• With abduction of top shots, the stake gets higher
• Fear grips Christmas travellers
•The victims, targets
By CHIOMA IGBOKWE
As security operatives yesterday secured the release of kidnapped mother of Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, fear has enveloped Nigerians, as many believe that the days of kidnapping are back. This is moreso since the mother of a former military governor was also abducted in Ibadan, less than 48 hours after Prof. Kamene Okonjo was kidnapped.
Prof Okonjo, 82-year-old mother of the finance minister, was snatched at the gate of her husband’s palace, in Ogwashi Ukwu, Delta State last Sunday. With her kidnap and that of other high profile Nigerians in the past, observers are saying that the stake is becoming higher in this criminal act.
Investigation revealed that kidnapping first captured people’s attention in February 2006, when militants in the Niger Delta started abducting foreign oil workers. Most of the early victims were usually set free after few days in captivity. However, with time, when the potential for quick money in a relatively lower risk venture, kidnapping soon blossomed into a “lucrative business.”
Shortly after the amnesty programme kicked off, the South East had a bitter pill of the activities of kidnappers, with Abia State topping the chart. This was later put under check with the eventual arrest and execution of a notorious kingpin, Obioma Nwankwo a.k.a Osisikankwu.
In recent times, kidnapping has been a recurring decimal in the country. Victims have changed from being predominantly foreign oil workers to Nigerians, including parents, grandparents, footballers and toddlers as well as anyone who has a relative that could be blackmailed into coughing out a ransom.
Checks revealed that kidnappers go for their victims in their homes, churches and on the road.
The peace of a Catholic church in Ukpo, Anambra State, was broken sometime ago when kidnappers stormed and took away a monarch. In the attack, Robert Chukwudilim Eze, traditional ruler of Ukpo community, in Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State, was snatched.
In Bayelsa, a traditional ruler of Okordia Kingdom, in Yenagoa Local Government Area, King Richard Seiba, was abducted. Also, a Nigerian international midfielder and Leece player, Christian Obodo, was kidnapped, likewise international defender, Onyekachi Apam.
Nornu Yobo, elder brother of Everton defender, Joseph Yobo, was also kidnapped in 2008, in Port Harcourt. Last year, in August, kidnappers, in Jos, seized the father of Chelsea midfielder, John Mikel Obi.
Renowned novelist, Elechi Amadi, was also a victim just as ace actor, Pete Edochie, who was held for about 24 hours and later released after a ransom was allegedly paid. Similarly, the father of former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, was kidnapped.
Shortly after the release of Pete Edochie, Nkem Owoh was kidnapped on Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway.
While most of the kidnap victims regained their freedom after the payment of ransom, some others were murdered, even after ransom was paid.
One of such persons was the Managing Director of “God is Good Motors, Mr. Edwin Ajarere, who was reportedly abducted and murdered after his abductors collected N60 million ransom from the family.
Barely two weeks after some gunmen suspected to be kidnappers abducted and killed the late Mr. Edwin Ajarere, another Benin-based millionaire and owner of Alpha Furniture Company, located at the Ikpoba Slope, Benin City, Mr. Osazee Ebhounwan, was kidnapped and killed. A Benin-based musician, Bayo Ade, was also kidnapped in Benin City, just as Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) chieftain, Chief Thomas Ahanor, was kidnapped in Oza village and was also killed after ransom was collected.
The Delta incidents
Kidnappers have, indeed, laid siege to Delta State. Now residents of Asaba, Ughelli, Sapele, Warri, as well as other major towns live in fear.
Recently, Justice Marcel Okoh, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, in the state, who had just been appointed a judge of the Delta State High Court, was trailed by some armed men, from Umunede, along the Benin-Asaba expressway. When he got to Oria, along the Agbor-Abraka-Ughelli road, the kidnappers double-crossed his sport utility vehicle. They took the judge away and later asked for N40 million ransom.
The same period, Mrs. Benedicta Offorkachi, a politician, was abducted in Asaba. She was on her way to the state secretariat when her Toyota Camry car was double-crossed by some gunmen, who shot severally into the air to scare away onlookers. The kidnappers thereafter, whisked her into their own Honda Accord and sped away.
