Anambra And Defiant Abductors: 200 kidnappings and the N1 billion ransom

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*Two monarchs missing, months after
*The high profile cases

BY VINCENT UJUMADU, Awka
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When the administration of the immediate past governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, took the decision to demolish houses built with proceeds from kidnapping and those used as kidnappers hideouts, the thinking was that the end of abductions and similar crimes would soon come to an end in the state. More than one year after the houses belonging to suspected kidnappers were demolished at Oraifite in Ekwusigo local government area and Uli in Ihiala local government area, to commence the government action in various parts of the state, the ‘business’, however, appears to be thriving.

Also, barely one week after assuming office, Obi’s successor, Chief Willie Obiano, literally, relocated to the commercial city of Onitsha to begin a battle against hoodlums who had, over the years, put fears in the residents and those passing through the city. His first action was to set up a special task force comprising the police, the army and the navy to handle the issue of ensuring security in the state.

The task force immediately swung into action forcing hoodlums in Onitsha to relocate to neighbouring towns of Obosi, Nkpor, Oba, while others fled to Asaba in Delta State.

The governor’s next action was to rid the state of kidnappers and the first port of call was his home town, Aguleri, where three buildings allegedly built by suspected kidnappers were destroyed. More demolitions were to take place at Azia in Ihiala local government area, Ogidi in Idemili North local government area and Ojoto in Idemili South local government area. Only last week, there were similar demolitions at Okija in Ihiala local government area and Nnewi in Nnewi North local government area.

So far, no fewer than 50 suspected criminals have been paraded by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, in Awkuzu in Oyi local government area, while about 11 houses have been demolished by the Obiano administration. Similarly, over 200 kidnapping incidents reportedly took place in Anambra in the last two years and over N1 billion allegedly paid as ransom by family members of kidnapped victims. But as efforts are made to curb the incidence of kidnapping and other crimes, especially in the light of the kidnappers’ houses demolition measure, more youths engage in it, thereby posing more challenges to government and security operatives.

 *Arrested suspects

*Arrested suspects

Often times, relations of the rich are the targets, apparently to extort a fortune. Among those that had had the misfortune of falling into the trap of kidnappers are the traditional ruler of Ukpo in Dunukofia local government area of Anambra State, Igwe Robert Eze, who is the younger brother of the billionaire oil magnet and businessman, Prince Arthur Eze.

Igwe Eze was kidnapped by a four –man gang who drove in a green SUV into his palace in Ukpo as he returned from a service at nearby St. Mary’s Anglican Church about 12 noon.

The royal father’s kidnappers demanded N100million, but no member of the family is willing to say how much ransom was eventually paid before the monarch regained his freedom. Igwe Eze had to be flown abroad for eye treatment as the kidnappers blindfolded him for about five days, an action which affected his sight when he was released.

Igwe Eze was the fourth traditional ruler in Anambra State to fall into the hands of kidnappers. The first was the traditional ruler of Abagana in Njikoka local government area, Igwe Patrick Okeke, who was abducted and taken to Uzo Uwani area of Enugu State from where he was rescued, while the traditional ruler of Adazi Nnukwu in Anaocha local government area, Igwe Lawrence Oragwu, and that of Ihembosi in Ekwusigo local government area, Igwe Jerome Udechukwu, who were kidnapped last year, have not been seen. It is feared that they might have died. Just like Igwe Eze, Oragwu was kidnapped as he was going for early morning church service.

There was also the case of the late Dr. Chidi Nwike, the Anambra deputy governor under the Ezeife administration, who was killed by his kidnappers because he allegedly did not tell them the truth about his financial standing while he was in their den. The family of Nwike, who was abducted in Anambra State and taken to a bush in Delta State, had allegedly raised N5 million for the kidnappers and sent somebody to deliver the money at an agreed spot, only for the kidnappers to kill the former deputy governor and the person that brought the N5 million on the reason that an alert of N30 million came into Nwike’s telephone as he was about to be released and the kidnappers felt that his family was not sincere.

Other high profile kidnap victims include the Anambra State chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Prince Kenneth Emeakayi, who was abducted at Nri junction along Awka –Agulu road as he was returning to Awka; the chairman of Nnewi Auto Parts dealers, simply known as Iroko; a former chairman, Nnewi North local government area, Mr. Ernest Obiora; a manager of Access Bank and a cashier of the bank; a manager of Julius Berger Plc, who was kidnapped while on holiday; a member of the state House of Assembly, Dr Emeka Aniebonam; a manager of CCC Construction Company and the chairman of Emeka Offor Foundation, Sir Tony Obi.

There were also kidnap victims that allegedly paid handsomely before being released. They include an expatriate whose company was said to have paid N165 million ransom; a sister to the managing director of Orange Drugs, