By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
FOR three days, Monday – Wednesday, last week, Jimitota Onoyume, Vanguard correspondent in Rivers State, could not eat. He declared an emergency fasting, drinking only water and turning ‘prayer warrior’ overnight.
Reason: His wife, Marian, a teacher, was seized, on Monday, November 13, at Eku, Ethiope-West Local Government Area of Delta State, from her residence, as she was driving their daughters to school in her Nissan Quest bus.
Jimi, as he is fondly called, loves his job as a journalist and, since he joined this newspaper, few years ago, he has been writing on everything under the sun, including the escapades of kidnappers.
One of his reports on hostage takers, quoting the Police Public Relations Officer of Rivers State Police Command, was the killing of three notorious kidnappers and armed robbery suspects allegedly behind high profile killings and abductions in the state, in August.
It reads in part: “They are three notorious kidnapping and armed robbery suspects, Nzeribe, alias Nze, former second in command to late notorious Osisikankwu; Samuel, alias ND and Chima, all notorious criminals involved in series of heinous crimes in the days of the late Osisikankwu till the present time.
“Among their escapades were the murder of Ambassador Ignatius Ajuru and his escort personnel. The gang also killed Mr. Hyacinth Nwangolo, former Rivers State Deputy Director and Head of Eco Service Department; murdered HRH Ben Nwaogu, traditional ruler of Nihi Etche; kidnapped five female National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, members in Eberi Omuma; 120-year- old Pa Nwosu; and Mr. Kelechi in Eberi Omuma.”
It is understandable as Onoyume wrote this report and many others, in August, that he never knew his wife would fall victim to kidnappers three months after.
His voice had a touch of desperation, as he called this writer on Monday, minutes after his wife was abducted, “Regional, they have just kidnapped my wife in Eku. I just got a telephone call. Please call everybody that you know, use your contact please to see that they release her. I beg you”.
Before I could reach the police and army authorities in Delta State as he suggested, Onoyume had got across to some of the top officers. In fact, the Commanding Officer, 3 Battalion, Nigerian Army, Effurun, near Warri, Delta State, Lt. Colonel Ifeanyi Otu, read out his text message to me, while the Commissioner of Police, Delta State, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, said the police had received information and were already investigating.
The text message: “Good morning, I am Jimitota Onoyume, the Rivers State correspondent of Vanguard newspaper; I got a call now that my wife, Mrs. Marian Onoyume, was kidnapped minutes ago at our residence in Eku, Ethiope East Local Government Area, while she was about driving out”.
How they kidnapped my wife
“The kidnappers were four men and armed. They drove towards Salubi area. Kindly help please. Details of the vehicle, Nissan Quest, chassis number, 4N2DN11W4RD829149, engine number, VQ992501A and registration number, 988 Benin”, he said. Mrs. Onoyume was driving out of her residence between 8.30 am to 9.00 am with her two children when four gunmen, who were apparently loitering around the area, seized her.
The gunmen reportedly threatened and chased her two daughters, aged nine and seven years respectively, who she was taking to the school out of the vehicle, before whisking her away.
A source said that they fled with her through the Salubi area of Eku with two of the kidnappers blindfolding her.
N10 m ransom
Same day, the kidnappers, who were obviously out to extort money, called Onoyume, using the phone of one of her daughters, which they seized.They demanded N10 million ransom for her release her. The troubled reporter told Sunday Vanguard, “They called me with my daughter’s number about 7.00 pm yesterday (Monday), demanding N10 million.
“I pleaded with them that I had never held N1million before, but they said I have an SUV, that I am a rich man. I again begged them that the SUV was bought fairly used and it is 1995 model of Pathfinder.
“I begged them to please release my wife, that I am a reporter. Journalists are not known to be rich, we may be seen on television, but we are only doing our job. They later said I should send MTN airtime, which I did”.
He continued: “On Tuesday, 24 hours after the kidnap, my wife’s car was recovered. It was abandoned at Abraka, Ethiope –East Local Government Area of Delta State. I am begging the kidnappers to have mercy on us. They should release my wife. We do not have money, I am a reporter”.
Cry from kidnappers’ den
Observing that the reporter was not talking like somebody, who could raise N10 million, the kidnappers reduced the N10 million ransom to N5 million, 48 hours later.
Mrs. Onoyume was allowed, for the first time, to speak to her husband just for some seconds and she wept uncontrollably, pleading with him to cooperate with them.
However, the journalist said he did not have N5 million requested by the kidnappers and had pleaded passionately with them to release his wife unconditionally.
He confessed, “I am so traumatized by the incident that I have been on only water in the last three days. I cannot eat anything. They have been calling to negotiate. They stepped down their demand to N5 million, but I told them I still do not have such money”.
The kidnappers, who were afraid that security agents were on their trail, asked Onoyume if security operatives were indeed after them.
“They asked me if they were being tracked by security agencies. I told them there was nothing like that. I told them that the more they keep her, the more they attract the attention of security operatives. I pleaded with them to release her,” Onoyume told Sunday Vanguard.
“They allowed my wife to speak to me. She was weeping while talking to me. She pleaded that I should resolve with them to get her out. My children have not gone to school since the sad incident. They are also crying that they want to see their mummy”.
Joy in the morning
However, the nasty goings-on ended, on Thursday, when the kidnappers released their victim after spending three harrowing nights in their den.
A joyful Onoyume, in a text message confirming her release, said, “I announce the safe release of my darling wife, Mrs. Marian Onoyume, who was abducted on Monday. The kidnappers were considerate as they finally stepped down their ransom to N280,000 when they realized I do not have the money as a reporter.
“They said they were misinformed by their linkman about my financial capacity. They were very considerate. My wife said they were very kind-hearted. They had planned to delay the release till 8.00 pm today (Thursday) because of heavy presence of security men in my community and the entire Ethiope-East Local Government Area. “Friends were very supportive. I am grateful to the Saint Mathias Anglican Church, Eku; Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, Eku; other churches in the community and the Church of the Lord Aladura, Lagos headquarters.
“I am also thankful to my Publisher, Mr. Sam Amuka, aka Uncle Sam, the management and entire Vanguard for the role they played.