Tension was high in Ughelli on August 22, 2011, when a chief magistrate, Mr. Obomejero Aforkeya, was kidnapped at the entrance of his residence located at Iwhrekpokpor quarters, in Ughelli metropolis. The magistrate, who works in Oleh Magisterial District, Isoko South Local Government Area of the state, was driven off to an unknown destination in his official Honda Civic car.
A pastor of All Saints Pentecostal Assembly, Reverend J. Israel, is another victim. He was taken captive at Ekredjabor area of Ughelli on August 19, 2012, as he was driving to church in company with his two children. His adversaries, numbering four, forcefully took him away, leaving his children behind.
A week prior to that, five persons were abducted in Ughelli. One of them, a businessman, was shot twice in the thigh and his Honda car sprayed with bullets, as he tried to escape.
Interestingly, not all kidnap attempts have been successful. In July, the plot to abduct the Delta State Head of Service, Mr. Okey Ofili, in Asaba, was thwarted by some policemen. This occurred at Summit Road junction on the Asaba-Benin highway while he was on his way home after church service. The victim was left with gunshot injuries, as his assailants shot him in the leg when he refused to be taken away.
Also in the same month, Mr. Uchenna Abueme, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member serving in Delta State, was abducted at Asaba by three men and driven to Okpanam. The kidnappers abandoned their victim when the police gave them a hot chase. He was found after 28 hours.
A month earlier, Markson Macaulay, 28, son of Ovuozorie Macaulay, Secretary to the State Government, was kidnapped in Ozoro, headquarters of Isoko North Local Government Area. He had just returned home from a foreign trip and visited his grandmother in Owhelogbo.
This happened a few days after 70-year-old Samuel Uduaghan, Governor Uduaghan’s cousin, was abducted. The criminals followed Pa Uduaghan to his Direct Labour Agency layout, Asaba and took him away.
On 23 April, Madam Suzanne Elumelu, the 80-year-old mother of Ndudi Elumelu, a member of the House of Representatives, was abducted on her farm at Onicha-Uku. While speeding away with her in their car, with the police in hot pursuit, her kidnappers opened fire when they got to the Obi’s Palace/Afo Market axis at Issele-Uku, injuring a woman. Four days after, security operatives rescued her.
One of the most bizarre cases occurred on December 31, 2011, when a 27-year-old man who simply called himself Emma, buried his kidnapped victim alive. Emma, a native of Owahawa, in Ughelli South Local Government Area was so haunted by his crime that he confessed to the police eight months after.
The Edo bountiful harvest
Saturday Sun investigation revealed that in 2010 the following cases were reported in Edo State: The Vice-Chairman, Ovia South West, Hon. Joel Osas Oliha was kidnapped in Benin City. Also, the Chairman of the ACN, Edo State Council, Rev. Peter Imasuen and the Principal of Idia College, Mrs. Dorothy Igbinovia, were all kidnapped in Benin City.
Other kidnapped victims are Chief Medical Director of the University of Benin (UBTH), Prof. Michael Ibadin; the Dean of Faculty of Sciences, UNIBEN, Prof. Esosa Bob Osazee and the Director, NIFOR, Dr. Dere Okiy were abducted in Evboneka village.
Also, the CEO, Doris Day Hotel, Mrs. Doris Oboh, was kidnapped in Benin City, likewise a Senior Medical Consultant in UBTH, Prof. Abel Onunu, Delta State lawmaker, Hon. Abel Oshevire; the CMD, Federal Psychiatric Hospital, Uselu, Dr. Olabisi Ihenyenk; the MD, SAMOTACA Electricals, Mr. Samuel Otasumaka and former vice chancellor, Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, Prof. Dennis Agbonlahor.
Next on the list were the wife of Edo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mrs. Florence Obayuwana and CEO, Tomline Construction Engineering, Elder Tes Sorae, who were abducted in one of the most deadly operations in Benin City.
