The recent re-arrest of 35-year-old Hamisu Bala, aka Wadume, following the killing of an elite anti-kidnapping police team by soldiers in Taraba State, marks the beginning of the day of reckoning for a suspected kidnapper. In this piece, John Mkom (Jalingo) traces his roots, and how this young man moved from a simple fish seller to a wealthy kidnap suspect who says he has some security agents in his pocket.
Hamisu Bala is popularly known as Wadume, especially within the southern part of Taraba State where he rose from as a dull student of Government Secondary School, Ibi, to a millionaire kidnapper who has now earned national and even global notoriety over the last few weeks.
Hamisu, the son of Bala, was born in Ibi; however, many writers say Wadume’s grandfather migrated from old Sokoto, now Katsina State.
Elders who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend in Ibi insisted that Bala, the father of Wadume and his grandfathers were descendants of Ibi.
“Hamisu and his grandfathers are descendants of Ibi. His father, Bala, is Wurbo-Jukun by tribe. We call them ‘Me Sani Uku’- that means people with three tribal marks on their faces. They are the main owners of Ibi land from the beginning,” Hon. Adashos Jonathan Adashos, the former chairman, Caretaker Committee of Ibi local government council told LEADERSHIP Weekend.
The fishermen and fish sellers who know Hamisu from decades ago said his late mother was from Ukum local government area of Benue State, a neighbouring state to Taraba.
Having graduated with poor results in SSCE at Government Secondary School, Ibi, Hamisu, who was known as a stubborn chap among his age mates within Ibi, the then Wukari local government sub commercial town, quickly engaged in fishing at the banks of River Benue.
His friends also confirm that the name Wadume was created from the English expression he spoke very often, “What do you mean.”
Barely two and a half years ago, Wadume was a fish seller who was capable of buying only one or two baskets of fish from the fishermen who brought their catch to sell at Ibi and Wukari markets. But suddenly he started appearing in a manner far removed from his original well known status as a poor neighbour.
Hajiah Ada Maikifi, a fish seller in Ibi who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend, said the first philanthropic donation by Wandume was the presentation of three boats to the youths who use them to ferry passengers across the River Benue between Ibi and Danpar. That was in early 2017.
The woman said the youths and other people who knew Wadume very well were aghast and wondered how and when the fish seller became so rich as to have made such huge donation.
Wadume at the presentation of the three boats urged the beneficiaries of his ‘philanthropy’ to be of good conduct and put the boats to good use in helping people of the area who were constantly involved in boat mishaps due to poor conditions of the local ferries being used in the area.
A prominent politician in Ibi told our correspondent, on condition of anonymity, Wadume’s sudden wealth started in 2016, the same year fish traders were constantly being robbed at Esimi Forest and Kumar villages, a lonely path in a local village in Ibi where people from Gboko, Zaki Biam, Wukari, Jos and other places pass to buy fish at cheaper rate.
He said the fish traders were robbed of their millions of Naira at gunpoint, and that soon the criminality in the area metamorphosed from robbery to abduction of traders for ransom. Wadume was said to be the middleman between relatives of kidnap victims and their abductors in the transaction for their release.
The politician, who would not give him name due to personal safety, also pointed out that a senior military personal in his family was adopted at gunpoint along Wukari-Ibi road, and that it was Wadume that facilitated his release after a huge ransom changed hands. This incident, he said, seemed to connect him to close to the some Army personnel operating within the area.
According to him, before 2016 Wadume could hardly manage his home when he was married to his first wife.
“The man was not rich. We live in the same area here in Ibi. He used to find life difficult, even when he was marrying his first wife, but you know women, beyond 2016 he suddenly got rich and as we speak he is married to four wives, two of them are in Mecca as we speak performing Hajj.
“The arrest of their husband happened in their absence. I am still wondering how they will feel when they arrive in Nigeria from Saudi to get the news of their husband.”
Wadume became the local money man everyone went to, to receive handouts. According to villagers, Wadume made donations at occasions without thinking twice.
Locals who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend said he was giving out money to people on daily basis without minding their religion or tribe.
“Sometimes he goes to tea sellers and settles the bills of tea drinkers. Then, he gives N10,000 each to the people there,” a source in Ibi said.
According to reports, Wadume was being celebrated in Ibi and beyond. He attended any occasion he was invited and spent generously to the satisfaction of those who invited him. He gave out motorcycles, cars, cash and clothes to the his friends.
Hamisu, it was learnt, dabbled into politics but it did not quite work out. In 2018, during the primary elections that led to the 2019 general election, Wadume vied for the position of lawmaker for Ibi state constituency at the Taraba State House of Assembly under the platform of Young Democratic Party, YDP.
It was the intervention of some elders within the area that denied Wadume the ticket to become the candidate of the party, and many people were of the opinion that had he got the thicket, he would have won the main election due to the number of politicians he had in his camp in the constituency.
Wadume also applied for the highest chieftaincy title in Ibi chiefdom, Waziri of Ibi. However, the permanent secretary, Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Taraba State government, Alhaji Bello Yero told our correspondent that the Bureau did not approve the application and Wadume was not crowned with any title in Ibi.
