ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU in this piece takes a look at the many cases of kidnapping as a business that is probably booming in most parts of the country and writes on the possible way out.
The act of abducting someone and holding him/her captive – kidnapping – was 10 years ago considered alien to Nigeria. However, in recent times the rate of kidnapping across the country is alarming. Today, this is seen as business, which remains a source of livelihood to most of those who engage in it. Regrettably, the victims cut across the haves and have-nots. And in most cases, the victims are made to pay huge ransoms; a few are set free, while others lost their lives in the hands of their abductors.
Evans’ arrest as a ‘deterrent’
In all the reported cases of kidnapping, the case of Chukwudidumeme Onuamadike, popularly known as Evans, aged 36, an indigene of Umudim Village, Nnewi North local government area of Anambra state, remains an example of how criminals made a fortunes through this evil act.
Evans who was arrested sometime in 2017 confessed to having been behind virtually all the high-profile kidnap incidents in places, including but not limited to Lagos, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, and Aba.
He also confessed that he had two properties in Ghana, one of which is where his wife and five children have reportedly moved into. Notably, among many items recovered from him during his arrest were expensive phones, one of which is put at a cost of $6,000.
The arrest of Evans and his gang came a few days after one of their victims, Donatus Dunu, a wealthy owner of a pharmaceutical company at Ilupeju, Lagos, escaped miraculously from where they had kept him for months. It gathered that he was abducted in front of his office in Ilupeju, on February 14, 2017, after he had closed shop for the day and that members of his family later paid about N150 million to effect his release.
But the kidnappers insisted on getting N500 million threatening to kill their victim if the full ransom was not paid. Luckily, a few weeks after the payment of the ransom and their consistent threats to kill their victim, Dunu miraculously escaped from their hideout at Igando, a suburb of Lagos.
Consequently, Evans was arrested after years of chase by security agents and his standing trial alongside Uche Amadi, Ogechi Uchechukwu, Chilaka Ifeanyi, Okwuchukwu Nwachukwu and Victor Aduba. The six were arraigned on two counts of conspiracy and kidnap. This was supposed to serve as deterrent to others, but the rate of kidnap in Nigeria has continued to rise.
N6m and NNPC staff’s demise
In Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, John Iheanacho, a 53-year-old staff of the Nigeria National Corporation (NNPC), was kidnapped at the entrance of his residence, at DPO Avenue, off Rehabilitation Centre, Iriebe, Port Harcourt, sometime in 2018. He was held in captivity for nine days while his kidnappers demanded a ransom of N50 million from members of his family, informing them that someone had paid them N30 million to kill Iheanacho. His family was said to have paid the value of N6 million in dollars to the kidnappers in two installments between March 27 and April 5, 2018, yet he died in the hands of abductors.
N100m paid, Taraba bizman still held
On the other hand, a Takum-based businessman, Alhaji Usman Mayo, was abducted about 40 days ago, that is sometime in February 2019, in Takum, Taraba state, is still in captive, even when the abductors’ ransom of N100 million was paid. Surprisingly, after the payment was made, they did not release him, but demanded for an additional N100 million.
However, Mayo was reported to have told his family in a telephone conversation not to give any amount to his abductors again. A family source, Malam Ibrahim, quoted Mayo to have said, ‘Please don’t sell any of my property to give my abductors again; I’m ready to die. Let my abductors kill me if they like.’
Journalists not left out
Recently in Abuja, a journalist with Channels Television, Friday Okeregbe, was kidnapped while returning from Apo mechanic village on March 22, somewhere around Games Village. The kidnapers who contacted Friday’s wife requested for N50 million ransom because he works with Channels Television and threatened to kill, if ransom was not paid. However, after seven days in captivity, Friday was released on Thursday, March 28. Though, Friday declined interview, but Blueprint Weekend gathered that ransom was paid, but the amount was not disclosed. It took the combined efforts of the police, DSS, Channels TV management, family and friends of Friday to regain his freedom.
Similarly, a Daily Trust staff, Ahmad Garba, and seven others were kidnapped on their way from Abuja to Kaduna on March 7, 2019, somewhere around Rijana town by 7pm. They were made to trek from 8pm to 2am to their camp inside the forest. Garaba, who narrated the story, said the kidnappers placed N30 million ransom on him because he is a journalist.
