Monday, 14 March 2016

Unsung Kidnap Incidents in Nigeria: A Case of Slow Police Reaction?

On the heels of the recent polices heroics in rescuing the abducted Ikorodu school girls, Gboyega Alaka probes what looks like the force’s slow reaction, especially when the kidnap cases don’t receive huge media and public outcry.

It was a commando-like operation. About five gun-toting men in military uniform crossed a jeep on a certain evening somewhere as it negotiated its way into the Raji Rasaki Estate in Amuwo-Odofin Area of Lagos, ordered the occupant, an obviously well-to-do man out of the car, threatening to shoot if he as much as played any pranks, ordered him into their vehicle and drove off, shooting fiercely as they disappeared into the night. Eye-witnesses said everything happened in less than five minutes. Some said they actually thought it was some military team on an arrest mission.

A young man, Ifeanyi who narrated the incident said it was such that not many dared look for longer than seconds, as the precision and terror with which the kidnappers operated spoke of high level expertise. It was later that news began filtering out that it was indeed a kidnap operation and that the victim was Chief Francis Umeh, a well-known spare-parts dealer at the popular Aspanda market, Trade Fair, Badagry Expressway, who lived in the estate.

He said the kidnappers must have trailed Umeh from the highway or probably waited for him, working on insider information.

Not long before this incident, precisely two weeks, another notable businessman, Cosmas Ojukwu had been kidnapped in similar fashion, this time, in FESTAC. For those not familiar with Lagos, FESTAC Town is on the other side of Amuwo-Odofin, with the Badagry Expressway separating them. As a matter of fact, both areas fall under the same local government, Amuwo-Odofin Local government.

Ojukwu’s abductors, it was gathered struck around 8pm as he approached the gate leading to his residence on House 16, X Close, 21 Road. He was said to be in company of some of his business apprentices, but like in the case of Umeh, where the driver was left untouched, the boys were left to go, probably to render first-hand experience of the terror they had seen.

Information filtering out revealed that Ojukwu’s family and associates had raised the 1million dollars ransom demanded by the kidnappers, but the gang recanted and are now demanding an extra 1million dollars, probably having seen how quickly the initial  1million dollars was raised. The kidnappers, it is speculated, are demanding the extra one million dollars as a penalty for the ‘rude’ way the victim’s family had related with them.

Like Ojukwu, Elias Ukachukwu’s kidnap story sends shivers down the spines of any wealthy man. After he was kidnapped in November 2015 and his family coughed out a whopping 1million dollar, the abductors demanded another 1million dollar, claiming rudeness by his family during negotiation.
Thankfully, Ukachukwu, as learnt from the Lagos State Police PRO, Ms Dolapo Badmus, is back safely with his family.

But the trend has put the families of kidnapped victims in a dilemma, as it now seems like the gangs put more stringent demands on victims’ families, once they respond promptly. A gentleman, who claims to know one of the relatives of one of the kidnapped business men, said the family raised the money quickly, fearing that they may hurt the victim if money is not quickly paid. Besides, they have heard stories of victims who have died in kidnappers’ den due to delayed response by their families.

The case of Late Obi Akaeze Edward Ofolue III of Ubulu-Uku in Delta State, who was abducted and murdered in captivity, is still fresh. Same for a certain Lagos businessman, who was abducted in FESTAC in 2011, and whose decomposing body was later discovered in a remote village close to his home town in Anambra State.

In September last year, Sir James Uzochukwu Udoji , Chairman of Comestar Manufacturing Company was kidnapped in similar fashion on 7th Avenue in the same FESTAC. As bad as the situation has become, he would count himself lucky, as he regained freedom after paying an undisclosed sum of money, which some close members of his family put at one million dollars.

FESTAC Town as kidnapping field
The situation is such that palpable fear now abounds amongst wealthy businessmen in FESTAC Town, Amuwo-Odofin and environ. In the last three months and thereabout, rumour has it that a good number of wealthy businessmen have been kidnapped in the area.  According to a reliable source, these series of kidnapping may have been perpetrated by what some have regarded as the same gang of criminals, as their mode of operation has been similar. Worse still, they demand payment in dollars and cite flimsy pretexts for increasing victims’ ransoms and holding onto them. Most of their victims are also notable businessmen at the popular Trade Fair Aspanda Market and other major commercial hubs in Lagos.

The situation is such that most people with notable prosperity are going under or moving out to unknown locations, to avoid being targets of these evil gang or gangs. Sources say even the home of Chief Umeh is now the shadow of its old self, with members of the family going underground, whilst they continue negotiating for the kidnappers and looking to meet their herculean demand.

