He was on his way to Asaba, the Delta State capital, from his village, Ughile, where he had spent the weekend. Professor Hope Eghagha, poet, playwright, newspaper columnist and Commissioner for Higher Education in the state, was, on Sunday 30 September 2012, travelling along Abraka/Agbor Road when, at Owa-Ekei junction, in Ika North-East Local Government Area some gun-toting men intercepted his Toyota Prado sport utility vehicle, SUV. When his police orderly attempted to protect him from danger, the assailants pumped lead into him. He slumped and died. Eghagha was kidnapped.
As at the time of going to press, his whereabouts were still unknown. According to his younger brother, Ejiro, “We have not heard from them (the kidnappers), we are really amazed. Since Sunday, the family, police, government have swung into action. He stood for the masses; we pray we can unravel the mystery surrounding his kidnap.” Government has, according to him, sent a message to the family, but so far, there there has been no word from the abductors. “All his phones were left in his car; they did not take any of his phones away,” Ejiro disclosed.
Delta State has put itself on the national map for this kind of macabre drama. The people, especially the well-heeled, now sleep – and even pray – with one eye open. The desperados target government officials, captains of industry, football stars and relations of big shots.
While the exact number of victims of kidnapping in Delta State in the last two years is not known, available records from daily reportage of cases however indicate that the problem is mind-boggling. Kidnappers have, indeed, laid siege to Delta State. Every day, residents of Asaba, Ughelli, Sapele, Warri, as well as other major towns in the state, live in fear of these criminals. Kidnapping has assumed a dangerous dimension in the oil-rich state. All efforts by the government to check the activities of kidnappers have not yielded any positive result. Delta is so notorious for kidnapping that it could soon enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the state with the highest concentration of kidnappers per square kilometre; or the state where it is most frequent!
True. In the quarter that just ended (July – September), cases of abduction in the state came with such frequency that any researcher could lose concentration. Many highly placed individuals in the society or their acquaintances have fallen victim.
On 7 August, Justice Marcel Okoh, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, in the state who had just been appointed a judge of the Delta State High Court, was trailed by some armed individuals from Umunede, along the Benin-Asaba expressway. When he got to Oria, along the Agbor-Abraka-Ughelli road, his sport utility vehicle was blocked by the desperados. They took the judge away and later asked for N40 million ransom.
The following day, members of the Nigerian Bar Association demonstrated on the streets of Asaba and moved to lay siege to the court complex on Ibusa Road. No judge was allowed to sit that day. Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, a former chair of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria and former Minister of State for Education, said: “With the kidnap today of Justice Marcel Okoh, I am further vindicated in my call for a state of emergency in Delta State. Deltans cannot afford to be under the rule of gunmen; we need a total overhaul of our security system.”
The same month, Mrs. Benedicta Offorkachi, a politician, was abducted in Asaba. She was on her way to the state secretariat when her Toyota Camry car was crossed by some hoodlums, who shot severally into the air to scare away on-lookers. The kidnappers thereafter whisked her into their own Honda Accord and sped away.
According to Charles Muka, a deputy superintendentent and the state Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, detectives from the Delta Command had launched a full-scale manhunt for the suspected kidnappers. The kidnappers demanded N5 million from the victim’s husband.
Tension was high in Ughelli on 22 August 2011, when a chief magistrate, Mr. Obomejero Aforkeya, was kidnapped at the entrance of his residence located at Iwhrekpokpor quarters, in Ughelli metropolis. The magistrate, who works in Oleh Magisterial district, Isoko South Local Government Area of the state, was driven off to an unknown destination in his official Honda Civic car.
A pastor of All Saints Pentecostal Assembly, Reverend J. Israel is another victim. He was taken captive at Ekredjabor area of Ughelli on 19 August 2012 as he was driving to church in the company of his two children. His adversaries, numbering four, forcefully took him away, leaving his children behind. A week prior to that, five persons were abducted in Ughelli. One of them, a businessman, was shot twice in the thigh and his Honda car sprayed with bullets as he tried to escape.
Not all attempts have been successful, though. In July, the plot to abduct the Delta State Head of Service, Mr. Okey Ofili, in Asaba, was thwarted by some policemen. This occurred at Summit Road Junction on the Asaba-Benin highway while he was on his way back home after church service. But he was left with gunshot injuries. When he resisted the hoodlums, they shot him in the leg. The boom of the shot attracted cops, who pursued the kidnappers. They however escaped.
