Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: The Rise and Rise of Kidnapping

Owerri, Osogbom Ibadanm Enugu, Awka — Kidnappers are becoming more and more daring in their 'lucrative' business; not even the threat of capital punishment as proposed by lawmakers and some state government is slowing them down. Weekly Trust reports

The activities of kidnappers seem to be on the rise

Kamene Okonjo, mother of the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, breathed the air of freedom yesterday as she was released by her abductors. The 82-year-old Professor of Sociology was allegedly dropped off by her captors on a main road near her home in Delta State around 10:30 am.

The BBC quoted the Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan as saying the captors had probably decided to let her go due to pressure from high quarters.

The governor said it was not government policy to pay ransoms, but families sometimes negotiate with the kidnappers privately. "For this one we also insisted that we would not pay any ransom and as a government, we would not negotiate with anybody," he said. He said the driver who dropped off Mrs Okonjo has been arrested and is being questioned.

Kamene, who was also the Queen Mother of Ogwashi-Uku was seized by gunmen from the palace of her husband, the traditional ruler of Ogwashi-Uku, Obi (Prof.) Chukwuka Okonjo last Sunday.

The recent abduction of Kamene Okonjo, brought to the fore how daring kidnappers have become and how their choices of 'clients' have changed overtime to high profile citizens and their relations.

Until her abduction last Sunday, kidnapping incidents have ceased to attract national appeal. It has somehow become a permanent pastime for the kidnappers who smile to the bank with the proceeds from their 'lucrative' criminal enterprise. Kidnapping has gained national prominence as a money spinner, even more than bunkering; and unlike the bunkerers, the offenders and even their investments are known to the members of their immediate communities and the security agents therein.

"They are never caught; you dare not point a finger in their direction; you dare not whisper their names, because the grasses have ears. The next day they will surely come for you," a prominent citizen of one of the South-Eastern states told Weekly Trust in confidence last Wednesday. And so the kidnappers become more dangerous, daring and desperate every day as they operate with impunity while the statistics of kidnap cases rise to a staggering level.

In the past, only expatriates, mostly foreign oil workers, were targeted, but victims now include top businessmen and women; professional footballers, academics; top politicians and their relations, and above all traditional rulers. Occasionally, too, the kidnappers veer out of their base in the South to kidnap people in the North, like they did in the case of a former Secretary to the Kaduna State Government Waje Yayok.

In Anambra State the traditional ruler and retired Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs, Chief Lawrence Oragwu was abducted by unknown gunmen at Agulu, Anaocha Local Government Area of the state while on his way from church with his driver on June 2, 2011. Oragwu was also at the time of his abduction, the acting Igwe of Adazi-Nnukwu in Anaocha council area of the state.

Also on July 30, 2012 Igwe Chukwudilim Eze, the traditional ruler of Ukpo Community in Dunukofia Local Government Area of the state was abducted after returning from service at the St. Mary Anglican Church in the area. The kidnappers demanded that a ransom of 100 million dollars must be paid by the family before his release. He was eventually set free by his abductors after weeks in captivity. However, the family members and police authority were silent on whether any ransom was paid before he regained his freedom.

Kidnappers also went for the traditional prime minister of Enugwu Ukwu in Njikoka Local Government Area of the state, Chief Dennis Anaekwe, on October 29 at the boundary between the community and Abagana, close to the Nigerian Television Authority studio in the state.

Weekly Trust gathered that the chief, who is second in command in Enugwu Ukwu traditional hierarchy, was said to be visiting somebody at about 9.00 am when some unknown persons abducted him.

There were also several cases of abduction of not so many prominent personalities such as the 83-year-old man from Oraukwu whose assailants demanded for a ransom of N1 million before his release; the Head of Service of Orumba South Local Government Area whose abductors got N2 million before he was set free and 80-year-old Mrs. Roselyn Ughanze, who stayed in their custody for months after his son failed to pay the ransom of N100 million.

Also in Anambra, the Vice-President of the Amalgamated Traders Association (AMATA), Chief Gozie Akudolu (aka Iroko) and the Director of Works, Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, Mr. Ephraim Enekwenchi, were abducted on October 25.

Following the rising spate of kidnappings in the state, the state government has through the security agencies and the vigilante groups declared war on them. The effort led to the arrest of several gangs and the destruction of property acquired with ransom monies. Weekly Trust reports that members of the various gangs of kidnapers owned choice property in strategic location across the state.

Like in Anambra, Imo State has been invaded by kidnappers who go after prominent citizens, including traditional rulers for money.

In May, 2012, a prominent Eze-elect of Awo-Mbieri Autonomous Community, Eze Oliver Nwozuzu was also kidnapped at the St Peter's Catholic Church Awo -Mbieri in Mbaitoli Local Government Area. In similar vein, Chief Millan Okere the owner of Milan Pharmaceutical Stores situated on Douglas Road in Owerrri was also seized by gunmen about the same time and a ransom of N5million was paid for his release.

Within the same month, a former member of the House of Representatives who represented Ohaji/Egbema, Oguta and Oru East Federal Constituency, Tony Okere, was also taken. The Egbema-born politician was released by his abductors after paying an undisclosed ransom.

Those who also visited the kidnappers' den in the state were the former speaker of the state House of Assembly, Goddy Dikeaocha, a former Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Mrs. Chioma Ogoeke; Captain Emma Iheanacho (rtd.); wife of the Managing Director of ABC Transport, Mrs. Ngozi Nneji; Principal Secretary in the office of the Deputy Governor of Imo State Arc. Goddy Ihekwoabaa and a medical doctor, who met his death in the hands of his abductors, among others.

In Enugu, the recent kidnapping of the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Prof. Ilochi Okafor (SAN) created fear among many in the state.

Okafor was abducted at about 8am on Sunday, November 25, 2012 in his residence on Pioneer Street, Independence Layout, Enugu while he was preparing for the morning church service.

Weekly Trust learnt that the six-man kidnap gang stormed the residence, armed with rifles and ordered the professor of law into a waiting van. Reports said the kidnappers demanded N50 million ransom from Okafor's family, but the police said no ransom was paid before his release.

However, Professor Okafor regained freedom on November 28, 2012 but it was not certain whether any ransom was paid.

Before the kidnap of the ex-Vice Chancellor, a band of armed kidnappers had on August 15, 2012 laid ambush at the entry gate of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT, at Agbani, in Nkanu West Local Government Area of the state. In an attempt to abduct their target, the VC, Prof. Cyprian Onyeji, the kidnappers numbering over eight wounded three policemen attached to his convoy. They succeeded in picking the Vice Chancellor, who they took away to an unknown place; he was driving into the university in the morning of the fateful day. The Nsukka-born professor spent nine days in the den of the kidnappers before he regained liberty.

Deputy Vice Chancellor of ESUT, Professor Aloysius Uzoagu, who briefed newsmen on the abduction of the VC at the weekend, confirmed that a N200 million ransom demand had been made to his family and not the university. He said that ESUT would not be involved in the negotiation for the release of the VC as that would be handled purely by Prof. Onyeji's family and relatives.

Though the ransom was later reduced to N50 million, it was not certain whether the amount was paid to the kidnappers before the release of the Prof. Onyeji, who was later found at Igbariam in Anambra State. At the same time, the Administrative Director of Niger Foundation Hospital, Enugu, Dr. Jonah Ndubuisi Abah was also abducted by unknown gunmen. Dr. Abah was abducted by unknown gunmen while driving with members of his family to St. Mary's Catholic Church, Trans-Ekulu for early morning mass at about 5 am that fateful Friday.

As at 2011, till date, not less than 50 VIPs in both the private and public sectors as well as religious and traditional leaders , media practitioners and the academia in the zone had been 'picked' by the kidnappers. In some cases, some unfortunate victims died in the hands of their abductors. Also some victims are held for a very long time depending on when their captors make contact with their families for possible negotiation and payment of ransoms.

Weekly Trust recalls that even some famous Nollywood artistes such as Pete Edochie, Nkem Owoh, alias "Osuofia" were once kidnapped and released some times ago. Yet there are other VIPs in the zone who are still suffering from the pains of their sad experiences in the hands of the kidnappers. They include former Chief Press Secretary, CPS, to Enugu State Governor Sullivan Chime, Mr. Dan Nwomeh - he is currently the Special Adviser on Media to Health Minister Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu; former Provost of Federal College of Education, Eha- Amufu, Dr. Benjamin Mbah, the Administrative Director, Enugu State-based Niger foundation hospital, Dr. Jonah Ndubuisi, who stayed in the kidnappers den for several weeks before gaining his freedom.

Still, other recent victims include the Managing Director/CEO of the Enugu-based pharmaceutical firm, Juhel Nigeria Limited, Dr. Ifeanyi Okoye, wife and little child of another movie guru, John Okafor, fondly called Mr. Ibu, a traditional ruler of Mmaku autonomous community, in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu Atate. The list is as long as a rail line.

In Oyo State, the abduction of Mrs. Titilayo Enitan Rotimi, wife of former military Governor of the old Western State, Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi sent fears into the hearts of many. The kidnappers have demanded a ransom of N200million from the family without which the embattled woman would be let off the hook.

Also, in the south-west, unknown gunmen stormed Ejigbo the hometown of the Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, Najeem Salam, Tuesday, October 9, 2012 and kidnapped his wife, Muiba. Muiba was kidnapped shortly after she had left her shop where she sold bags of rice, Semovita and groundnut oil. Her Honda car was overtaken by the vehicle of a six-member gang. The gang forced her Honda car to stop along Union Baptist Road in the Oke-Oyo area of Ejigbo. Muiba, who alighted and attempted to run from the kidnappers, was stopped and forced into a waiting car. She was eventually rescued by men of the Ogun State Police Command after spending four days in the custody of her captors.

Beatrice Onuchukwu, Johnkennedy Uzoma, Tony Adibe, Yemi Bamidele and Abdul-Hameed Olawale

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