The police have paraded two men they said were members of an armed gang terrorising Kogi State.
The police said the suspects had confessed to being provided with weapons and financial support by Dino Melaye, a senator from the state.
The development could further complicate the ongoing political crisis that has seen Mr. Melaye and Governor Yahaya Bello enmeshed in bitter confrontations over the state’s political structure.
A statement by police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, said the suspects, identified as Kabiru Saidu and Nuru Salisu, were paraded on Monday in Lokoja, the state capital.
Mr. Moshood, an assistant commissioner for police, said the detectives arrested the suspects with a cache of arms that included AK-47 rifles and pump action firearms.
The spokesperson also said the suspects confessed during interrogations that they were being sponsored by Mr. Melaye, who represents Kogi West Senatorial District. The criminal indictments were part of the reasons police were looking for Mr. Melaye, Mr. Moshood added.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the police laid an unsuccessful siege to arrest Mr. Melaye two Fridays ago at the High Court of Federal Capital Territory in Maitama, Abuja.
The senator managed to sneak out of the court after outmaneuvering operatives of the police special anti-robbery squad who were deployed to arrest him.
Mr. Melaye has denied wrongdoings, saying the police are being used by Mr. Bello, his political arch-rival, to malign his image and destroy his career.
Mr. Bello, in turn, denied any involvement in Mr. Melaye’s ordeal, saying the senator’s bad deeds have caught up with him.
The police said Mr. Saidu, 31, and Mr. Salisu, 25, were arrested on January 19 following a shootout with the police that lasted several hours in Ogojueje, a community in Dekina Local Government Area of the state.
Mr. Moshood said the suspects allegedly “confessed to various criminal roles they played in the commission of several kidnappings and armed robbery in different towns across Kogi State and its environs,” adding that they had been on the police’s wanted list for two years.
The police said Mr. Saidu told them that he was introduced to Mr. Melaye by Mohammed Audu, son of late former Kogi governor, Abubakar Audu.
Mr. Audu was the one allegedly caught in a leaked conversation with Mr. Melaye in which the duo discussed how a senior Kogi government official was framed in an alleged attempt on Mr. Melaye last year.
They allegedly met inside Mr. Melaye’s car along the Airport Road in Abuja in December 2017.
“The suspect further confessed that” Mr. Melaye “told him that they should start working for” him “as his political thugs and they should recruit and train more thugs to work for him in preparation toward 2019 general election to enable him ( Dino Melaye ) challenge his political opponents and disorganise Kogi State,” the police said.
After the meeting, the police said, Mr. Melaye gave Messrs. Saidu and Salisu one AK-47 rifle, two pump action guns and N430,000 cash.
It was not immediately clear whether the suspects have named their legal representatives in the case.
Following the interrogations, the police said they wrote to Senate President Bukola Saraki, asking him in a March 2 letter to release Mr. Melaye for questioning by the police in Kogi State. But Mr. Melaye allegedly frustrated the police’s efforts, triggering a manhunt for him.
A source at the Senate President’s office told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Saraki had responded to the police’s letter requesting Mr. Melaye.
The letter was sent by Joshak Habila, the deputy inspector-general in charge of operations. Mr. Saraki responded to Mr. Habila and copied Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris.
The source, however, said they did not know what Mr. Saraki said in his response.
Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ requests seeking to corroborate whether the police received a reply from the Senate President and what was in it.
The police said they have filed criminal conspiracy charges against Messrs Melaye and Audu at a state high court in Lokoja, the state capital.
Mr. Audu could not be reached for comments Monday afternoon as a telephone number provided for him did not connect after several attempts Monday evening.
Mr. Melaye has dismissed all allegations of wrongdoing against him, describing them as fabricated.
“Fabricated lies by Kogi State Govt and the police will fail. It’s utterly laughable and preposterous. It’s a sign of desperation,” Mr. Melaye said in a post on Twitter shortly after reports that he had been implicated by suspects.
“No amount of lies and blackmail will detract my attention from speaking the truth and defending it,” he said.