LEADERSHIP Weekend also gathered that due to his generous donations, construction of mosques and churches, digging of boreholes in various communities and empowerment of hundreds of youths, the suspected kidnapper was well accepted and the youths within Ibi depended on him for sustenance until about three weeks ago when one of his associates was arrested by the police and fingered him as a godfather in kidnapping.
One of Wadume’s accomplices, known simply as Kwarba, was said to have been apprehended by the police in Jalingo over his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of a Permanent Secretary in Taraba State government.
During interrogation, Kwarba revealed the identity of his boss, Wadume, The police then allowed Kwarba to be in phone communication with Wadume as if he was not under arrest or detention. After three days of their communication, the police were able to gather useful information.
It was during one of their conversations on the phone that Wadume disclosed that he was coming to Ibi for Eid el Kabir celebration. On arrival in Ibi, he called Kwarba on phone.
On learning this the operatives of the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) set out for Ibi from Abuja. They got to the police headquarters in Jalingo, before proceeding to Ibi in a white Toyota Hummer Bus marked LAGOS: MUS-564EU.
They were in mufti and took Kwarba along so that he could identify Wadume. They met him at a coffee joint, at the junction near Government Lodge. Kwarba identified him.
To pull the wool over the kidnapper’s eyes, the policemen in disguise went out and told him they brought a bus for sale. Wadume sought to know the cost of the vehicle so that he could buy it and the policemen suggested they would step aside for bargaining.
It was at this point that Wadume sensed that he had played into the hands of the police. When he went into the bus, he discovered one of his best men in handcuffs being guarded by tough looking policemen. The cops promptly arrested and handcuffed him. After chaining his legs, the operatives drove into town to report once again at the police division at Ibi before driving out of town.
It was while passing the same coffee joint where he was nabbed that the suspected kidnapper forced his head out of the vehicle and shouted: “I have been kidnapped by these people.”
Soon, the news spread and some of Wadume’s ‘boys’ began to chase the vehicle on motorcycles. The operatives had passed the first and second checkpoints, with only one remaining to pass before they left the town.
The kidnapper’s accomplices were said to have called the military checkpoint and the bus was ambushed. The soldiers opened fire on the bus conveying the operatives and suspected kidnapper and the bus somersaulted into the bush, following the barrage of gunfire, as the driver lost control of the wheel.
A source revealed that after the killing of the three policemen and Wadume’s associate, the soldiers whisked him away to an unknown destination in a Toyota Corolla believed to belong to one army captain.
“Hamisu was brought home around 7:30am here in Ibi in a red tinted car. He quickly rushed in and he was taken away again,” an eyewitness said in Ibi.
When LEADERSHIP Weekend visited police headquarters in Jalingo, Taraba State capital, it gathered that the IRT was still gathering Wadume’s assets and property at the station, ranging from vehicles to cash. A fleet of buses and flashy cars belonging to him were seen parked where the IRT was still coming in with other assets at the time our correspondent visited the police headquarters.
Reactions to his rearrest in Ibi
Following the outcry that greeted the death of the three policemen by soldiers, Wadume was traced to Kano and arrested a second time and brought to Abuja.
The kidnap suspect’s arrest by the police has elicited mixed reactions by the people of Taraba State, particularly in Ibi.
Former chairman, Ibi local government council Caretaker Committee, Hon. Adashos Jonathan Adashos, who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend on phone, said that the arrest of the suspected kidnap kingpin was happy news to the people of Ibi LGA as the area was under siege over the killings of the three IRT policemen within the area.
Adasho said both the traditional leaders, the religious leaders and the community leaders had Bern living in fear following the indiscriminate arrest of the people of Ibi following Wadume’s escape.
He said now that the suspect has been arrested by the police, those who were apprehended by the policemen seeking his whereabouts would have a time of relief and the people of Ibi will also wait in good faith to know the true state of the allegations against him.
But speaking to our correspondent from Ibi, Alhaji Yahaya Maikifi Ibi said Wadume’s arrest was not good news to the people of Angwan Motori in Serkin Kudu area of Ibi who are beneficiaries of the suspected ill-gotten wealth.
Yahaya described the kidnap suspect as a benevolent. philanthropic man who did not discriminate on ethnicity, religion or tribe. He said Wadume had embarked of a mosque project within the area that had reached lintel level and expressed worry that it may not be completed if the suspect does not regain his freedom
Also speaking on phone, Mr. Michael Adi said the borehole project just concluded by Wadume at Serkin Kudu area of Ibi would be a memoir to the people of the area.
“I wish you were here to see the mood of the people (when he was arrested). Nobody is happy at the development. Let’s be truthful to ourselves, Hamisu has done well for the people of Ibi and beyond. For some of us here, he has done well by eliminating poverty from some families. We want someone who has his kind of heart.”
For now Wadume is the most notorious kidnap suspect to emerge since Evans, who is already facing trial. Since his arrest earlier in the week, he has been giving useful information to police investigators that would likely nail not only him, but also his accomplices, some of whom are security agents.
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