Dateline: September 25, 2011. Nigerians were treated to a theatre of the absurd when the police High Command raised the alarm that a self-confessed kingpin of the Boko Haram Islamist sect, which held the nation by the jugular, had surreptitiously slipped out of custody.
Shockingly, the same man is today the head of Benue State local security agency called Livestock Guards.
His arrest and escape from police custody
While initially keeping the identity of the agency under wraps, the police had said it officially handed over the suspect, Alhaji Ali Teshaku, to a sister security agency via a memo by the then Inspector General of police, Hafiz Ringim, dated July 7, 2011. The police further claimed that the action was based on a formal letter from the unnamed sister agency dated June 27, 2011, which requested release of the suspect to it.
Olusola Amore, the Force Public Relations Officer at the time, explained that the IGP acceded to the request in the spirit of intelligence sharing as is customary in security circles, but was quick to add that the identity of the sister agency concerned would not be given in the national interest.
However, fingers were pointed at the direction of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), whose erstwhile chief, Major General Babagana Munguno (retd), the incumbent National Security Adviser (NSA), reportedly made the request and eventually took over custody of Teshaku from the police. But all the military intelligence chiefs at the time denied having anything to do with the suspect.
In a curious twist of events, the DIA eventually admitted taking custody of the suspect from the police after writing a formal request, but claimed it encountered several obstacles in the process, which were surmounted with the intervention of a former NSA, late General Owoye Azazi, who prevailed on Ringim to release the suspected terrorist kingpin to Monguno.
Interestingly, Teshaku was said to have opened up on the activities of Boko Haram to the DIA and claimed to have revealed same to the police authorities. Reports further indicated that both the then NSA and Chief of Defence Staff [CDS] were notified by the DIA on its encounter with the suspect before he was returned to police custody.
But Nigerians were bemused shortly thereafter, when the DIA reportedly asked for the suspect to be released to it a second time for further investigation, but was allegedly turned down. It was, indeed, a high drama as the police authorities vehemently denied the allegation that Teshaku had been returned to its custody after he was handed over, talk less of receiving a second request for his release to the DIA.
Expectedly, the claims, counter claims and denials between the security agencies were further compounded by reports of the DIA’s eventual admission of taking custody of the suspect at a point in time from the police, and it became a source of concern and embarrassment to the presidency, which ordered a probe into the incident.
Nothing was heard since then about him besides a joint press conference held at the Defence Headquarters to douse public suspicion of mutual distrust and rivalry amongst security agencies. While Hafiz Ringim, the IGP at the time declined comments on the issue when contacted recently on telephone, former police spokesman, Olusola Amore, a retired commissioner of police, gave an insight into the squabble between the police and DIA.
“Let me flashback because I can actually remember now since you said it was that issue that led to conflict between us and the DIA. I know the DSS were also involved, but instead of them handing over the suspect back to us, all we saw was the suspect making some allegations against the police. And we said well, we still believe that the suspect would be returned to us because we transferred the suspect in the spirit of inter-agency collaboration. So, there is no way they would release the suspect without returning the suspect to the police. That was the conflict.
The suspect was arrested by the police in connection with Boko Haram and handed over to the DIA. I think it was the DIA because I was later invited for a joint conference at the Defence Headquarters and the Defence Intelligence Agency, all of us were there. I just sat there, but I didn’t talk. But I said at that meeting that we still believed the suspect is with the DIA, and would be handed over to us. In fact, I didn’t want to go but the DIA was boxed into a corner and they wanted a face-saving press conference. So they wanted the PROs of all security organizations to be there. Sincerely, I didn’t want to go but later, they got in touch with Ringim (IGP); so Ringim said I should go but shouldn’t say a word there. So I attended”, Amore said last week in a telephone chat.
Re-emergence after seven years
Seven years after, the dust over the suspect’s whereabouts seemed to have settled. But a mention of the suspect’s name during an interview last month with Garus Gololo, coordinator of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) triggered an alarm in the reporter’s memory. Gololo had alleged that Ali Teshaku, presently the commander of the Livestock Guards in Benue State, an outfit created by the state government with the enactment of its anti-open grazing law, was a suspected Boko Haram leader engaged to terrorize Fulani herders and evict them from the state.
Tahav Agerzua, Special Adviser to Governor Samuel Ortom on Media and ICT, however, debunked the allegation. “This matter you are pursuing is not necessary at this time. After all, we inherited him from the previous government and the man has been granted amnesty. This is a security issue, but if you want further explanation, you can come over and I will arrange for you to talk to the security people”, he said on telephone when contacted on the issue.
His response fired the reporter’s zeal to probe into the identity of Ali Teshaku, with a view to ascertaining if he was indeed, the suspected Boko Haram leader at the centre of a conflict between the police and the DIA some years ago. The investigation paid off as Saturday Sun got a lead to unmask him. Teshaku, in a telephone interview, confirmed that he was the subject of controversy between the two security agencies. He also confirmed that he was released from detention by the DIA after probing into his background and role in the Boko Haram saga.
