FEATURE ARTICLE

Fr. Clement MuozobaWednesday, September 30, 2009
okochacm@yahoo.com
Awka, Nigeria

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THE WAVE OF KIDNAPPING ACROSS THE COUNTRY

fter a session of exorcism, during which many demons were believed to have been cast out from some members of the congregation, Pastor Gordian sat down and was breathing heavily. He was resting from a tough battle with the evil spirits, which ostensibly, he had won. The testimony of his victory was a number of girls lying on the floor, some of them, unconscious. The congregation also seemed to be resting from the stress of clapping and jeering at the devil for a long time and there was calm inside the rented hall that served as the church.


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Brother Barth, a senior member of the church, broke the graveyard silence when he raised his forefinger from his seat, signalling that he wanted to speak. That drew the attention of Pastor Gordian who motioned him to speak on. "Praise the Lord!" he began and the congregation thundered, "Alleluia!" in response. "Pastor", he continued, "You have cast out the demons and I believe none is still here with us". From the congregation, some one shouted, "Praise the Mighty name of Jesus!" All responded, "Alleluia!" "But there is one more thing", Brother Barth continued, "The problem is no more the devils. It is the kidnappers. They are worse than the devil." As soon as he mentioned "the kidnappers", Pastor Gordy's countenance changed and he looked around as if to check whether the kidnappers were around. Brother Barth entreated, "Please Pastor, pray that God destroys all the kidnappers so that God's children will walk freely in Jesus' name!" "Amen!" roared the congregation.

Pastor Gordy, visibly shaken, looked round again and almost whispered his response, "Brother Barth, God will not destroy them. He will rather touch their hearts to reduce the amount they demand for ransom and also make them get a comprehensive register of their victims so that nobody will be kidnapped more than once." Brother Barth sat down as bewildered as the congregation at the pastor's answer.

At the end of the prayer session, Pastor Gordy quietly called Brother Barth aside and advised him to be careful in raising the topic of kidnapping in the public since no one knows who is who, even in the church. But if he must bring it up, let it not be where he, Pastor Gordy would have a comment to make unless he was ready to pay the ransom for him or take care of his family should he die in the hands of the kidnappers. He turned and left Brother Barth still standing.

This is how the fear of kidnapping has become the beginning of wisdom in the south-south and south-eastern states where it has become a household discussion. Kidnapping used to be associated with ritualists who were alleged to be after children whom they were said to have used for ritual purposes. Simple vigilance by parents over their children solved this problem in those days when children were warned to move in groups and raise alarm whenever they suspected any movement. That was an old story as the targets had been shifted to, not just every adult, but adults rich enough to buy their freedom with millions of Naira as ransom. The present day kidnapping in Nigeria is said to have begun in the form of hostage-taking, both of which were said to be "…alien to Nigeria until they were employed by the militants of the Niger-Delta region in January 2006 to press home their demand for equity and resource control" (Newswatch, June 29, 2009, p.23). During this period, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, was said to have kidnapped four expatriate oil workers "to draw national and international attention to the plight of the people of the area". MEND also demanded the sum of $1.5b as ransom; the sum they claimed would be used for the development of the region. Through the special intervention of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the then governor of Bayelsa State and now the Vice-President of Nigeria, the oil workers were released after 19 days.

Starting from then, and with the international attention given to it, kidnapping became a daily occurrence in the Niger-Delta from where it spread to the south-eastern states. As it spread, the purpose of it also shifted from freedom fighting to a full money-making venture so much so that many people are now into it with some 'big men' believed to be working behind the scene. The victims also cut across all segments in so far as they could be used to extract reasonable amount from their relatives. Men, women and even children have at one point or another been kidnapped and have stayed for days in the hands of their abductors. Many of them have very horrible stories to tell. Some men were said to have been beaten black and blue when there was delay in bringing the ransom. The women are the most vulnerable as the kidnappers may sometimes decide to taste their husbands' 'special dishes' as they await the ransom. Some women are also said to be among the kidnappers but their works are mainly culinary and luring the victims to their trap.