Also, the 77-year-old father of Hon. Samson Osagie, who represents Orhionmwon/Uhunmwode Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives, was kidnapped. The septuagenarian was kidnapped in his Urhokasa country home, by gunmen who fired gunshots into the air to scare away people, before whisking their victim away. A ransom of N100 million was later placed on him.
If the Rep’s dad predicament was pathetic, then the case of 32-year-old, Amen Aghamwon Ogbeide-Ihama, was worse, as he lost his life. The victim, an operative of the State Security Service (SSS), was shot dead by a gang of kidnappers, in a failed rescue attempt.
Chucks and Amenaghawon’s ordeals were not different from that of Elder Tes Sorae, who lost his wife, driver and two police orderlies in September 2011. The businessman (Tes Sorae) was returning from church when some gunmen blocked his vehicle, at the entrance of his house on Textile Mill Road and immediately opened fire. His wife, Bridget, driver and the police orderlies were killed. The attackers took the businessman away.
Less than two months later, gunmen abducted Chief Felix Okungbowa, father-in-law of the state deputy governor, Dr. Pius Odubu. Also, last month the national secretary of the Accord Party, who also doubles as Edo State Chairman, Conference of Registered Political Parties (CRPP), was abducted by unknown gunmen. He, however, regained his freedom after parting with N2 million.
The frightening South East angle
In the South East, most of the cases occurred in Anambra State, where the governor, Mr. Peter Obi, had knocked down the house of one of the notorious kidnap kingpins.
A traditional ruler, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: “It is a point-and-pick situation in Anambra. If you refused to abide by forces that determine what your case should be the next news would be that the very person was kidnapped. It’s not about the money but to blackmail their victim.”
Recently, Permanent Secretary in the office of the Deputy Governor of Imo State, Arch Emenike Ihekwoaba, was abducted. The civil servant is yet to be released, despite the fact that his family has paid a ransom of N10million.
Nobody would forget in a hurry how leaders of Nigeria Union Journalists (NUJ) were kidnapped in Abia State in 2010. One of those abducted is Wahab Oba, then chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the union. Also, the Lagos State acting Secretary of the union, Silva Okereke, was among those kidnapped.
Oba and the other victims were returning from the National Executive Council meeting of the union when they were taken hostage by the gunmen.
Enugu University Vice Chancellor, Prof Cyprian Onyeji, was also kidnapped and a ransom of N200million was demanded from the family. He was abducted at gunpoint at the school gate. Another gang also kidnapped two female top officials of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO). Families of two victims were asked to cough out N30 million.
Indeed, the Campaign for Democracy (CD) has said that a total number of 938 prominent sons and daughters of the South-East have been kidnapped between January 2008 and August 2012. In its statement, the group said that the total number of people kidnapped had paid ransoms valued at about N1.2 billion within the last five years.
According to CD, “Anambra State has the highest incidence of kidnapping of 273 persons, especially within the commercial axis of Onitsha and Nnewi. And it is happening at a constant rate for over five years now. Imo State, with current upsurge of kidnapping incidence, has recorded 265 cases; while its residents are living in heightened fear. Abia follows with 215 persons so far, although the incidence of kidnapping had continued to reduce for some months now after the death of a notorious kidnapper called Osisikankwu.
“Enugu has recorded 95 cases of the incidence in the past five years. However, the state had recorded the highest in abduction of government officials and international personnel. Ebonyi is the least, and quite of all the five states within the South East. It has recorded 90 cases so far officially. However, apart form kidnapping; the state is laden with communal crisis.”
Counter-attack by security operatives
Although the situation seems overwhelming, the police and other security agents have made efforts to arrest the ugly situation. In some cases, kidnap attempts have been foiled. In other cases, victims have been rescued.
When Chief Paul Okonkwo, for instance, was kidnapped in Awka, negotiation was still on when the police stormed his abductors’ hideout at Nibo, Anambra State. He and other people in the custody of the kidnappers were forcefully released by men of the State Security Services (SSS).