“If you are in this country and you are an unknown person or from a poor family, these politicians or the security, they can use you and dump you. On this issue, the DIA is made up of serious and experienced people. When they dug into my role and found out what happened between me and the Nigerian security, they knew that I was supposed to be rewarded”, he said.
Two former security goons, however, confirmed in separate encounters with Saturday Sun that Teshaku was at a time on security radar as a suspected henchman of Boko Haram. But the soft-spoken Benue State-born man says his engagement by a former Deputy Inspector General of Police (Operations), Mike Zuokumor, as coordinator of a Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in the state as part of measures to curtail the incessant herdsmen/farmers clashes, was an indication that he was not a devil as was being painted by the police authorities.
Connection with Boko Haram hierarchy
But Zuokumor, who does not want to be drawn into the controversy on Teshaku’s suspected role in the Boko Haram insurgency, explained why he engaged him as head of the CJTF in Benue. “Teshaku is a Tiv man, but a Muslim; the bulk of herdsmen are Muslims and he had something in common with them. He also had something in common with the Tiv farmers. Teshaku was instrumental to the signing of a peace accord. He was made chairman of a committee and had a Fulani deputy. Teshaku did not go to school, but had native intelligence. He was the one that pointed at who is who during the farmers/herdsmen crisis at the time I was DIG Operations”.
Top security sources confided in Saturday Sun that Teshaku had an awesome influence on senior commanders of the Boko Haram sect at the height of its devastating attacks during the previous administration, and indeed, met ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, on one occasion in his bid to proffer a solution to the insurgency.
At the meeting which sources said held in the wee hours of the fateful day at the Maitama, Abuja residence of a traditional ruler and Jonathan’s childhood friend, King Amatele Jonny Turner, Obigbo Mikimiki of Opume Kingdom, Bayelsa State, Teshaku was masked and taken to the venue by a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police who, at that time, was the commissioner of police at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) police command, in company with Wilson Inalegwu, then an Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of operations at the command.
It was learnt that after listening to Teshaku, who allegedly offered to persuade top commanders of the Boko Haram including those in Niger, Cameroon and Chad to converge on Maiduguri for a peace meeting as a prelude to ceasing the attacks, he was said to have been mobilized in United States of America, US Dollars, and succeeded in arranging a meeting of the sect commanders at the Borno State capital. While there, they were said to have clashed with the military during which some of them were killed, and a few were arrested.
Teshaku was also said to have arranged clandestine meetings between the authorities and Boko Haram commanders in Abuja, leading to two agreements in 2012 in which the insurgents indicated their willingness for a truce. But sources said factional leader of the sect, Abubakar Shekau, refused to attend the Abuja meetings, but opted to engage a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe in Dubai, United Arab Emirate. It could not be ascertained at press time whether the meeting held. But most of the meetings between the authorities and the Boko Haram elements in Abuja were said to have been presided over by a former Minister of Police Affairs, Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade (retd).
When the hunt for him intensified, Mamman Nur, the suspected mastermind of the United Nations (UN) House bombing in Abuja was said to have also contacted Ali Teshaku, when he learnt of a peace move, and had sought reprieve from the authorities through a former commissioner of police in the FCT, who had been promoted an Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG).
A source hinted that the police chief, now retired, linked Teshaku to Peter Gana, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID). Eventually, Teshaku and Nur met the DIG, who the source said took them to the office of the NSA.
Was Teshaku a kingpin of Boko Haram as alleged by the police, a repentant opportunist who had wanted to capitalize on the crippling insurgency to fester his nest during Jonathan’s administration, or a security mole? Only the security agencies can provide answers to these posers.
MY STORY –Ali Teshaku
How is it like being commander of the Livestock Guards in Benue State?
We started the job and were moving fine. The Benue State government under Suswam accepted to pay N13, 000 to each member of the CJTF. By then, my members were 1,300, including Fulani, Tiv and others. When we succeeded in bringing peace in the state, we had problems with some Fulani herdsmen who are cattle rustlers. We now focused on such activities and we arrested some people involved both in Benue and Ibbi, Taraba State, and handed them over to the police. These criminal set up a camp along the borderlines in Benue and we tackled them until the end of Suswam’s government which handed us over to Dr. Ortom. It was then that the Benue State government decided to enact the anti-open grazing law which makes everybody to go to their places and Fulani will also have a particular place that they would be grazing their cattle. So, it’s from there this wahala came, and you know the Miyetti Allah Kautel Hore under the leadership of Bello Badejo, made a pronouncement that Benue State can never implement that law in this country, because most of those criminals are with Bello Badejo. They feared that if the law succeeds, they would have problem in their business.
Presently, what is the situation?
The situation is that security has been tightened and the Benue State government is doing a lot. We now have Operation Kpatuma, and we now have some calm.