Many states have got their own shares of kidnapping incidents. The south-eastern states have recorded quite a high rate of kidnappings but the south-southern states remain the origin and home of kidnapping as far as Nigeria is concerned. In Akwa-Ibom state, Aniefon Aniede-Udoh, the 23-year old daughter of Aniede Udoh, the chairman of Abak LGA of Akwa-Ibom died in the hands of her abductors. The other 'guests of honour' to the abductors' den are: Austin Ekong, a former chairman of Ikot Abasi Local Government Council; Ubong Obot, younger brother of Emmanuel Obot, special assistant to Obong Victor Attah, former governor of Akwa-Ibom; Nse Ntuen, chairman of Esse Udim LGA, Gov. Akpabio's home local government; Godwin Udoh, younger brother to Emmanuel Udoh, chairman of Eket LGA; Imeh Uwak, a treasurer with Obok LGA; Ignatius Edet, father of the speaker of Akwa-Ibom state House of Assembly.

Imo state has also had a fair share of the victims of abduction. Among them are the traditional ruler of Nkwerre Autonomous community, Chijioke Okwara; Michael Ekerue, the traditional ruler of Ifakala autonomous community in Mbaitoli LGA and his wife, Felicia; Barbara Nwoke, the education secretary, Umuowa council; Sylvester Ibe, a septuagenarian retired soldier; Herbert Amushie, a retired principal; Innocent Ibekwe, a septuagenarian retired education officer and former chairman of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) in Imo state and father of a Catholic priest; Basil Enwerem, deputy director, accounts, Government House, Owerri; Peter Orji, the treasurer of PDP, Imo state; Ginikanwa Udeagu, daughter of Ebere Udeagu, former deputy governor of Imo state; Celestine Ngaobiri, member representing Obowo constituency in Imo state House of Assembly; Christopher Chukwu, father of Tony Chukwu, a wealthy businessman. He later died after the ransom had been paid. Rev. Fr. Matthew Chieran, an Indian Catholic priest was also kidnapped in Ulakwo, Imo state.

Those who have shared the 'comfort' of the kidnappers' house in Anambra state include: Mr. Pius Ogbuawa, an Nnewi business mogul and pastor of his family church; two Chinese men and a Nigerian working with Innoson Industries Ltd., Nnewi; Chief Anthony Enukeme, CEO, Tonimas Group of Companies; Chief Paul Okonkwor, Chairman, Pokobros Group; Chief Mbamalu Okeke, traditional ruler of Abagana, my hometown; Mr. Michael Aguowo and his Liberian wife; Dr. Tochukwu Mbachi, the immediate past chairman, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Anambra state and Medical Director, Beluchukwu Memorial Hospital and Maternity, Enugwu-Ukwu; the aged mother of Okey Chukwuogo, governorship aspirant, PPA; the aged mother of Igwe-elect of Ichida, Chief Charles Ezeudeogu, CEO, Charlesco Group; Dr. Cordelia Ego Uzoezie, the commissioner for Women Affairs, Anambra state and her son, Kenechi; Sir Joe Dimobi, member representing Anaocha II Constituency in the Anambra State Assembly.

In Abia State, Felix Anyansi-Agwu, chairman of Enyimba Football Club and Awa Kalu are some of the victims. In Enugu State, Uche Ani, the state co-ordinator of UNDP was a victim; Dan Nwome, the Chief Press Secretary, CPS, to the governor of Enugu state; Fred Ifeora, the Zonal Director of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and his wife, who were later killed. Also, a traditional ruler and an Enugu-based hotelier, Igwe Uche Chukwuka was kidnapped, killed and his body dumped at a refuse dump of the Enugu State Waste Management Agency (ESWAMA).

In Delta state, Mrs. Henrietta Omoregie was kidnapped by a gang that included her own son and later died in their hands and was unceremoniously buried in a shallow grave; Melvin Okoye, 17-year old son of Celestine Okoye, an assistant commissioner of police in charge of operations in Delta state; Arthur Okowa, a septuagenarian father of Ifeanyi Okowa, secretary to the state government, Delta state have also been guests of the kidnappers.