Also in the same month, Mr. Uchenna Abueme, a National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, member serving in Delta State, was abducted from Asaba by three men and driven to Okpanam. The kidnappers abandoned their victim when the police gave them a hot chase. He was found after 28 hours.
A month earlier, Markson Macaulay, 28, son of Ovuozorie Macaulay, Secretary to the State Government, was kidnapped in Ozoro, headquarters of Isoko North Local Government Area. He had just returned home from a foreign trip and visited his grandmother in Owhelogbo. It happened after 70-year-old Samuel Uduaghan, Governor Uduaghan’s cousin, was abducted, on the 13th of the month. The criminals followed Pa Uduaghan to his Direct Labour Agency layout, Asaba and took him away. It was a daredevil attack as it took place when Mohammed Abubakar, the Inspector-General of Police, was in Asaba to take delivery of 60 pick-up vans, two armoured personnel carriers, and other communication equipment donated by Uduaghan to the Nigeria Police. And it happened when CSP Dickson Adeyemi, head of the state anti-kidnapping squad – who had been accused of aiding abductors and was recalled to Abuja for investigations – returned to the state, albeit not to the same post.
Even sportsmen have fallen victim. When Christian Obodo, Super Eagles and Udinese of Italy midfielder, came into Nigeria in June, criminal minds got wind of his arrival and trailed him to Effurun, near Warri, and kidnapped him at the Zion Ministry Church located on New Layout Road, where he went to worship.
On 23 April, Madam Suzanne Elumelu, the 80-year-old mother of Ndudi Elumelu, a member of the House of Representatives, was abducted on her farm at Onicha-Uku. While speeding away with her in their car, with the police in hot pursuit, her kidnappers opened fire when they got to the Obi’s Palace/Afo Market axis at Issele-Uku, injuring a woman. They eventually escaped. But four days after, security operatives rescued her.
Also, the President of Isoko Development Union, IDU, Gregory Akpojene, was kidnapped in April in his home town, Otor-Igho, in Isoko North Local Government Area. That day, about seven gunmen invaded his compound, seized and took him away to an unknown destination.
One of the most bizarre cases occurred on 31 December 2011, when a 27-year-old man who simply called himself Emma buried his kidnapped victim alive! Emma, a native of Owahawa in Ughelli South Local Government Area of the state, was so haunted by his crime that he confessed to the police eight months after. The female victim, whom he buried in his compound, hailed from Uzere in Isoko South Local Government Area of the state.
According to the Delta State Police Public Relations Officer, Charles Muka the suspect confessed to burying the victim alive in his compound “when she became weak”.
Self-acclaimed men of God are also among kidnappers. Pastor Emmanuel Abuvom, of the African Church, Evwreni, was recently arrested and paraded for allegedly aiding a foreigner to abduct a three-year-old girl. Pretending to be her parents, the pastor, in cahoots with a Cameroonian, abducted the child from her school, Marvel International Schools, Ughelli, and kept her in captivity for four days before she was finally rescued by the police.
Why Delta Is Fertile Ground For Kidnappers
Recently, Olorogun Gbagi who, after a judge was kidnapped gave a lecture in which he espoused ways to end the spate of kidnapping in the state, expresed relief that the governor had opted for one of them – embarking on mass employment. Gbagi said: “I want massive employment of Deltans, the government should mop up and register all the unemployed in local government areas in the state and get jobs for them. If jobs cannot be immediately provided, they should be paid a monthly allowance of N10,000 for their upkeep, while government helps them to get a means of livelihood.”
The state, he said, is rich enough to do this. “It is after providing them jobs that government can start separating the real criminals from those who were forced into criminality by joblessness,” he said.
But the governor did not agree with Gbagi’s position. Inaugurating the anti-kidnapping squad, Uduaghan described abductors as “greedy people who are common criminals”.
He said a man who carries arms and is demanding tens or hundreds of millions of naira for the release of people he captured could “never be said to be driven by poverty or hunger”.
And speaking to a daily newspaper, Uduaghan said he disagrees with people who tend to justify criminality by citing joblessness. In his words: “A criminal is a criminal. Why do I say so? During his tenure [as President], Chief Olusegun Obasanjo gave some allocation to the Niger-Delta for employment into the security agencies, especially the police, and I can tell you that till today, we have not been able to fill our quota. Why, because many of these youths do not want to join the police, they don’t want to do this, they don’t want to do that. They want jobs that will give them very heavy money; they don’t want to gradually build up, they want quick money. So it is not quite correct that it is joblessness that is pushing people into kidnapping; criminals are just criminals.”