Was there a time some of your men, I mean, the livestock guards, were arrested by troops of 93 Battalion in Takum, Taraba State with arms?
I heard that also, but I am not in Taraba; I am operating in Benue State, and I don’t have any member of Livestock Guard in Taraba. We don’t carry arms; that is how we work. It was Zuokumor, the DIG Operations, that brought me in and we are working with the police. If I am with arms, how will my members who are 2000 plus now, be killed by Fulani; almost eight of my members, and I will fold my hands and would be looking, without making attempt, also the Tiv/Fulani crises in Benue State, and I am dealing in arms?
Isn’t it dangerous that you are engaged and doing such a delicate security job and you are not armed?
You know, the way we formed this group, we had Fulani with us, we also had the Tiv. So, if something happens at a Fulani side, we use the livestock guards in Fulani area, join them with Tiv, and they go there. That is how we are operating.
Which part are you from in Benue State?
I am from Gbajimba town in Guma Local Government Area. That is the same local government as the Governor
How old are you?
I am 54 years old.
You are married; you have your family?
Very well; how will a 54-year-old man not have a family? Will I not be an idiot?
Can you tell me more about your background?
I’m Tiv by tribe, but I am a Muslim. I am 36 years in Islam.
That is okay; everyone has a choice of religion…
(Cuts in)…I know where you are heading to; go ahead. Go straight to the point and I will answer you by the grace of God.
Did you have any issue with police or the DIA? Specifically in 2011, were you arrested by the DIA or the police?
If you are in this country and you are an unknown person or from a poor family, politicians or the security again can use you and dump you. On this issue, the DIA is made up of serious and experienced people. When they dug into my role and found out what happened between me and the Nigerian security, they knew that I was supposed to be rewarded.
(Cuts in) No, what I am saying is that you were arrested, you were in their custody?
It is not by arrest; there was something done.
Can you explain to me, please?
You are a journalist.
I said can you explain to me, please?
I said you are a journalist. (Laughter)
There was a controversy between the DIA and the police under Ringim in 2011. The police said you were arrested and was in their custody when the DIA requested for you and you were handed over to them. But that the DIA didn’t return you to be taken into custody. What really happened?
Are the DIA also part of the herdsmen? Because we were talking about herdsmen, you are now going into the DIA and police. Are they also part of the herdsmen?
The Fulani alleged that you were a Boko Haram kingpin arrested by the police and handed over the DIA, but that you slipped out of security radar; that the Benue State government knew your antecedents and engaged you as commander of the Livestock Guards to terrorize herdsmen and chase them out of the state. How do you react to this?
Do you want to tell me that the DIA is also part of the terrorist population?
No, I am just telling you an allegation against you; that you were a Boko Haram leader who escaped the long arms of the law.
You say DIA; you know DIA, Defence Intelligence Agency. So if in the whole Federal Republic of Nigeria, the DIA releases somebody, will that man be a terrorist somebody?
Why did the police allege that the DIA didn’t return you to its custody?
But why did a police DIG give me job as a Civilian Joint Task Force commander, turning to Livestock Guards now?
Do you mean DIG Zuokumor?
That is another issue, and what we are doing is to clarify them as they arise. Do you understand me? Now, you’ve admitted you were the person in DIA custody, but may be, you were cleared of your alleged offence. Is that what you are telling me?
That is what I am telling you that…even this job that I’m doing; the same police brought me inside this job. Maybe, there was lack of understanding about my story and they didn’t dig up my background. That’s how DIA came in and said, no, this man is a nice man to them. Even after accusing me, if they say I’m a good man and I should come and assist them, I will do so. I won’t be angry with them and say no, you people have betrayed me; that I am a terrorist.
Precisely, when did the police arrest you at that time?
(Prolonged laughter) Are we talking about my arrest, or about the livestock guards in Benue?
We are still talking. When were you arrested at that time?
Well, I was not arrested. I went to the police by myself. When I heard that I had been declared wanted, I called one of the police officers at the headquarters, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Bala Shenchi, because I was moving with him; I told him I would come so that you will assist me to see the IG; that was during Hafiz Ringim.
(Cuts in) And you were declared wanted as a Boko Haram leader?
Now, you’re going there again because you want to mention the name.
Ok, go ahead
So, I went and met Bala Shenchi and told him I want to see the IG, to explain who I am. It was from there the IG ordered that I should be detained; that was what happened.
For what offence were you detained?
That one you will ask the former IG because he was the one who detained me.
How did you get to DIA custody?
That one you can ask the DIA commander at that time because I was in detention and didn’t know how it happened.
Who was the head of DIA at that time? Was it the present NSA, Monguno?
I don’t know because I was in detention and I used to deal with the officers, not their head.
For how long were you in detention?
I have forgotten.
You were eventually released by the DIA?
So what was this controversy between the DIA and the police over the issue of your custody and whereabouts?
That one you will ask them because I’m not the person who handed over myself.