Ernest Chinwo and Omon-Julius Onabu
After what seemed like a reprieve, the scourge called kidnapping seems to be rearing its head again, especially in the Niger Delta, from where it actually started. Rivers and Delta States seem to be the worst hit, with hardly any day passing by without an incident.
Not even the seminal conviction of three kidnappers in Delta State last week, has helped to contain the spread of the malaise.
But Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State is insisting that the number of kidnap incidents has actually dropped. In his chat with media mavens in Lagos over the weekend, he enthused, “When we came in we were recording 15 cases of kidnap everyday, but now it is about eight in a month,” adding, “we are getting there.”
As it stands, persons related to top government officials have become the targets of the kidnappers. Yesterday, for instance, the wife of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe, was kidnapped at her residence in Rumuodomaya, Obio/Akpo Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Adedipe is the lead counsel to Amaechi in the reconstituted Rivers State Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Port Harcourt. This is coming barely a month after suspected armed robbers shot and killed a vigilante leader identified as Asonye at the same spot where Mrs. Adedipe was abducted.
Eye witnesses said Adedipe’s wife was snatched at 7.15 am yesterday at a junction between Woshikem and Okpowowabasi Streets in Rumuodomaya, on the outskirts of Port Harcourt, a few minutes after driving out of her residence. One of the eye witnesses, who pleaded anonymity, said the gunmen, numbering four, drove in a Toyota car, with which they blocked the lawyer’s wife, shot sporadically into the air and dragged her out of her vehicle.
Two of the kidnappers reportedly forced her into their car with registration number LA-1A-05, where two other occupants, including the driver were waiting, and drove off to an unknown destination. “Two of the kidnappers came out of their Toyota car. The driver was still in the vehicle. Two others dragged the woman and forced her into the back seat of their car and they zoomed off,” the witness said.
When THISDAY visited the spot of abduction, the victim’s husband (Adedipe) was spotted in a devastating mood, just as a team of policemen arrived shortly afterwards, interrogated some residents and drove off with Mr. Adedipe. The spokesman for the Rivers State Police Command, Ben Ugwuebulam, confirmed the incident, saying investigation had commenced into the incident with the aim of rescuing the wife of the lawyer.
Just the same in Delta State, the son of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr Ovuozorie Macaulay, was kidnapped on Monday.
The younger Macaulay, 28, who recently returned from overseas studies, was abducted at the family’s country home in Owhelogbo, Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State, when he went visiting his grandmother. He was forced into a waiting car, an unmarked Volkswagen Jetta car, with which he had been apparently trailed and whisked away to an unknown destination by his abductors.
But in what seemed like unusual efficiency, the police said in Asaba that three persons had been apprehended and were already helping the security agency towards unravelling the incident.
The kidnap of the younger Macaulay at a time the SSG was out of the country further threw the family into considerable distress. No ransom had been demanded from the family at the time of filling this report.
The Delta State Police Command spokesman, Mr. Charles Muka, who confirmed the incident over the phone from Asaba yesterday, stated that three persons had been arrested in connection with the abduction.
About 10 days ago, an elder cousin to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, Pa Samuel Uduaghan, 70, was also abducted along DLA Road within the Asaba metropolis. He was released last weekend in Agbor. Unconfirmed sources said the Udughan family had to pay a negotiated amount as ransom to have the old man released from his abductors. The kidnapper had demanded N50 million.
The incident coincided with another high-profile kidnapping in the state. Barely a week ago, international footballer, Christian Obodo, was also kidnapped along Jakpa Road, Effurun, near Warri. He was later released at Emevor in Isokoland, after an undisclosed sum was paid as ransom.
Before the Obodo incident, some three directors in the Ministry of Finance in the state as well as wife of the state’s Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Professor Muoboghare, (Stella Muoboghare), had been kidnapped. In all of the cases, ransom had to be paid, but the method and sum was hardly disclosed.
Interestingly in Delta State, the administration of Dr Uduaghan is predicated on three cardinal prisms: peace and security, infrastructure development and human capital development. Moreover, the rising spate of kidnapping in the region is coming after the state hosted the BRACED Commission, an umbrella body of the South-south states, aimed at integrating efforts at growing the region through foreign investments.
However, kidnapping for ransom has become commonplace across Nigeria and has assumed the same dimension of other major crimes that include armed robbery, assassinations and terrorism. Governor Udugahan, only last week, hosted the acting Inspector-General of Police (IG) and donated several crime-fighting vehicles and equipment for use by the state police command.
In Delta State as in most other Niger Delta states, the Houses of Assembly of the various states have passed laws making kidnapping a crime punishable by death. But the full force of the law has not been applied, despite the scourge.
At most, last week a court in Ogwashi-uku, Delta State convicted a pastor and two others for kidnapping. They were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, a punishment many considered a slap on the wrist given the devastating effect of the crime.