1995 Durbar hotel bombing: I can’t talk until US embassy speaks- Accused ex-US envoy

American ex-envoy, Russell Hanks, who was accused by a Kaduna-based activist, Mahdi Shehu, of masterminding the bombing of a bookshop at Durbar Hotel, Kaduna, in 1995 has declined to comment on the matter.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP via a telephone interview from Oklahoma, USA, yesterday, Hanks said he would not say anything for the moment until the US Embassy made a comment on the issue.

“I can confirm to you that I am Russell Hanks. I can confirm to you also that I was in Kaduna, and I’m the man that has been accused to have masterminded the bombing at Durbar Hotel in 1995.

“But I’m afraid I can’t help you much. I can’t say anything about it now until the US Embassy in Nigeria has spoken on the issue. When they do that, and you are not satisfied or you need further clarification on some issues, you can then call me back and I will provide you with the details,” he said.

However, Brig Gen Lawal Jafaru Isa (retired), in an interview with LEADERSHIP, said he could not remember receiving briefs on the incident from Mahdi or asking him to go to Abuja.

Isa, who was the military administrator of Kaduna State, between 1993 -1996 when the Dubar Hotel bomb explosion occurred, said he and his team conducted the conference to reply a US-based television station film that maligned Nigeria and Nigerians.

He said, “Around 1995, there was this TV station in the USA; they ran a programme on Nigeria. They maligned us as a nation, as a people, they called us drug pushers, 419ers and I didn’t like what they did so I decided to put a group together. We looked at the film and we arrived at a decision; we only wrote a book “Not in our Character” and a video that we did. That is the only thing I could remember. We replied the US that it is not in our character to be maligned.

“He said he came and reported to me and I sent him to Abuja to go and tell them, but I can’t remember; I’ve tried but I can’t recall.”

LEADERSHIP recalls that the Dutse Emirate Council in Jigawa State turbaned Hanks as ‘Wakilin Ammar.’

The turbaning ceremony took place at the Emir’s Palace in Dutse and witnessed the attendance of dignitaries from across the country, among them was the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido.  A colourful Durba was hosted in his honour.

So far, efforts by our correspondent to get reaction from the US Mission in Abuja concerning the controversial matter did not yield results, as a message sent to the official email of the mission was yet to be attended to at the time of filing this report on Wednesday.

Mahdi Shehu, a businessman, medical practitioner, and activist, recounted an event that he claimed happened 27 years ago on Arise News Channel recently.

This comes after the Department of State Services (DSS} arrested a self-acclaimed Abuja-Kaduna train kidnap negotiator, Tukur Mamu, was arrested in Egypt en route to Saudi Arabia.

Mahdi told the story while answering questions on why the DSS had arrested Mamu, who operates as an intermediary between the families of the abducted Kaduna train attack and bandits.

He accused security agencies of being jealous when classified information is found in the hands of other individuals.

In his narration, Mahdi cited an event in 1995 when he was offered money to place a bomb parcel in the bookshop of Durbar Hotel, Kaduna, by an American political officer.

Mahdi revealed the officer’s name as Russell Hanks, and said he offered him (Mahdi) N1 million at the time to bomb the hotel.

“Let me tell you about my experience 27 years ago. Between the 7th and 9th of June, 1995, 27 years ago in Kaduna, when the bashing of Nigeria’s image was at its own highest peak. A then governor, Lt. Col Lawal Jafaru Isa – he’s alive now and he can confirm what I’m going to tell you now – put up a seminar between Kaduna State government, New Nigerian Newspapers, and NTA. The seminar was entitled, “Not in Our Character,” Mahdi narrated.

“All federal government officials were there, state governments, security agencies; Matthew Hassan Kukah delivered a paper there. I also spoke on the floor. The import of the seminar was to deconstruct the image being painted of Nigeria that was so bad. But what is the news there? The news is that after the seminar, after my contribution, a tall, lanky, blue-eyed, blonde-haired American man approached me outside the hall at Hassan Ciroma Katsina House, the venue of the seminar. He just handed over his card to me and left. What was the name on it? Russell J. Hanks, American Embassy, Political Officer. That was on the 9th of June, 1995.

“Not until the 11th of August I received a call on my landline, and on the caller ID, I saw the number. It was Russell’s number. He said, ‘Mahdi, I’m just calling as a follow-up to our meeting the last time and to say hello to you. Bye-bye,’ he dropped (the call). Again, on September 9, he called me for the same courtesy call, then on the 11th of December, he called me and said, ‘Mahdi, I’ll be coming to Kaduna. Will you have a cup of tea with me?’ I said fine. He came in, he called, and I met him at Hamdala Hotel. We had a cup of tea. I think he was trying to size me up because he was busy asking me about the performance of Abacha’s government, and I was playing safe, but then came the big bang.

“On 21st December of the same year (1995), he came into Kaduna, and he called me. He said, ‘Mahdi, I have a business for you. And it’s very important. Meet me at Hamdala Hotel, on the last floor at Hamdala Hotel wing, which I did. On arrival, Russel Hanks told me, ‘Mahdi, we are worried. The American government is doing a bomb campaign against Abacha. We don’t want him. We are promoting a regime change. This parcel (holds out a phone in the description) is what I want you to do. See Durbar Hotel, just away there – 600 metres. Go into the bookshop and drop this parcel – small parcel. This is N500,000 for you and another N500,000 waiting for you. Once you drop the parcel, please come back to collect the second N500,000.”

“I said, ‘Russel, you have miscalculated. When I addressed Adamu Ciroma as the Minister for Agriculture in that seminar, you’re referring to, when I addressed (Abubakar) Rimi as the Communications Minister, when I addressed Ismaila Isa Funtua as the chairman of Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, I did that as a citizen, not because I don’t like my country. I dressed him down. I abused him. ‘He said Mahdi, Mahdi; now I know you’re a good citizen. I’m just trying to test you. You are nationalistic. We look forward to working with you to stabilise Nigeria, and that was another fault. I held him because I saw the desperation in him. He wanted me to leave, but I refused him to leave. Then I heard a knock on the door.”

According to Mahdi, after he refused Hanks’ offer to bomb Durbar Hotel, as he was about to leave, he saw the late journalist, Bagauda Kaltho, at the entrance of Hanks’ room.

He went on: “We went to the door together, and he wanted to see me off. At the door was Bagauda Kaltho, the journalist that was said to have been killed by Abacha. Bagauda was right at the door there. I think he gave him an hour before me, but I keyed into Bagauda’s hour. Bagauda went into the room, and I left. What happened? Not long after that, two hours later, bomb! Where? Durbar Hotel. Where? At the bookshop. When that happened – Lawal Jafaru Isa can confirm this – I drove straight to the Government House to see the governor. For what reason? Urgent security reason. I was ushered into Lawal Jafaru Isa’s office, and I told him what happened. The following day, I was brought to Abuja. I was able to see Abacha in his residence, and I narrated the story to him.”

Mahdi further stated that four days later, Russel Hank flew out of Nigeria, and after another 10 days security operatives came to Kaduna to interview him.

“When I gave them the narrative, one of them took me to the side and said, ‘Mahdi, keep off. We are very jealous. Security agencies are very jealous institutions. You have done your own. Don’t ever make any public comments on it. Don’t give interviews, don’t give anything because if you begin to talk, our failure would have been seen very clearly.

I Stand By Statement –  Mahdi Shehu

Meanwhile, Mahdi Shehu has said he stands by his earlier statement, saying Russell Hanks cannot deny that he was in kaduna in 1995 where he offered him N1million to plant a bomb at Durbar Hotel which he rejected.

“The records are there to show. The records of who checked in and out of Hamdala Hotel where  I met with him in 1995 should be there  at the hotel,” he said.

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