True. In all cases, the kidnappers demand large sums of money in exchange for the freedom of their victims. Obodo’s abductors demanded N30m, while the Elumelus were asked to pay N500m ransom for their mother. But the public rarely get to know how much was actually paid or how the cases were resolved.
“Insider involvement”, according to Uduaghan, includes the collusion of family members of kidnap victims, “domestic staff such as drivers and cooks, or co-workers that either directly recruit the kidnappers or give out information about the financial dealings and movement of the victims of kidnapping.”
On the other hand, he pointed out, are those he referred to as bad eggs within the various security agencies. Then he went for the jugular: “The head of the Delta Police Anti-Kidnapping Squad, Mr. Dickson Adeyemi, a chief superintendent of police, CSP, was arrested with his boys and taken to the CID headquarters for alleged involvement in kidnapping and related criminals activities.” According to Uduaghan, his release and redeployment to the state coincided with the resurgence of kidnapping in the state.
Unarguably, a large percentage of kidnappers are former thugs employed by politicians to foment trouble during political campaigns or elections. They are armed, paid handsomely, and introduced to corrupt law enforcement officers who abet them in their criminal activities. But after elections, when the politicians don’t need their services, they are abandoned. To sustain their lavish lifestyles many of them resort to kidnapping, knowing that one successful operation could keep them on easy street for a long period.
Also, Great Ogboru, a governorship candidate on the platform of Democratic Peoples Party, DPP, in the state, in an interview with TheNEWS, lamented that at a point, workers went on strike because when they went to work, they were “not sure whether they were going to come back home.” He added that the security situation was that bad to the extent that some “of us have to get extra security.”
Many believe that militants who are not covered under the amnesty programme are responsible for many cases of kidnapping. These militants who had been used to handling big money made from illegal oil bunkering and kidnapping of expatriate oil workers before amnesty was granted in 2010, apparently take to kidnapping to make ends meet.
Tackling The Problem
On 29 September 2010, Governor Uduaghan set up a combined military task force in Warri to combat kidnapping in the state.
He added: “This is a state that has zero tolerance for kidnapping. We have done it before and we can do it again. We achieved near zero tolerance but right now it is like some persons outside the state who are into kidnapping have sneaked into the state and we are determined to fish them out, whether from this state or outside the state.” Although the House of Assembly favours it, Uduaghan is yet to sign the bill on death penalty for kidnappers.
On 19 July 2012, eight people were jailed for 44 years by Justice Theresa Diai at the Ogwashi-Uku High Court. That was after the Delta Command of the State Security Service, SSS, secured their conviction for kidnapping and other offences in the state.
According to the command in a statement signed by Mr. Alex Disi, Assistant Director, Operations, they got a total jail term of 44 years, adding that the cases against the eight persons were concluded between 8 February 2012 and 10 July 2012. The convicts were Ifeanyi Obiakpani, Peter Okafor, Christian Eze, Efe Omonigho, Patrick Boyite, Edafe Erakpor, Bernard Isibor and Edwin Asoro.
On 4 April, head of the Delta Police Anti-Kidnapping Squad, Mr. Dickson Adeyemi, a chief superintendent, was arrested along with some members of the team for interrogation in Abuja. They were picked up by men of the force Criminal Investigation Department, CID, for alleged “involvement in kidnapping and related criminal activities”.
This year alone, a total of 98 persons have been arrested in connection with the crime. The police and the SSS each arrested 40 suspects, while 18 were nabbed by the Army.
In August, detectives from Delta State Police Command arrested a six-man kidnap gang that had been causing havoc in the state. Apart from being responsible for the kidnap of the governor’s cousin, they abducted a medical doctor from his hospital in Agbor on 11 July. In the words of Muka, following the confessions of four arrested members of the gang, two were “trailed to Akwukwu-Igbo, where two others were arrested”.
Muka, however, disagrees that the state has turned to a kidnappers’ haven. He told the magazine that the state police command arrested over 200 kidnappers in the last seven months, adding that the command, in collaboration with other security agencies, would continue to work hard to make the state uncomfortable for kidnappers and other criminal elements.
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