Mum’s the word
Probably for fear of implicating themselves, no one seems to be willing to volunteer a word, as this reporter pounded a wide breadth of FESTAC, looking to locate houses of some of the victims and possibly speak with some of them. Not a soul was willing to help the moment they learnt of his intention or mission, while some immediately retreated into their shells. A good number also simply walked away. The few, like Femi, who volunteered a word said it is a dangerous topic to discuss and that he wasn’t even sure if the gentleman posing as a reporter wasn’t actually one of the kidnappers on a mission to feel the pulse of the people.

No safe haven
The situation in FESTAC is no different from what obtains across the country. Hundreds of people are being kidnapped by the day across the expanse of Nigeria, with a sizeable number of them going literally unsung. Like the cases in FESTAC, several families have had to pull together their resources to ransom their loved ones from the jaws of kidnappers.

Information reaching The Nation also indicates that a lot of these victims for fear of the unknown quietly comply with the demands of the kidnappers, whom they say always threaten thunder and brimstone, should they report to the police.

South Africa-based Victor Ogadinma got more than he bargained for, when he was abducted in front of his house in Owerri, Anambra State. He had come home to be with his family in Owerri, Anambra State, when he was picked up by three gun-wielding men as he made to enter his house. He was released three days after his family had raised and paid a ransom of N1million to his abductors. Speaking to reporters after his kidnappers had been rounded up by the police, Ogadinma said “I was in front of my house waiting for my family members to open the gate, when three heavily armed men accosted me and forced me out of the car to the back seat. It was around 7.30pm, and my wife came out while they were struggling to push me into the car but they pushed her down.”

He narrated how he was kept in a dirty kitchen all the while, adding that “I told them I had N220,000 and $2,000 and some European currencies. I was picked on January 7 and released January 10. They offered me food but I chose to drink only water.”

Mid last year, a Warri-based hotelier, who recently retired from Chevron was abducted on his way to his hotel in Auchi, Edo State. Apparently taken for a wealthy man because of his car and the fact that he was chauffeur-driven, the kidnappers pounced on him and demanded a N100million ransom. A close relative of the victim who would not mention his name, say the gentlemen had to quietly settle the ransom which may have run into about N10million before being released three days later.

Unsung cases, little police action?
The above and several others that precede it as far back as 2012 are some unsung kidnap cases, where the victims suffered in silence and their families have had to sweep their bank accounts to free their loved ones. Many have accused the police of only acting fast when the victim/s are of notable backgrounds and their kidnap generated a lot of media hype. In several of the kidnap cases cited above, the victims were held sometimes for weeks and even months; with few people outside their immediate family circles and friends knowing about it.

This is unlike the recent case of the three abducted girls of the Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary School, Ikorodu, where the police is said to have unleashed a massive 500-man rescue team into the town and surrounded forest. Needless to say, the heat smoked out the kidnappers and the whole country is still celebrating the police’s achievement.

There is also the case of mother of former minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was abducted and freed five days later due to massive police heat. Although some other version said the old woman was freed after some ransom money must have exchanged hands, the fact remains that the senior Okonjo was released in a short time, compared to cases of other people, who didn’t receive as much media hype and sensational headlines as the minister’s mother.

Even Former Secretary to the federal government of Nigeria and former presidential candidate on the platform of the Social Democratic party (SDP), Chief Olu Falae got out in good time, even though there were discordant tunes as to whether or not a ransom was paid.

“What’s the police doing?”
Interestingly, while most television stations were celebrating the heroic rescue of the three abducted girls of the Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary School, Ikorodu by the police early last week, one viewer sent in a message, which was run as a strip on the screen. It read like: “What’s the police doing about the spate of kidnapping in Festac/Amuwo Odofin axis. My uncle has been held for six weeks.”  This message cast a dark spot on what would otherwise have been an immaculate celebration, going by the way the police responded and cornered the kidnappers, who must still be wondering how they got it wrong.

While it may be said that Chief Umeh’s case along with that of Chief Ojukwu Cosmas got a mention in the media, one cannot deny that they have not received as much media hype and outrage as the Ikorodu three or even Chief Falae received when they were abducted.

The questions therefore remains: When will Chief Umeh and Ojukwu Cosmas regain freedom, granted that the sender on the message strip on Channels TV may be family to either of these two prominent businessmen or some others who are still languishing in Kidnappers’ den? When as a matter of fact will the spate of kidnapping currently raging in the country abate or become a thing of the past?

Culled from: The Nation Newspaper