•We are not done yet – IGP Idris By Evelyn Usman
The genesis of kidnapping for ransom can be traced to the activities of Niger-Delta militants who abducted foreign workers in their bid to draw government’s attention to the plight of the oil region as a result of exploration there. Evans-Vampire At first, it was for the purpose of passing a message to the international community. Hostages were usually kept for a week or thereabouts in militants den and then released after a mention of the incident during a press conference or by the BBC or the CNN.
The trend witnessed the payment of ransom after an international oil company whose expatriates had been kidnapped could not hold on for negotiations to be completed before going ahead to pay for the release. The introduction of ransom then shifted the focus of the militants from mere gaining international relevance to a means of enriching themselves, as well as financing arms and ammunition for their struggle. Seeing the trend as lucrative, militants began to compel the oil companies to pay huge sums for the release of their men. Many youths in the region, majority of who were jobless, ultimately resorted to kidnapping for ransom to survive. Along the line, the multinational companies in the Niger – Delta re-strategised by intensifying protection around their employees, a move that also witnessed a counter strategy by militants who turned their attention to high net-worth Nigerians. This continued until the introduction of amnesty by the federal government which saw militants in the oil region surrendering.
Unfortunately, amnesty did not provide the ready answer to kidnapping for ransom as the trend was hijacked by copy cats who introduced diverse methods to it in other parts of the country. It initially escalated to the East where aged parents and relatives of persons considered to be rich were kidnapped and kept by captors until ransom was paid. The situation got so bad that most Igbo who were known to travel to their villages during festive periods such as the new yam festival and Christmas stayed away for fear of falling prey to these criminal elements. Many communities in the region were vacated as natives fled for fear of being kidnapped.
The problem soon spread to other parts of the country with the attendant violent twist as life was snuffed out of victims either out of frustration of not getting the anticipated ransom or due to delay in payment of ransom. One of the pathetic incidents was the killing of a 75-year-old woman, Mrs Theresa Adaku Edid, by her captors about six years ago in Imo State after her family had paid N1 million ransom. She had returned from the farm on April 14, 2011 and was resting in front of her compound when some armed men drove in and whisked her away to their hideout from where they put a call through to her relatives, who quickly paid the ransom only to be told later that she had died in their custody.
Another incident was the case of a professor of agricultural economics and extension at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Paul Erie, whose abduction was said to have been masterminded by one of his in-laws. He was abducted in June 2015. His abductors had tied his mouth and nose to prevent him from shouting, an action that suffocated and killed him. His decomposing body was exhumed four months later from a shallow grave in Igbanke area of Edo State where his captors had buried him following their arrest. Also in Lagos, a woman, who was abducted while driving into her compound in Ikorodu area, had life snuffed out of her in the kidnappers’ bid to prevent her from shouting.
In January 2017, the mother of an Abuja based industrialist and indigene of Ishiagu community in Ebonyi State, Mrs Catherine Okorie Chukwu, was abducted, killed and buried at the kidnappers den in Lokpanta, Isuochi area of Abia State. Her decomposing body was exhumed from a forest by a police team who led one of the self-confessed kidnappers to the spot. Not done, kidnappers extended their spree to schools where students in two different schools were abducted and released after several millions of naira had been paid as ransom. The latest was the release of the six students of Lagos Model College, Igbonla, Epe, Lagos after spending close to three months in kidnappers’ den.
IGP Idris intervenes
At a point, kidnapping became so rampant that Nigeria took the third place as the most likely country where an individual could be kidnapped, according to the Global Kidnapping Index. This led to foreign embassies constantly issuing travel advisories on the no-go areas in the country. Determined to checkmate the trend, Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim idris, declared total war against kidnappers. Idris empowered the Intelligence Response Team, IRT, by broadening its scope and procuring modern day technology that would aid the team’s work. In addition, he established the Tactical intelligence Unit, TIU, which personnel were deployed to all police commands across the country, with a charge to unearth criminal elements behind kidnapping and other violent crimes. . The move can be said to be paying off owing to the several arrests made as well as the rescue of abducted victims before ransom are paid.
One of such arrests was those of suspected kidnappers of the the Oniba of Iba, Oba Yeshau Goriola, last July. Two German archaeologists, Professor Peter Breunig and Mr. Johannes Behringer, who were abducted in Kadarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State, seven months ago, were also rescued and their suspected kidnappers arrested. The arrest of an 11-man kidnap gang which allegedly abducted the Deputy High Commissioner of Sierra Leone to Nigeria, Major General Alfred Nelson, can be said to be an attestation to the IGP’s avouched zeal to rid the country of kidnappers.