“They blamed journalists for the nation’s problems – that we were responsible for the raids carried out against them by security agencies. The leader said we write negative reports against them. I told ‘commander’ that my family could only raise a million naira. The following day, around 10am, he informed us that we were going home because they have received all the ransom.”
These criminal activities on Abuja – Kaduna highway are now a daily occurrence. However, Blueprint Weekend observed that in recent times, the presence of security personnel on the highway has been doubled.
Religious leaders too
A renowned Kano-based Qur’anic reciter, Sheikh Ahmad Sulaiman, and five other people were kidnapped in a village near Kankara in Katsina state on March 15, this year. Narrating their ordeals, Sheikh Sulaiman said: “What was worrisome to me personally is that every night the kidnappers will come and sat at our door steps pointing their Ak47 at us threatening to kill us once the ransom of Three Hundred million (N300m) was not paid.”
According to Sheikh Sulaiman, they regained their freedom after spending 10 days in captivity, because “the security operatives had gone underground to get hold of the mother of the leader of the kidnappers and threatened to kill her should he go ahead to kill me or any of the children that are together with me.”
A farmer’s N5.7m to free family in Zamfara
In far away Zamafra state, Wasilat was also kidnapped from Kayayi village. The night she was kidnapped alongside 15 other women made it the fourth time the bandits would storm the village, in March 2019. Narrating her ordeal in the hands of her abductors, Wasilat said she had prepared her older children for bed. Suddenly, one of the bandits forced her door open. Her four older children whose sleep was also interrupted by the sound began crying.
“I was begging them, that my husband was not around but they would not listen,” she recalls. At 11pm on Friday, Wasilat and eight other women already kidnapped were taken from home to home, as the bandits knocked down doors to kidnap more women. By 11:30pm, 16 women had been held hostage in Kayayi village. They were led into a thick forest, to their hideout where Wasilat was held for 34 days. The next four days, according to Wasilat’s account, four of the women were killed. Their husbands had said they could not afford the bounty placed on them.
Wasilat’s husband, a rich cattle rearer, paid N5.7 million to save his wife and baby, but the bandits refused to let them go despite the millions already collected. She said” “He paid our ransom three times; the first time was N2 million, the second ransom was also N2 million and lastly N1.7 million. It was the number they gave my husband that he used to call them to give them the money but they denied that the money was not given to them. So they threatened that they will kill me and my baby on Thursday.” However, on a Wednesday night that could have been her last night, one of the bandits had a brief repentant moment, took pity on her little child and showed Wasilat and four others the route out of the hideout.
Painfully, in recent times, many residents have been kidnapped in Zamafara state more than any other part of the country. Confirming this, the acting executive secretary of the Zamfara Emergency
Management Agency (ZEMA), Alhaji Aminu Umar, recently stated that 227 people were kidnapped in the state from December 2018 to April 3, 2019.
However, security experts have observed that the kidnappers in most parts of the North have similar characteristics. They further stated that the kidnapping now take place in North, though there are cases of abduction also in the South, but no longer as rampant as it is today in Northern Nigeria. Incidentally, the states where kidnapping is alarming include Kogi, Benue, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara.
Kidnapping in the north
In explaining the reason kidnapping is at its peak in the North, a security expert and former commissioner of police, FCT command, Lawrence Alobi, said, “Kidnapping is alarming in the northern part of Nigeria because of high rate of poverty. The more poverty, the more the rate of crime will increase. When poverty is addressed, when education is seen as key and central and when the youth are empowered with capacity to contribute towards their own wellbeing, crimes like kidnapping in the north will become a thing of the past.”
Why kidnapping is increasing
Alobi identified structural, economic and moral problem as reasons for the increase in kidnapping rate in Nigeria.
“There is an increase rate of kidnapping because of structural problems, moral problem and economic problem. Structurally, it is the society itself that create this problem. In the sense that the society itself has not address the issue of poverty, the security institutions are weak. For instance, the police who are supposed to be in charge of internal security are not properly funded. No adequate man power, they don’t have the necessary gadgets needed to curb crime like kidnapping.
“When the police are not well trained, when they are not well equipped and no capacity building, kidnapping will strive in such a society,” he said.
Continuing, he said: “Today armed robbery is on decline and kidnapping is more on the high side, because of the economic situation and it give the abductors opportunity to negotiate for high ransom.
