Chioma Okezie-Okeh

On November 14, 2019,  Lagos State Government, through the Ministry of Justice, secured death sentence for three men that stood trial for their roles in the kidnap of Lagos monarch Oniba of Iba, Oba Yishau Goriola Oseni.

The milestone judgment came three years after armed men stormed the palace of Oba Oseni in Iba, a suburb of Lagos, on July 16, 2016, and forcibly took him away at 8 pm. One of his wives was shot and wounded while a servant in the palace and an Okada rider were both shot dead in the melee. The abductors, subsequently, held the king hostage for 21 days until a ransom was paid.

A few days later, operatives of the newly-created Inspector General of Police, Intelligence Response Team arrested four of the suspected kidnappers, namely Duba Furejo, Ododomo Isaiah, Ruben Anthony and Yerin Fresh.

The quartet was arraigned before Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo at the Lagos High Court, Igbosere, Lagos Island, on an eight-count charge that included conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and kidnapping.

The Lagos State governor at the time, Akinwunmi Ambode had pursued justice with utmost gravitas by deploying the state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem, as the prosecutor. Three years later came a ruling that will have a wider impact beyond Lagos State

While the country has been besieged by an unprecedented wave of kidnapping in the past two, 2019 witnessed a slew of kidnapping-related arrests by IRT operatives across the country. Now analysts re pushing the views that the landmark judgment at the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere, could well serve as a precedent for a flood of similar cases that may soon found their way into the courtroom in 2020.

A most audacious abduction

Although there has been a myriad of kidnappings across the country, the case of Oba Oseni remains one of the most daring abductions. The full detail came out in the court as the monarch and his son, Alhaji Kazeem Oseni reconstructed their ordeals at the hand of the criminals.

On that fateful night, nine men armed to the teeth had stormed the palace and shot sporadically for as long as the invasion lasted leaving behind grave casualties. Olori Abosede Oseni, the wife of the king, was shot and left bleeding for trying to prevent the men from gaining access to the king; two other men were shot dead, one of them, Sunday Okanlawon, was a palace attendant, while the second, Joseph Okeke, was a commercial motorcyclist.

The king, who was in the bathroom when they stormed his palace, had stepped only to find himself confronted by gun-toting goons.  After confirming that he was the king, Oba Oseni was dragged out of his palace, down the street and into the creek where he was bundled into a motored boat and taken away through the Iba waterside to an unknown destination. He was eventually held hostage for 21 days during which he was subjected to inhuman condition, including daily assault to drive into him the import that his life depended on the amount of money his family could pay.

From the initial demand of N500million, the gang, after days of negotiation, lowered the ransom to N40million and took the first tranche of N12million from the royal family on July 27. The ransom was delivered to them at Igbehinadun Close, Iyana School, Iba. A day later, they called to demand their balance of N28million, but after much plea from the family, they agreed to take N3.1million and thereafter released their hostage later in the evening of August 6. One of the suspects took him on a canoe to a point and asked him to paddle himself ashore.

The gangs’ journey to the gallows

The kidnappers were a motley gang of never-do-wells whose stock-in-trade was illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism their preoccupation. The gang of nine that kidnapped Oba Oseni was led by Igodogodo; the remaining eight minions were Mighty, Samuel, Hajai Mopol, Jidea, Volly, Tombra, Duba Furejo and Godfery. Another group of seven, led by Ruben Anthony, claimed they did not participate in the actual abduction, but they were in the creek with the abductors and they knew about the crime. These accomplices included Yerin Fresh, Adviser, Practice, July, Owei One and Pascal Idowu.

The suspects were mostly from Ese Odo LGA, Ondo State.

Igodogodo, the alleged kingpin left the camp after collecting the first ransom. He has since been declared wanted and is still at large.

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However, four of the suspects were not so lucky and they ultimately had to take the rap for the crime.  One of these is Duba Furejo, alias General Cuba, the first suspect nabbed by the police. It was he that articulated the motivation for the abduction: their discovery that the security at the oba’s palace was porous. His share of N1million from the initial N12million ransom, the court heard, was passed on to his two wives and mother. He took over the negotiation for the second tranche of N3.1million, out of which he took N200, 000. The cash sum was found on him when he was caught on his way out of the creek.

Ruben Anthony, leader of the self-styled elders in the creek denied being part of the group that went to seize the monarch from his palace, but he was aware of the presence of the king in the camp and had gone to see “the boys” and their captive. He even got a largesse of N800, 000 which he shared equally with six other so-called elders, among them Yerin Fresh, who also took the rap.

The fourth convict, Ododomo Isaiah, arrested at Iyana Ipaja garage, died inside Kirikiri Prison after several months of ill-health. What was known of his role was that he was the acolyte Fujero instructed to take their hostage back to Iba town.

The full weight of justice

The prosecution team, led by state Solicitor General, Titilayo Shitta-Bey, had pushed for the maximum penalty. And Justice Taiwo in sentencing the trio of Duba Furejo, Reuben Anthony and Yerin Fresh to death by hanging, acknowledged “the prosecution has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt and I find the three defendants guilty as charged.”

The convicts were each handed 10 years for conspiracy to commit murder, death by hanging for murder, and life imprisonment for attempted murder. They were also sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit kidnapping and life imprisonment for armed robbery. Additionally, they bagged 10 years each for conspiracy to commit armed robbery and to 21 years imprisonment for kidnapping.

Justice Taiwo in his words said the defendants, who appeared to be the first time offenders, clearly understood the gravity of the offences and the consequences of their actions. “I have no doubt in my mind that the defendants were involved in the crime. I also have no doubt that the defendants knew that their actions would cause injuries to the victims, especially by the use of weapons as proven by the prosecution,” he stated.

The judge justified the severity of the sentence when he said: “A clear message needs to be sent to people who think they can get away with such actions. Families are made to look for ransoms just to save their loved ones and this must be stopped. Such crimes don’t only affect the victims but also the society at large. Lagos is not a lawless society.”

The implication of the judgment

The condemned criminals are presently languishing on death row as their fate awaits the signature of the Lagos State governor. Many welcomed the ruling as just and deserved punishment, a viewpoint touted by Dennis Amachree, a security consultant.

Amachree urges the state government not to hesitate in signing their death warrant.

“It is a new beginning in Nigeria where kidnappers are taken to court prosecuted and sentenced to death. It might be a stringent judgment but I think that Nigeria needs it at this time where kidnappers do things without hindrance are to take caution. Let it be a deterrent to them let them not just be kidnapping people anyhow, killing people. The government should go ahead and sign execution order,” he states. “There are a lot of kidnappers that have been arrested and nothing is happening. Later, when we review the threat again, the judiciary can review the term of judgment.”

On the other hand, human rights activist, Arthur Judah Angel thinks that death sentence cannot deter kidnapping. Angel, founder of Life Wire, an organization that intervenes on behalf of persons illegally incarcerated says: “Death sentence belongs to the past; killing a convicted murderer cannot serve as a condemnation of murder. It is in itself murder.”

While not holding a brief for criminals, his viewpoint is predicated on the fact that the death penalty is not punishment but retaliation in the case of murder.

“The state kills and commits murder whenever the hangman uses the rope. Murder is murder even when it is legally carried out by the state,” he reasons.

According to him, life jail is punitive enough; they could be jailed as long as 100 years, he suggests.