By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
SINCE soldiers took over security on the Delta State axis of the Warri-Sapele- Oghara-Benin and Warri-Eku-Abraka highways, and other strategic entry and exit points in the state, there has been some measure of sanity in the state.
For a while in Warri and Sapele, it looked as if kidnappers and other criminals, who had scared the daylight out of residents in the state, were afraid of confronting the fierce-looking soldiers. Ironically, the same criminals who live by the sword are afraid of dying by the sword.
Besides the military offensive, some persons attribute the development to the seriousness members of the Delta State House of Assembly have demonstrated in putting final changes to a Bill for a Law to Prohibit Terrorism, Kidnapping, Hostage- taking and the Use of Bombs and Other Explosives and other Matters Connected Thereto. The bill stipulates death for offenders.
Indeed, residents, who were beginning to heave a sigh of relief, were taken aback, last month, when soldiers seized six youngsters, aged between 17 – 27 years, one of them, the son of a staff of a multinational oil company, suspected to be members of an inter-state kidnapping/ car-snatching syndicate, on Warri-Sapele Road.
The question on the lips of many was what were the kidnappers/car snatchers thought they were doing on that road with the way soldiers tactically positioned themselves, from morning to night.
The suspects, who spoke to reporters, admitted they were kidnappers/car snatchers, but claimed they were only two months old in the nefarious business. Security agents are still interrogating the suspects to understand their modus operandi and sponsors.
But, not even the arrest of the “boys” and a suspected dare-devil kidnapper, Anayo Anyanwu, who had been on the wanted list of the police at Okwe, near Asaba, has generated the kind of controversy that the killing of a suspected kidnapper and assassin, Tony Moro, has generated in the last few days.
Moro and another suspect, Fidelis Amani, were reportedly shot dead by men of the 3 Battalion, David Ejoor Barracks, Effurun, near Warri, in a sting operation.
However, Niger-Delta activist and Lagos lawyer, Barrister Festus Keyamo; Niger-Delta People Volunteer Force, NDPVF, led by Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari; and the Moro family insist the suspect was not a kidnapper and was extra-judicially killed by soldiers.
Why we killed Moro, Amani— Army
Commanding Officer of 3 Battalion, Effurun, Lt. Col. Ifeanyi Otu, told reporters how Moro and Amani were killed. His words:“On October 23, 2012, at about 0910 hours, a report of the activities of hired assassins was lodged at our office by a would- be victim. He said that two persons called him and sent threat messages with an Airtel number that a woman paid them N1 million to kill him if he did not pay a ransom of N10 million.
“So we asked him to play along, while the unit set out to track down the criminals. Following a good operation plan, at about 1610 hours on October 23, 2012, we arranged a Ghana- must- go bag filled with papers as the ransom and took it to the designated place (a dustbin near Ekpan General Hospital). The two suspects arrived the location, whereas our troops in mufti had condoned off the area well ahead of the time.
“Unsuspecting of the security arrangements, they collected the bag of ransom and made off, they were gunned down as they tried to escape. We recovered three mobile phones and the fake ransom, their corpse and exhibits were handed over to the police”.
Dokubo-Asari group spits fire
NDPVF was the first to raise dust over the killing of Moro, who, it said, was a “senior member of the group and a brother”.
The group’s spokesperson, Comrade Rex Anighoro, in a statement, said Moro was extra-judicially murdered by “men of the Joint Military Task Force working in concert with one renowned oil bunkering kingpin and hotelier who ordered Comrade Tony Moro’s murder over unsubstantiated claims”.
The statement called the attention of President Goodluck Jonathan; Minister of Justice, Mohammad Bello Adoke, SAN; Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Mohammed Dahiru Abubakar; National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Mohammad Sambo Dasuki (rtd.); Director General, Department of State Service , DSS, Mr. Ita Ekpeyon; relevant national and international legal, human rights, civil society and security organizations to the matter.
According to it, “Comrade Tony Moro had gone to visit the alleged bunkering kingpin who had levelled substantiated allegations against him. Comrade Tony Moro who vehemently denied the allegations was murdered at the chief’s instance by power- drunken Joint Military Task Force officers believed to be on the chief’s pay roll.
“We hold that this extra judicial murder of Comrade Tony Moro, a respectable family man, a well known and celebrated Ijaw musician, cannot be and will not be allowed to be swept
under the carpet. We hold that this despicable application of jungle justice will be totally resisted … as no one has the right to take another man’s life without recourse to the law.
“We demand the immediate arrest of the chief and the security officers who executed the murder by the chief’s authority.
“We also demand the immediate release of Comrade Tony Moro corpse to his family for proper burial amongst others”.
We learnt of Moro’s death from Vanguard —Keyamo
Addressing reporters in Warri, few days after, Lagos lawyer, Keyamo, threatened, on behalf of the Moro family, to petition the Inspector Inspector-General Police to commence investigation into what he termed the ‘extra judicial killing’ of Moro by soldiers under the guise of suspected assassination and kidnapping plots.