Kidnapping is becoming a lucrative business, because hunger is there, poverty is there.
“Sometimes, some of these kidnappers are sponsored by some people, who usually hide somewhere and control them. When they are arrested, their sponsors even look for means to bail them. So, there are many factors responsible for the incessant kidnapping in Nigeria. Another is the issues proliferation of illegal arms, because a kidnaper cannot carry out the act, when he is not arm.”
Some Nigerians told Blueprint Weekend that no one is safe and that they now live in fear of being kidnapped.
Usman Muhammed, a resident of Abuja, said the situation in Abuja on kidnapping is disturbing.
“In Abuja, no one is safe from kidnappers and one chance criminals. Many cases have been reported to the police, yet the criminals still carry out their evil act. We do everything in fear.
On the other hand, Habiba Idris a trader, also added that the rate of kidnap along Abuja – Kaduna road affects her business.
She said “ In the past I travel through Kaduna – Abuja express way at least twice in week to trade, but with the activities of kidnappers on that road. I now do most of my trading in Kaduna, I now fear travelling to Abuja. I am managing myself, so I don’t want to be kidnap and be ask to pay millions.
Similarly, Ifeanyi Emmanuel also lamented that no one is save in this country.
He said “You are not save anywhere in Nigeria. You can be kidnap anywhere, any time. The government and security agencies need to help us, this is affecting so many things. We do business in fear, our sons and daughters are not save, our wives can be kidnap in the market.
Kidnappers now abduct pastors and Muslim clerics even at worship centers. We are no longer save, we live in fear.
End in sight?
Another security expert, Dr Amaechi Nwaokolo said there is an end in sight through good governance and review of our internal security network.
He said : “The way out is good governance and reviewing our internal security network. There are a lot of lapses in our national security architecture. Therefore, until we equip our policing system, until we strengthen the policing system around the country; because the kidnappers have taken advantages of the system. If review our internal security, our personnel will be able to face these kidnappers.
“Good governance will put an end to kidnapping through creation of jobs for the jobless youth. So if the government, the executives can strive enough through meaningful programs and policies, kidnapping will be tackle. And to the National Assembly, what kind of law are you putting in place? How can you help to build good governance in this country? So that our youth that are becoming threat to national security will be meaningfully engaged. So if we can create industries where these people can be engage, because they say that an idle man is devil’s workshop, crime rate will drastically reduce.
On his part, Alobi recommended that, “The President should look at security issues in a more holistic manner. He should ensure that the police are well funded, equipped and ensure that more policemen are recruited to police the nooks and cranny of Nigeria.
“On the other hand, other security agencies should also work together with the police to put an end to kidnapping and other crimes. This issue of rivalry and ego are not good for our system. The military and the police, they should not work at cross purposes, because they are for the same objective. Also, the citizens have a duty to assist security agencies with information”.
Police to synergize with other security agencies, as IGP launches operation “Puff Adder”
In an attempt to tackle this menace, the acting inspector general of police, Adamu Mohammed disclosed that the police is working in synergy with other security agencies to put an end to Kidnapping in Nigeria.
The IGP who made the disclosure recently in Abuja, said “We met with security chiefs on how to synergize on the cases of kidnapping, especially along the Abuja – Kaduna highway. The situation in Zamfara, Katisna, Birnin Gwari, Niger and also in Kogi state.
Also, the IGP on Friday, last week, launched code Operation Puff Adder on the Abuja – Kaduna highway, an operation that will cover Abuja-Kaduna highway and the adjoining communities which will extend to Kogi, Katsina, Niger and Zamfara states.
The acting IGP said, “To the criminal elements, let me sound this noteof warning loud and clear, give up your criminal activities, embrace other legitimate means of livelihood or be prepared for the consequences of your criminality, the citizens and the police are now united in their resolve to take the battle to your doorsteps and bring you to deserved justice.”
He charged the policemen to, “Take the battle to their doorsteps and make a clear statement that the few deviants within us cannot and will not re-order our cherished national values. The time is now and today’s action by the Nigerian Police is aimed at this direction and it is in direct compliance with the directives of Mr President to the Nigeria Police to re-evaluate and emplace new operational strategies to stem the tide of kidnapping, armed robbery, Armed banditry and sundry highly organised crimes across the country within the shortest possible time.”