IT was another sad commentary in the Niger Delta struggle for justice as criminals, Monday night, abducted one of Africa's celebrated novelists, 74-year-old Captain Elechi Amadi, at his residence in Aluu community, on the outskirts of Port Harcourt.
But 23 hours after, about 9.40 p.m. last night, he regained his freedom. Family members reluctantly volunteered that he was let free in a bush not far from his Aluu village, from where he trekked home.
His abduction early yesterday immediately attracted condemnations from governors in the Niger Delta and the arts community, describing it as shameful and most embarrassing.
Governors Rotimi Amaechi and Timipre Sylva of Rivers and Bayelsa States respectively while reacting to the kidnap said it was utter criminality that has no relationship with "the genuine struggle of the Niger Delta people for social and economic justice within the Nigerian federation."
Confirming the development to Vanguard, spokesman for the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the state, Lt.-Col Sagir Musa, said "the unfortunate event occurred at about 9pm. "Information at the disposal of the JTF Operation Flush Out indicated that one Captain Elechi Amadi (rtd) was abducted by yet-to-be identified gunmen at about 9.00hrs pm in his home town, Aluu on the outskirt of Port Harcourt."
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Rita Inoma Abbey said: "As soon as Police got wind of the kidnap, policemen were quickly deployed to block strategic areas around the neighbourhood. She said she still could not imagine how they fled with the hostage despite the heavy security mounted by the police in the area that night."
According to her, the kidnappers came in two vehicles - a Toyota Hilux and a Mazda car. At the main entrance to Elechi's sitting room, they introduced themselves in Ikwerre language, thus giving the impression that they were either his relatives or harmless guests from the neighbourhood.
They were later ushered in. It was while they were inside that it dawned on the household that they were kidnappers. Without any resistance, Elechi reportedly submitted himself and then followed them to their waiting vehicles.
A family source said Elechi was alone with his wife in the house when they came. Innocently, according to the source, the wife opened the door when the gunmen knocked, adding that about three of them entered the house and immediately marched Elechi to his bedroom. The source could not say why they did that but he feared that they might have gone in to force him to part with valuables in the room. The same source said no group had claimed responsibility for the abduction and no ransom had been demanded.
JTF spokesman, Lt.Col Musa, however, believed that "the motive for the abduction is pecuniary," adding that "all security agencies have been alerted and directed to remain on the alert with a view to apprehending the culprits."
The army spokesman also called on residents of the state to come forward with information that could assist security operatives track down the kidnappers.
"JTF and indeed all other security agencies can't fight crime alone. We need the support and cooperation of members of the public in the area of information gathering, dissemination and sharing to effectively and easily fight criminal acts in our area of responsibility," he said.
Abduction shameful, says Gov Amaechi
Condemning Elechi Amadi's abduction, Governor Amaechi said it was shameful and an insult on the psyche of the people.
Speaking through his acting press secretary, Mr. Blessing Wekina, the Governor wondered why anyone would do that to a man like Elechi Amadi whose works have attracted so much fame to the state and the Ikwerre ethnic nationality.
Amaechi said: "The Rivers State Government has condemned in strong terms, the abduction of Captain Elechi Amadi, novelist, playwright and educationist who was picked from his country home yesterday by unknown gunmen.
"It is an unwelcomed shame that while our intellectual properties are celebrated all over the world by their contemporaries and those who appreciate greatness, here we make them objects of shame, humiliation and disgrace by people who call themselves Niger Delta Freedom Fighter.
"We, therefore, appeal to those who are holding him to release him immediately and unharmed for him to continue his duties of educating the younger generation which he has an undying passion for."
The statement reminded the kidnappers that "Elechi is an asthmatic patient and this is not the best of seasons for them, we therefore urge that he should not be denied access to his medications."
It diminishes Niger Delta struggle-Sylva
Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State in his own reaction denounced the abduction, saying it diminishes the Niger Delta struggle for justice, and betrays public sympathy for the genuine grievances of the people of the region.
In a statement issued yesterday in Yenagoa by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Doifie Ola, Sylva said: "Elechi Amadi is a world literary figure and an icon of the Niger Delta. A renowned writer, he is one of those the world looks up to in trying to appreciate the social reality in the Niger Delta.
"This treatment meted out to him certainly diminishes the Niger Delta struggle before the world. It also reduces us as a people and must be condemned in the strongest term possible."
The governor in the statement denounced the kidnap as utter criminality, saying: "Never in the history of Nigeria has the Niger Delta had it as good as in the President Umaru Yar'Adua era. With a serving Nigerian Vice President from the region, a Niger Delta ministry, and a couple of ministers from the Niger Delta, Yar'Adua has demonstrated sincere commitment to resolution of the age long Niger Delta question.
"That question was an ignoble sore at the heart of the Nigerian society and a grave dilemma that confronted the Yar'Adua presidency. He has faced the problem with the passion of a statesman and we are happy with what we have seen."
Sylva believed what the Niger Delta needs now is peace to reap the benefits of "Yar'Adua's statesmanship and rare courage to acknowledge the Niger Delta question and take a step of faith to solve it."
The governor appealed to the youths of the Niger Delta to eschew criminality in all forms and embark on activities that would make them reap from the wind of change.
"It would be bad for us if our leaders of tomorrow let these opportunities pass us by. For us in Bayelsa State, our doors are open to receive all our children who share our vision of change in the Niger Delta," he said.
Tension in Aluu, Amadi's village
Meanwhile, tension has continued to mount in the community. Youths and elders who spoke to Vanguard said they could not understand why Amadi whom they described as a very simple and lovable personality could be taken hostage.
"He is not a politician, neither is he a rich man. Captain Elechi is a very simple man and a model of humility in the whole of Ikwerre land. You can see that his house is simple and is not even fenced round. This is just an instance of humility.
"What does anybody think he can get from Elechi by kidnapping him," many of them wondered while talking with Vanguard.
It's shameful, Rivers ANA Chairman
Chairman of the Rivers State chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Mr. Miesoinuma Minima, described the kidnap as shameful, saying it was the height of evil for anybody to even think of kidnapping Elechi, noting that the abduction was a shame and insult on the psyche of people.
Meanwhile, when the state Police Commissioner, Mr. Bala Hassan, visited the family yesterday morning he assured that security operatives would not sleep until they track down those behind the abduction.
Captain Elechi Amadi who would be 75 by April this year is the chairman of the Rivers State Scholarship Board.
He is among the first generation of African writers with many celebrated books to his credit. They include: The Concubine, Great Ponds, The Slave, Isiburu, Pepper Soup, The Woman of Calabar and Sunset in Biafra , a war diary. His philosophical work is Ethics in Nigerian Culture
He was conferred with an honorary doctorate degree by the Rivers State University of Science and Technology in 2003.