In Edo state, Sam Osammede Adun, M/D Bob Izua Transport Company Ltd. and a chieftain of PDP, Edo state; Pa Odvwrri, the father of ThisDay Editorial Page Editor, Eddy Odvwrri who was slain by his abductors for recognizing them. Godgood Nlakosin was also said to have been killed by his abductors.

In Rivers state, these men have also gone on 'courtesy call' to the abductors' hideouts. They include Elechi Amadi, an elder statesman and a veteran author; Samuel Nnee, the paramount ruler of Kpite Community in Tai LGA; Gladys Daukoru, wife of Edmund Daukoru, former minister of petroleum resources; Afinyetogha Igoni, commissioner for works with the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSEIEC); Msgr. Pius Kii of Christ the King Catholic Church, Port-Harcourt.

In Ondo state, Iyabo Basaru, wife of the commissioner for lands, Sikiru Basaru and her friend, Sola Alli, the wife of a newly appointed permanent secretary in the state have been 'august visitors' to the kidnappers' hide-out.

In Ekiti state, Tope Okunlola, the south-west regional manager of Spring Bank PLC and his driver, Ojo Adebayo have been 'hosted' by the kidnappers. In Kaduna state, Julie Ann Mulligan, a Canadian woman and guest of the Rotary Club International, District 9120, ended up being a 'guest' of the kidnappers.

I must say that the above statistics does not represent the true situation of kidnapping incidents in Nigeria. Some states are obviously under-represented whereas some are not represented at all. In the southeastern states, politics has been said to play a vital role in the statistics presented. Some politicians believed to have some gubernatorial ambition in some of the states are believed to be the sponsors of these nefarious activities to discredit the incumbent governors to give the impression that their states are ungovernable and to invoke a state of emergency. This type of belief is rife in Anambra state and the media seem not to have helped issues in their reportage. One shockingly finds such reports as, "The statistics of these vices are frightening, with Anambra as the worst hit in the region. The state…has recorded over 630 armed robbery incidents, 133 cases of kidnapping and 64 assassinations" (Maduabuchi, E., Sunday Independent, July 26, 2009, p.B8).

The governor's aides are always on hand to dismiss such claims as simple political insinuation by the opposition. They cannot understand why of all the states of the federation, only Anambra is singled out and a false statistics of crime in it given. They often challenge the writers to provide the statistics of other states for comparison. They also allege that the members of the opposition have downplayed or denied the contributions of the state governor to security of lives and property. It is their firm belief that Obi has pumped over N2.3b to the police formation in the state, which they believe to be more than the federal government allocation to the police. They also believe that Obi has provided over 150 operational vehicles, four Armoured Personnel Carriers, numerous communication gadgets and some cash for security in the state. For them, though what is happening in Anambra is not peculiar, they are vehement in their insistence that there are some unseen hands in the game of insecurity in the state.

With the recent arrest of the kidnap kingpin, Innocent Orji alias General in Onitsha on May 29 this year and the death of a robbery kingpin, Chuka Ogbodo alias Ngwu Egelu Omu in Omor, Ayamelum LGA, Anambra state during a shoot-out with the police on July 17 this year, the security situation has considerably improved in the south-east. The two and their gangs were said to be responsible for almost all the crimes in the Southeast and their deaths brought great jubilation and peace to the minds of the south-easterners. Some other kidnap and robbery gangs have similarly been smashed. Some of the southeastern governors have passed the bill making kidnapping a capital offence into law. Some states, in order to curb this ugly situation, have banned the operation of the commercial motorcycles, popularly called Okada in certain areas especially within the capital territory. Some states have limited the type of motorcycles that operate within them and placed some time limits on their operations. But in spite of these, the fear of kidnapping and kidnappers still subsists.

As we pray for God's intervention in the security situation of the country, we call on the law enforcement agents especially the police to rise to the situation. The Federal Government has to adequately mobilize them. The GSM operators have to get the mobile phone users, their addresses and societal status registered. This will help reduce the indiscriminate buying, using and discarding of the SIM cards, which do not help in tracking criminals easily. The kidnappers themselves must think twice about the horrors of holding fellow human beings in bondage in an inhuman condition just in order to get money. Kidnapping must be stopped in all its ramifications. But who will do this?

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