Politicians, security agents, former militants and bank officials in Delta State take kidnapping to another level
| Augustine Adah | Dec. 24, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT
DELTA State, known for militancy in the past, has now become a safe haven for a syndicate of kidnappers who carry out high profile and sophisticated operations on persons with high economic value. Members of the syndicate include politicians, policemen, former militants and bank officials. The kingpin of the syndicate is said to be a holder of a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering who helps to plan and execute kidnap operations without any hitch. Members of the syndicate carryout their operations in a manner that makes it almost impossible for security officials to track their movement. For instance, the syndicate has layers of operation. Whenever it plans to kidnap a victim, it is done in a compartment, a division of labour that leaves nothing to chance to ensure that the operation is successful.
There are usually three groups involved in any kidnap operation in the state. The first group will carry out the snatching of the victim from his base, the members will move to another base where they will hand him or her over to the second group whose members will proceed to another location of which the first group has no idea. This group will then move with the victim and hand him or her over to the third group whose members are responsible for taking the victim to a safe house in their hideout. It is in this third phase that the victims are normally taken to the creeks or the last port of call before the kidnappers make contact with victim’s relations for the payment of the ransom. According to sources, the group that abduct the victims is usually different from the one that makes or collects ransom and there are different people involved in placing calls from different states in Nigeria such as Abuja, Port Harcourt or Enugu whereas the kidnapping took place in Delta State.
A case of security officials’ involvement in kidnapping happened last month, when two police officers were arrested and detained over their involvement in the collection of ransom from Flora Azinge, justice of Otor-Udu High Court, in Delta State, after she was kidnapped. In August this year, the Officer-in-Charge, OC, anti-kidnapping task force, in Delta State, a chief superintendent of police, and six members of the squad were disarmed, arrested and taken to Abuja, on the order of Inspector General of Police, IGP, for allegedly aiding and abetting kidnappers in the state. The anti- kidnapping squad also arrested Daniel Akagbo, 17, who arranged for his kidnap and advised the group to demand for a ransom of N20 million from his father.
This is why it took the police and the security agents time before securing the release of Kamene, a professor of sociology, and mother of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance, who was kidnapped on Sunday, December 9, at Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State. Charles Muka, commissioner of police, Delta State, stated that the man who allegedly left the compound few minutes before the kidnap incident had been arrested. The man was alleged to have informed the house maid that he was in the palace to take the queen mother somewhere in the town.
The 10-man gang, who abducted the 82 year-old woman mounted surveillance on the place for about one week before she was abducted in broad day light. As soon as Okonjo came down from the one storey building to the gate, the hoodlums, who were lurking around the entrance gate, grabbed her and pushed her into a waiting Golf Volkswagen car, while one of them went upstairs to collect the octogenarian’s drug kit. Unknown to the kidnappers, a maid was hiding in the house and was observing what was happening from her hideout. It is believed that the maid assisted the police with useful information that led to the arrest of the suspects. The kidnappers had earlier demanded for $1 billion ransom and later reduced the amount to N200 million. It was gathered that Okonjo was released by her abductors after the family reportedly paid N10 million ransom. According to Ikechukwu Aduba, commissioner of police, Delta State, Nwabueze Nwosa, aka Bolaji, one of those who masterminded the kidnapping, reportedly died of gunshot wounds at the weekend.
The spate of kidnapping has become very worrisome for a lot of people who view going to the South-South and South- East of the country as risky, especially for people with a lot of means. Okechukwu Nwagunma, programme coordinator, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN, has attributed the perennial cases of kidnapping to poverty, unemployment and lack of good governance. He blamed the situation on the inability of political leaders in the country to deliver dividends of democracy to the people. He said the police and members of the State Security Service, SSS, lack the intelligence expertise to nip the crime in the bud. The crime which Nwagunma described as lucrative, according to him, will continue for a long time because the security agents lack coordination and experience to fight it
But Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a sociologist, and an expert on security awareness, believes that the police and other security agents are doing so much on intelligence gathering as a way of fighting kidnapping in Nigeria. “It is one thing to have intelligence information but it is another to make use of the report,” Ekpe-Juda said. He explained that on several occasions, it is either that intelligence reports are compromised or neglected by those who are supposed to act on them. He bemoaned that some politicians were using kidnapping as a weapon to fight their opponents. The clergy man cited a case in Akwa Ibom State where about 16 arrested suspects in police detention were forcefully released by an armed gang as an example of the high level compromise that has made the battle against kidnapping a difficult one to win.
Kidnapping started in the south-south, where the militants who were aggrieved over the neglect of the oil rich region, resorted to kidnapping to attract government’s attention to their plight. But the government of late Umaru Yar’Adua later adopted an amnesty programme for such people. Thereafter, kidnapping moved to the South-east. But the South-East governors who were embarrassed by the activities of the gangs, have mapped out strategies to combat the menace.
For instance, Peter Obi, governor of Anambra State, and chairman, of South-East Governors’ Forum, has declared total war against the menace. In October, Obi ordered the demolition of two houses belonging to Emeka Ezekude, a member of a notorious gang that was responsible for major kidnappings in the state. Obi personally led the team that demolished the two houses in Umuatu, Uli, in Ihiala local government area of the state. One of the buildings demolished was a nine bedroom bungalow, which was still under construction at that time, while the second one was a four bed room flat.
Similarly, in September, two houses belonging to Olisa Ifedike in Ifite Orafite community in Ekwusigo, local government area of the state were pulled down. The two structures were alleged to have served as the hide out for the kidnap kingpins. The demolition was carried out as a result of discovery of catches of arms and ammunition by the police. Some of the arms recovered in an underground armoury included 27 AK 47 rifles, 12.800 live ammunition and 143 loaded magazine.
Ifedike was allegedly responsible for the kidnap of Robert Eze and Jerome Okolie, traditional rulers of Ukpo and Ihembosi communities. The governor’s action was boosted by a recent law passed by the state House of Assembly which declared kidnapping as a criminal activity and empowered the governor to destroy their properties. The law also pronounces capital punishment on offenders.
Mike Udah, chief press secretary to the governor, said that the governor’s approach to combating the menace of kidnapping had started yielding results as cases of kidnapping and other criminal activities have reduced drastically. Some of the governor’s recent efforts at tackling the problem headlong include, the establishment of a security trust fund which is managed by eminent personalities in the state, and the provision of security gadgets to security agencies in the state. In addition, the administration’s establishment of small and medium scale enterprises has resulted in the creation of jobs for the youths thereby discouraging them from engaging in criminal activities.
In Abia State, the amnesty policy adopted by the government has drastically reduced incidents of kidnapping. At the Champion Newspapers Man of the Year award in Enugu last October, Theodore Orji, governor of Abia State, was bold to inform the gathering that kidnapping was no longer common in Abia State. Orji said that the state was able to achieve the feat because the government granted amnesty to kidnappers at the peak of kidnapping in the state. The governor stated that he was at a point overwhelmed by the activities of kidnappers in the state. “Kidnapping has made the state where the crime was first reported notorious,” he said.
In Imo State, Rochas Okoracha, the governor recently boasted that kidnapping would no longer occur in the state because the government was ready to match kidnappers’ fire for fire. Sometimes last year, some indigenes of Imo State both in Nigeria and in the diaspora, wrote a letter to the governor in which they painted the gloomy picture of kidnapping in the state and urged him to take a decisive action before the situation degenerate into lawlessness. The effort of the South-East governors to curb kidnapping was intended to make the geo-political zone safe for indigenes who may want to come home during the yuletide. Some of them had stayed away from home for years due to rampant cases of kidnapping in the area.