Also, security agents recently performed a feat, as a 23-year-old 300 level Law student of Imo State University, Owerri, Stephen Ajarogu and his gang were arrested for allegedly kidnapping a four-year-old Sopuruchukwu Orji at Awada Obosi, near Onitsha. Also at Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, Chairman of Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers and Obi of Onitsha, escaped being kidnapped on October 1, 2009 due to the intervention of the police. The kidnappers, numbering over 10, were over-powered by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Two of the abductors were killed in the gun battle that ensued.
In the case of Muhammed Sani, a soldier who was kidnapped with the pregnant wife of an Army officer, the Police, in conjunction with some soldiers, swooped on their hideout. Two of the kidnappers were killed and Sani was freed in the process.
In Enugu, the Police also succeeded in rounding up the gang that abducted Dr. Edemobi, brother to the Minister of Information, Dora Akunyili.
Other cases, where the police also fought gallantly include those of the wife of the Enugu South Local Government Chairman, who was rescued from the hands of the kidnappers, two of whom were killed. Also, wife of Igwe James Mama of the Ifesinachi Industry was rescued.
It was also the effort of the security operatives led by the military that caused the killing of Abia kidnap kingpin, Obioma Nwankwo a.k.a Osisikankwu on August 8, 2010. The kidnapper held Aba hostage.
The fear over Christmas
With kidnapping raring its head in December, a few weeks to Christmas, anxiety has gripped many Nigerians, especially those planning to travel home. Also, some prominent Nigerians, whose aged parents are in the village, are now afraid.
Checks revealed that Nigerian bigwigs now do intelligence gathering, to be sure of their security, before stepping out of their homes, especially those in South East and South South. Others, who are living in Abuja and South West, we gathered, have restricted their movement and have shunned engagements in the kidnap-prone areas.
Investigation revealed that some South easterners, who are determined to travel home for Christmas, are beefing up security round themselves. It was gathered that some of them would travel in convoy of armed policemen. Also, communities have stepped up vigilance arrangement for the Christmas.
The judiciary under attack
Meanwhile, security practitioners have called for a complete overhaul of the justice system, blaming upsurge in crime on the lax judicial system. A seasoned security practitioner, Dr Ona Ekhomu, argued that until the clause of impunity on crime is completely wiped out, the fight against crime would continue to increase.
In his words: “It is not just a question of policing alone but prosecution also. Those who have been caught, how many of them have been diligently prosecuted? Deterrence has to be close enough to scare one away. When these bad guys have been caught it should be celebrated by the media. The status given to kidnapping is very watery in the judiciary. I have called for capital punishment and that it should be made a federal crime. It is a terrorist crime and not an economic crime like robbery.”
Ekhomu further said that until the community learns to trust the police and volunteer information, crime cannot be controlled. He said: “The citizen’s involvement is also important; they don’t want to give information to the police. Unfortunately, the police have a monkey on its back and needs to build that confidence in people. They should try and convince people that they are ready and capable, and I think under the leadership of MD Abubakar, the police should be able to do that because he is a communicator. Just like the miracle he has done with removing road blocks in the country, they should set up a special squad known as the Joint Hostage Rescue team within state formation, especially where they have upsurge. The duty lies in the hands of the police, since the SSS have failed in the area of intelligence gathering.”
A retired Deputy Commissioner of Police, Hamza Bello, also blamed the legal system for the problem of kidnapping. According to him, “our legal system allows criminals to go free. The English legal system that we are practising allows criminals to go free. In the French system, the onus of truth lies on the suspect. It is the suspect that would convince the court that he has not committed an offence, but in Nigeria it is left in the hands of the prosecutor. The judiciary is too lenient with these criminals. An armed robber would be grateful if they are going to be charged to court. They file motion ex parte and the judge would be granted bail without referring to the police. An armed robber would be jubilating that he has been charged to court.
“Secondly most of the officers, who are professionals in combating crime have retired from the police. Those that are still active are few and overwhelmed by the situation. They should inject more officers and above all improve on their welfare packages. The Nigerian police can control crime with the help of the police.”