…Faked US citizenship; escaped through Sokoto on bike
…Used Thuraya satellite phone to shield location, arrest
…Inter-agency collaboration to the rescue
By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor
Details emerged weekend of how chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina, was arrested in far away Niamey, capital of Niger Republic, after detectives from Interpol, led by Commissioner of Police, Garba Baba Umar, stormed the neighbouring country.
He was reportedly arrested inside United States of America, USA, embassy in Niamey where he claimed to be a citizen of America.
The arrest came after days of frantic search for him by Interpol detectives from both Nigeria and Niger Republic as he was using Satellite operated Thuraya phone to evade location and arrest, Vanguard exclusively gathered.
How it all started
Maina was being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for alleged money laundering and diversion of public funds to the tune of about N2billion. He was granted bail and asked by the court to deposit his Nigerian and USA passports as part of his bail condition.
Senator to the rescue
A serving senator representing Borno South, Ali Ndume stood surety for him and he was granted bail by the court.
However, as soon as he was granted bail, he fled the country and went into hiding. While in hiding, he missed four court proceedings as his surety could not produce him. This led to the senator being remanded at Kuje Prison for failing to produce the suspect in court.
Senator Ndume was later granted bail by the court after five days in prison, as the court issued a bench warrant on Maina.
EFCC swings into action
Police sources said after the bench warrant was issued, the EFCC approached Interpol National Central Bureau, NCB, Abuja, through the office of the Inspector General of Police, who graciously approved their request to help in tracing the whereabouts of Maina.
The IGP reportedly issued a matching order to the National Central Bureau, NCB, to liaise with it counterparts in both Africa and beyond, to smoke out the fugitive Maina wherever he was hiding.
Sources said through intelligence gathering, detectives at Interpol were able to find that Maina was hiding in neighboring Niger Republic.
Reports said extensive and exhaustive searches were carried out by Interpol which discovered that Maina escaped to Niger Republic a few days after he was granted bail by the court in Abuja.
Further investigation revealed that he hired a bike and capitalized on the porosity of the nation’s borders, to escape through Sokoto’s border town of Ilella and landed at KonI in Niger Republic.
Sources said he earlier attempted escaping through Kastina State to Mariachi into Niger Republic but changed his mind at the last minute after suspecting that his identity may be blown open.
Interpol in Nigeria, Niger commence investigation
Vanguard learned that detectives at Interpol stridently carried out a thorough investigation and were able to trace the rider of the bike who confessed that he took ”one big man” from Sokoto to the border town of Ilella in Niger Republic.
Based on these facts, it was gathered that detectives responded swiftly and contacted Interpol in Niamey, capital of Niger Republic, where coordinated and discreet efforts of the two government security officials yielded results.
It was learned that the initial difficulty experienced by detectives was locating the exact town in Niger Republic where Maina was hibernating. Their efforts were made more herculean because, according to sources, Maina was constantly using a Thuraya phone, which uses satellite signals, to track messages from telephone networks.
In fact, one of the detectives told Vanguard that it was the same type of phone that made it seemingly impossible to arrest suspected Nigeria’s notorious kidnap kingpin, Evans, until the bubble burst and he was nabbed.
Reports said when it looked like a mission impossible; the head of Nigeria’s Interpol, Commissioner of Police Garba Baba Umar, brought his wealth of experience to bear and changed the strategy to the consternation of their counterparts from Niger Republic.
He was said to have spread his tentacles and shared intelligence reports with his counterparts in Niamey and it turned out to be a huge success.
Arrest inside US embassy
Maina was subsequently arrested by Interpol in Niamey on behalf of Interpol Nigeria based on the bench warrant issued against him by the court.
His arrest was formerly communicated to Interpol NCB, Abuja, via the i247 network, despite the fact that both NCBs were working together on the fugitive.
Official communication by Interpol via i247 is international best practice and also the Interpol Standard Operational Procedure, SOP.
Vanguard gathered that Maina was tracked to USA embassy in Niamey and later trailed to his hideout in a hospital where he claimed to be sick and was re-arrested.
It was also learned that the moment he was accosted by CP Umar and his team, he loudly exclaimed La Ila Ailalahu. (It is finished). When it dawned on him that the game was up, he reportedly tried another trick by claiming to be a US citizen and not a Nigerian.
This, according to sources, prompted demands by US officials for more clarifications and CP Umar reportedly reached out to his men in Nigeria and directed them to forward Maina’s current and valid Nigerian passport, his appointment letters and other relevant documents to show that he is a full bloodied Nigerian.
At that stage, police sources said Maina was said to have started claiming that he did not run away but was in Niamey on medical grounds because he needed surgery on his right knee cap.
IGP orders immediate extradition
Reports said elated by the development, CP Umar promptly placed an urgent call to Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Adamu Muhammed, informing him of the success of his mission to Niger Republic.
The IGP, in turn, ordered CP Umar to immediately extradite Maina from Niamey back to Nigeria to face trial.
IGP Muhammed did not stop at that, he graciously approved the use of his official aircraft to fly Maina back which CP Umar complied with and successfully extradited Maina to the chagrin of skeptics who thought it will be a mission impossible.
Inter-agency collaboration to the rescue
Maina was subsequently handed over to the EFCC for continuation of his prosecution. Commenting on the development, a top police officer who pleaded anonymity, told Vanguard that the lessons that must be learned from the swiftness with which CP Umar and his team achieved such seemingly impossible feat was that inter-agency collaboration, based on national interest, should be very paramount rather than a single agency’s success.
Second, and most important, according to him, is the fact that it has gone a long way to buttress the fact that with Interpol, there was no hiding place for trans-border crimes.