lacked the theory of a patriot; a tough cop who did not understand the uses of state power; a loyalist which made him susceptible to manipulations; a moralist with predisposition for social justice but whose grasp of power relations found him sometimes in the camp of dictators. He was, instinctively, a good man.