Keyamo, who was represented by Matthew Omonade, a solicitor from Keyamo Chambers, said, “We want to petition the IGP to investigate the extra- judicial killing of citizen Tony Moro by men of the 3Battalion Effurun in connivance with a chief .”
He went on, “We are solicitors to Tony Moro family. Tony Moro was called by the chief that one boy, who used to play music for Tony, was arrested and had confessed that Tony planned to kidnap him (chief). He was called to an hotel in Ekpan and he went with his girlfriend, Faith Bile, on October 23, 2012.
“The chief was in company of plain clothes securitymen when he met Tony with his girlfriend. After exchanging pleasantries, he requested that his girlfriend was not to be part of the meeting and Tony gave his girlfriend money to board taxi and she left. Since then Tony has not been found and we only learnt about it in Vanguard that Tony was killed as a suspected kidnapper,
“Tony earned a decent living as a musician.He was never a criminal.We condemn the killing in its entirety, we will take the right step by petitioning the IGP to investigate the killing and bring the perpetrators of this dastardly act to book. We are against extra-judicial killings.Is the army or the police to investigate kidnap allegation?”
I was told Moro won’t come out alive — Girlfriend
Moro’s girlfriend, Miss Faith Bile, also narrated the story of what happened.She said: “On October 23, I followed Tony to the hotel.The chief greeted us, and thereafter threatened Tony to speak the truth that he planned the kidnapping or else he will be killed. We met plain-clothes security men at the bar of the hotel.The chief now asked Tony to send me away as the meeting they wanted to hold was private.
“Tony gave me N2,000.As I was going out, two guys met me and told me that Tony may not come out alive. I was afraid as I left; since then we have not seen Tony”.
Sunday Vanguard met the man at the centre of the controversy for an interview. The chief is a contractor and a known peace advocate among the Ijaws in Warri and he was said to have assisted Moro financially on several occasions before the unfortunate episode. In fact, Moro was a family acquaintance.
He confirmed that he received a phone call from a strange number on October 19, with the caller telling him that he worked for the most proficient assassination/kidnap group in town, and that the gang had been hired to eliminate him. The chief said the caller demanded N15 million ransom from him to stave off death and he negotiated it down to N10 million, which they agreed should be delivered to the gang on Monday, October 21.
“By Monday, I went to the DSS, Warri with a member of the defunct Delta Waterways and Security Committee, DWSC, Warri, to lodge a report”, he said. The chief’s experience with the DSS was, however, unpleasant, as,according to him, help did not come readily, which made him to resort to the military.
A senior officer of the DSS in Warri, nevertheless, told Sunday Vanguard that the chief, indeed, reported the matter to the Service, but he declined to exercise patience for the men, who went for another operation in Sapele, to return to handle his matter.
He said the complainant was advised to wait till about 4.00 pm, but the chief said he waited till the time they told him they would get in touch with him through the defunct DWSC member, and it was when they not forthcoming and the killer squad was on his neck that he ran to the army for refuge.
His words, “I now met the army on Monday. The group had called me repeatedly with the same Airtel number asking how far. I told them I would have to go the bank to get the money and they said I should send a woman to bring the money to them at Ugborikoko or Emebire.
“From the point I reported to the soldiers, they were with me and planned every step I took. Therefore, getting to the time, I told them that the girl was afraid to bring the money. They said she should not be afraid, that there was no police involved in the matter. Nevertheless, I told them the girl was terrified and they said I could send a boy.
(Pointing at a boy sitting close to him during the interview with Sunday Vanguard, he said, “That is the boy I sent”). After about 30 minutes the soldiers were with me, I called them back to say I had found a boy.They said I should give the phone to the boy.They told the boy to bring the money, but the boy told them he was afraid to come there, and they now agreed to a place in Jakpa”.
He added, “It was entirely an arrangement by the soldiers. They stuffed a bag with papers instead of the N10 million ransom and left with the boy. It was in the process of collecting and escaping with the `money’ that I later learnt two of the kidnappers were killed”.
The chief said that after the soldiers had left with his boy to purportedly deliver the ransom, he received a call in which a female voice threatened to eliminate him and members of his family if he did not call off the security agents he had sent to track them down. However, he told the caller he did not send anybody after them.
The chief told Sunday Vanguard that he was at the scene where Moro was killed by soldiers, but he was told that he and one other person were the ones that came to collect the ransom on Jakpa road and were shot by soldiers as they were escaping after collecting the papers disguised as N10 million.
Anighoro counters chief
However, the NDPVF spokesperson,Anighoro, countered the chief’s claim, saying, “On 23 October, at about 5.30 pm, somebody called Tony to say the chief had alleged that he planned to kidnap him. Tony called the chief and he went to meet him at his hotel. Since Tony went to meet him and they sent his girlfriend away, we have not seen Tony; we only read about his death in the newspapers.
“The chief has threatened that nothing will come out of any case, that Tony was already dead.We called on the Warri Area Police Commander if he was aware of any allegation against Tony.He said no. We want justice to be done. Our leader, Asari, has said that before his return, the chief should produce Tony alive; if not, there will be trouble”.