Human Rights Lawyer Femi Falana SAN, has called on the federal government to reopen the investigation into the murder of Nigerian Journalist Bagauda Kaltho in 1996.
James Bagauda Kaltho, a journalist working for NEWS/TEMPO magazine was declared missing by his family and employers in February 1996 and is widely believed to have been murdered by the military junta of late Sani Abacha following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election which the Nigerian media strongly opposed.
On 18 August 1998, the Nigerian Police Force held a press conference in Lagos which was addressed by Zakari Biu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police and head of the junta’s Task Force on terrorism.
A new twist was however added to the saga on 12 September 2022 when Shehu Mahdi, a medical doctor and political activist, during a breakfast program on ARISE TV, claimed that he refused a parcel bomb given to him by one Mr. Russel Hanks a former American diplomat at Hamdala Hotel in Kaduna, in 1995. Mahdi alleged that after he rejected the parcel, Kaltho came into the hotel room of the envoy, and hours later, a bomb explosion occurred at the hotel.
Reacting to the latest development, Mr. Falana in a statement obtained by NOHR, said the Oputa panel, set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to investigate human rights abuses under the military in 1999, entertained the petition submitted by Kaltho’s family on the disappearance of the journalist.
Falana said Shehu Mahdi’s claim is totally different from the account of officials of the military regime during the Oputa panel.
“During the sittings of the Oputa Panel in Lagos and Abuja, some members of the official killer squad set up by the Sani Abacha junta, confessed that they killed some Nigerian citizens and attempted to kill others on the instructions of the military junta,” Falana said.
“They also admitted their involvement in the burning of houses and bombing attacks unleashed on opponents of that military rule. Throughout the proceedings of the Oputa Panel, the defenders of the Abacha murderous regime could not extricate themselves from the brutal killing of Dele Giwa and Bagauda Kaltho.
“However, at the sitting of the Oputa Panel in Kano in 2001, Mr. Zakari Biu claimed that Bagauda Kaltho was given the bomb that killed him by me and the management staff of TheNEWS, TEMPO and PMNEWS, namely Bayo Onanuga, Dapo Olorunyomi, Kunle Ajibade, and Babafemi Ojudu.
“But the SSS refused to corroborate Biu’s testimony. It was all found to be a figment of Mr. Zakari Biu’s imagination. In its report the Oputa Panel had recommended that the case of the disappearance of Bagauda Kaltho be reopened for investigation.
Falana argued that since the version of Mahdi Shehu on the disappearance of Bagauda Kaltho is totally different from the official account of the defunct military junta, the case ought to be reopened for a full investigation, especially u7as the then military administrator of Kaduna State, Colonel Jaffar Isa (rtd) mentioned by Mahdi Shehu has denied knowledge of the Arise Television story.