By Emma Amaize & Austin Ogwuda, Asaba
…As villagers protest abduction of their children
*New leader bolts with N1 million…•Police arrest kidnapper days after forming new group
THE 10-man kidnap gang, which abducted Prof Kamene Okonjo, mother of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been torn apart as a result of sharing the ransom collected for the release of the Queen of Ogwashi-Uku kingdom in Delta State.
The new leader of the gang reportedly bolted away with N1million share of another member of the gang.
The affected member, 32 –year-old Andrew, aka Olokpa, from Edo state, who was desperately in need of money, decided to go on a reprisal mission by forming a new kidnap gang and was caught by the police.
He is presently on detention at the Delta State Police Command headquarters in Asaba.
He was seized on Thursday when police, acting on intelligence information, lured him to sell one of the guns in his possession, which was used in the kidnap of the queen mother of Ogwashi-Uku kingdom.
His arrest was confirmed to Saturday Vanguard, yesterday, in Asaba by the Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba.
Hired for the operation
The suspected kidnapper, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard from the police cell, yesterday, however, asserted he was not among the main 10-man kidnap gang that abducted Prof Okonjo.
He stated that he was merely hired to supply food to Prof Okonjo in the bush, where she was kept on two occasions.
Commissioner Aduba, who maintained that that the police was not in support of payment of ransom to kidnappers and was not told by the family of Okonjo that they paid ransom to kidnappers, told Saturday Vanguard that nemesis would catch up with the remaining kidnappers, as the police have a database on them.
He confirmed our information that the second-in-command of the gang, who took over from the former leader and kidnap kingpin, Nwaeze Nwosa, a.k.a Bolaji, after he was shot dead by the police, Thursday, December 13, bolted away with N1 million share of the ransom kept for another member, Olokpa.
The gang members seriously disagreed on the action of the new leader and advised him to return Olokpa’s money to him, as he was the one in who took care of Prof Okonjo in their hideout.
The kidnap leader refused and Olokpa, who was in possession of the arms and ammunition used for the operation was in desperate money for the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
He reportedly formed another kidnap gang, which went for an operation in Aboh in Ndokwa area of the state.
The gang successfully kidnapped the victim but was confronted on the way out by the vigilance group in the area, which riddled its vehicle with bullets.
“Since we know the hideout they planned to use, we strategized to lay ambush for them at the hideout, but because of the shooting by the vigilance group, the group diverted to Edo state, where they abandoned the vehicle used for the operation”, a source confided in our reporters.
Saturday Vanguard was told that police detectives continued with the hunt for the gang and having discovered that Olokpa was in dire need of money, they sold a dummy to him that somebody wanted to buy a gun.
He fell for the deal and struck a bargain for N300,000 not knowing that he was speaking to a police detective.
The suspect came to Koka junction in Asaba to collect the money for the gun when the police arrested him.
He denied being the person that negotiated for the sale of a gun when he found that he was trapped.
However, it was difficult to extricate himself and he decided to escape, but he was shot on the leg in the process.
How we captured the gang member— Aduba
Speaking on the arrest of Olokpa, Commissioner Aduba said, “What I can tell you is that following our intelligence gathering on the identities of members of the kidnap gang responsible for the kidnap of Professor Mrs. Okonjo and days of painstaking monitoring at about 12.30pm, one Andrew (surname withheld) was arrested at Koka junction, Asaba.
“We got to know through networking of information the bush the woman was kept. The major players were identified, even though they are scattered, the camp was in disarray following the death of their leader, Nwosa.
“I still reiterate the issue of ransom, the issue of ransom payment was a rumour. We (police) are not part of it. I don’t encourage ransom”, he stated. According to him, “When we eventually smashed the gang with the death of their leader, one of them, who was promised N1 million as his share became angry because he was denied of the money.
“He broke away from the gang. We (police) were aware because of the close tab on them. And because he was angry, he decided to engage in other kidnapping activities to enable him get enough money for the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
“He participated in kidnapping an 82 year old man at Aboh. We (knew) about the kidnap, but did not know the route. We knew the day and kept on our surveillance and on that day, the community’s vigilance group opened fire and this man, leading another gang, moved to Edo State and abandoned the vehicle used for the operation along Auchi expressway.
“They later brought the man (victim) to Emu in Delta State and put him in custody of one of their gang members, who incidentally is a native of that village’,” he asserted.
His words, “So we sold a dummy to him (leader of new gang) to sell the gun he inherited from Nwosa- led gang to a big man from Lagos who was in need of it for N300,000 since he was desperately in need of money and in the process of giving him the gun, we got him arrested.”
Controversy over ransom
Even though the police have categorically maintained that it was not aware that ransom was paid, it was obvious from the arrest of Olokpa on Thursday that ransom was actually paid.
Saturday Vanguard exclusively broke the story of the ransom that was collected by the kidnappers.
Our information was that the ransom was dropped somewhere along the Benin bypass on the Warri-Benin-Lagos expressway, but it was not confirmed by security agencies, who were hoarding information from themselves. A source said the first time the ransom was to be paid, the kidnappers spotted a security officer with a member of the family and called it off.
“That was one of the reasons why she stayed up to five days in the kidnappers’ den”, our source hinted.
It was reported that the State Security Service, SSS, operatives from Abuja arrested one of the kidnappers when he went to deposit part of the ransom, which was marked in the bank, but the authorities have not officially corroborated the claim. An SSS source in Asaba, who confirmed that their colleagues from Abuja, indeed, came for an operation over the Prof Okonjo matter, however, said, “We do not have the details of what they unearthed here in Asaba”.
Olokpa admitted to the police that the new leader of the gang took his share of the money, but he was asked by Saturday Vanguard how the operation was carried out, he retreated, saying, he was brought in only after the kidnap had been carried out.
According to him, the kidnapper, who took over from Bolaji “is the one I know, he is my friend, he is the one who brought me in, he told me that he has a job for me to supply food, bread , groundnut and water to the person they kidnapped.”
“He said the person was kept somewhere in the bush and that he will pay me N100,000 for the job. I saw it as easy money and I accepted it”, he said, adding that he knew that kidnapping was a crime, but the money was irresistible for him because his job was not rewarding.
…Villagers protest abduction of their children
Villagers from Ovumte, Ayaragu and Ekembe in Ishiagu community of Ebonyi, yesterday, protested the incidences of abduction of children in their area. The protesters, in their hundreds, mostly aged women and youths, took to the roads chanting war songs and calling on the police and other security agencies to unmask those behind the dastardly act.
The peaceful protesters later marched to the Ivo Divisional Police Headquarters, where they gave the police a seven-day ultimatum to unmask the perpetrators. They said: “Our villages are under siege. Abductors have taken over our villages and we live in fear of the unknown.”
“We are giving the police one week to uncover those behind the act.”
The aggrieved villagers also visited the house of the President of the Ishiagu Community Development Union (ICDU), Mr Stanly Anyim, and solicited the intervention of the union in tackling the problem. They said: “We are here to appeal to you to use your good office to stop the spate of child abductions in our villages.”
“Our children are no longer safe in our homes and this crime against them must stop.” A gang of abductors on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 unleashed terror on the three villages and abducted seven children, aged between three and five years old.