The arrest of the suspects was said to have been facilitated by the IRT which also rescued the victims. Another major arrest was that of kidnappers cum robbers who terrorized motorists as well as residents of Gawu Babaginda village in Niger State. The gang members, as gathered, relocated to Niger after escaping arrest on Abuja-Kaduna highway. Several motorists who plied the Suleja-Lambata, Bida and Minna roads had fallen prey to these criminal elements who operated with reckless abandon until August 22, 2017 when the long arm of the law caught up with them.
The arrest, as gathered, followed the establishment of a special operation, code named, Maximum Safety, along Kaduna – Abuja, Suleja-Lambata and Minna – Bida Roads by the IGP. After a painstaking intelligence, 26 suspected members of the gang were arrested. Three AK47 rifles, four single barrel gun, two cut-to-size guns, one locally made revolver, one locally made pistol and one set of military camouflage uniform were recovered from them.
In addition to the recovery were 69 rounds of 7.62X39mm live ammunition, 28 live and two expended cartridges, a set of military rain coat, two sets of military shoes, one jack knife, assorted clothes and charms Vampire meets waterloo Also worthy of mention was the arrest of five suspected members of a kidnap gang said to have abducted Kogi State governor’s mother, Mrs. Hawawu Bello, three years ago. Among those arrested was a former councillor with the recovery of two AK47 rifles, 20 live cartridges; an Army camouflage inner wear; two army camouflage pair of trousers, two army camouflage caps, one black Beretta, two plastic guns, three sharp knives and an axe.
Another feat recorded under the IGP’s watch was the fall of a suspect, alleged as the most vicious kidnap kingpin in the history of Nigeria, Henry Chibueze, whose alias was Vampire. The kingpin had his reign of terror in the South-East and some politicians as his victims. Vampire reportedly killed his victims at the slightest provocation, especially if ransom was not paid in time or if he considered what was being paid for ransom too small.
He was reported to have told relatives of some of the victims to keep the money for their (victims) burial, informing them sometimes on where to get their corpses. But his reign of terror expired on March 2, 2017, as he met his dead end during a cross-fire with operatives of the IRT. Five members of his gang, including a herbalist, were arrested while several arms and ammunition were recovered.
The entire South-East went agog in celebration of Vampire’s death as many of his victims said he had bragged that he was untouchable.
Evans meets waterloo
But the most celebrated breakthrough among other arrests of suspected kidnappers was the apprension of Chukwudumeje Onwuamadike, popularly known as Evans. He has confessed to several high profile kidnappings in Lagos and Port Harcourt. Described as a smooth operator and the most brilliant and richest kidnapper in the history of Nigeria, Evans allegedly proved a hard nut for the police to crack as he held sway for years.
While the game lasted, he never settled for an average Nigerian. His targets were those who could afford to pay ransom in foreign currencies running into several millions. He was also never in a hurry to release any of them until his demand was met. But like every other thing which has an end, the 37-year-old suspect was arrested in his Magodo estate residence on June 10, 2017 by operatives of the IRT. He was arraigned in court where he pleaded guilty.
Raid of Abuja-Kaduna highway
Sunday Vanguard investigation showed that 72 suspects who allegedly kidnaped and attacked motorists along Abuja-Kaduna highway were arrested in a forest along that axis. A breakdown showed that 32 of them were apprehended on July 31, 2017 at Kateri while the rest (40) were arrested during a raid of the forest along the road.
Meanwhile, at the last count, the number of kidnapping suspects in the custody of the police across the nation totals 119 even as their fate could not be ascertained at press time. In Lagos, several kidnap suspects have also been arrested with some attempts foiled. So far, over 200 kidnappers’ dens have been destroyed in the state, including make shift buildings in kidnappers’ dens in creeks.
We will review the template of security- IGP
Restating his determination to stem the tide, IGP Idris said the police would not allow criminal elements hold sway in the country. To ensure this, he said his administration would keep reviewing the template of security.
Speaking with journalists, he said: “We will regularly review the template for providing security from time to time. This is to ensure that we smoke out criminals from their hideouts. We are not going to spare or think twice about anyone who raises his gun to fire at innocent citizens, we will not allow that hand to come down.
I say this with all sense of purpose. But we cannot achieve this without the support of community leaders and the help of all Nigerians. “All kidnap suspects in our custody will be prosecuted as soon as investigation in each case is concluded. And for policemen who engage in the war against kidnappers, they will be rewarded accordingly.”