Justice Azinge kidnap Saga: Syndicate in fresh offensive to poison judge from police cell
Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
Some weeks ago, Sunday Vanguard broke the story of a judge of the Delta State High Court, Justice Flora Azinge, who was compelled to stop sitting for almost two months because of the threat to kidnap her and demand for N20 million ransom from her by a kidnap gang.
Police officers officially deployed to protect her, her driver and others were alleged to be members of the kidnap ring. However, right inside the police cell, where they were detained, the police officers, who denied knowledge of the kidnap after one of them was caught where he came to pick ransom, allegedly contrived a plot to terminate the life of the judge through food poisoning.
Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, who confirmed the arrest of the police officers for questioning to Sunday Vanguard, assured he would not sweep the matter under the carpet, but would want to be sure of his facts before charging the accused person to court. This may not be our last report on the Azinge kidnap saga, but it is the concluding part of the end of the journey for the alleged kidnap band.
Plot from the dungeon
TWO police officers fingered in the kidnap attempt and demand for N20 million ransom from a Delta State High Court judge, Justice Flora Azinge, have allegedly hatched an ingenious plot from the police cell to exterminate the judge through food poisoning.
However, the plan boomeranged; instead of the judge being killed, the facade the police officers used was unmasked and they were fired from the force. More suspects were also arrested, including the driver of the judge, who was earlier released by the State Security Service, SSS, for want of evidence to link him to the kidnap saga.
Investigations by Sunday Vanguard showed after we broke the story, the police officer, who acted as the leader of the syndicate, The Don (not real name), who was caught by a soldier when he came to pick N20 million ransom, denied complicity in the sordid affair.
With his calls and messages wiped from his phone, he believed it was difficult to pin anything on him. The police orderly to the judge also denied being a member of the kidnap group.
It was their resolute denial, amid lack of strong evidence, which made Aduba to say that he would want to get details of the call logs from the service providers before deciding the next line of action.
Nevertheless, the police were taken aback following alleged incontrovertible evidence that one of the police officers made a phone call from the cell to the driver of the judge that was earlier released by SSS, to poison the food of the judge so as end their ordeal finally.
An informed source said the Delta police commissioner, who was open in his handling of the matter, directed an orderly room trial of the police officers. Meanwhile, the third police officer that was identified has been on the run for about four months running.
War of words
At the trial, The Don met head-on the army officer, who arrested him when he came to pick the N20 million ransom, saying he was not a member of the gang and was merely passing by. Though he did not give a cogent explanation as to why he left his beat at the Federal Prisons, Okere, he asked why he was not shot if, actually, the army officer caught him picking ransom.
“The army officer”, said our source, “told him that he did not want to shoot him because doing so would not have enabled investigators to get to the root of the matter”.
“Unknown to the police officer, the army had obtained the call log, which he believed he had cleverly wiped out from his phone from the service provider and they confronted him with his several calls to the judge and her husband, threatening them and demanding for ransom.
“He was also confronted with the communication between him and the driver to the judge pertaining to the kidnap bid, which he never knew could be retrieved. “At this stage, he claimed he was not the one that originated the kidnap. He said it was the idea of the driver of the judge”. Ever since the saga and even with the release of the driver for lack of evidence, as well as pressure on the SSS by his lawyers, the family of the judge no longer trusted him and ordered him out of her residence.
Armed with fresh information from the police officer implicating the driver, whom Sunday Vanguard confirmed actually originated the business after he sighted photocopy of a cheque, running into millions of Naira with the judge, the army quizzed him afresh.
Told pointedly that the police officer named him as the originator of the business and other circumstances of his suspected involvement, which only an insider could disclose, the driver buckled.
He dramatically revealed that the police officer who, all along, denied knowledge of the kidnap attempt, called him from police cell earlier that day, asking him to put poison in the food of the judge to end the matter for everybody.
It was a bombshell. The army officers could not believe what they heard either and they took the driver to an Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, who also marveled as to how the police officers in the cell were able to have a phone in the cell with which they were making calls. The driver squealed the beans completely on the kidnap threat and demand for ransom from the judge.
Face to face with themselves after the lid had been blown open, the two police officers started accusing each other of writing the threat letter. However, what was obvious from the call log was that the police officers were the actual culprits and their denial all this while was to bamboozle the police.
A probe was ordered into how the police officers were able to acquire a phone with which they make contact with people outside from inside the police cell. No police officer admitted knowing anything about the phone, but it was discovered that phone belonged to a suspect, who was granted bail in a case involving the theft of N13.8 million, allegedly kept by the Delta State Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Frank Omare, in the booth of his car.
The suspect, who was working for the commissioner at the time of the incident, was reportedly granted bail by a magistrate court, which assumed jurisdiction over the matter.
Arraigned in court
The police arrested him after it established that the phone belonged to him and charged him along with the police officers and driver for attempt to poison the judge, while others were facing more charges, including attempt to kidnap the judge and demand for N20 million.
Aduba did not waste time as soon as he discovered that the police officers were convincingly involved, despite their denial, to direct that the appropriate disciplinary measures, according to the rules of engagement in the force, be applied.
They were dismissed from the police and arraigned before the court, while the driver and additional suspect were charged with them. The third police officer remains on the run.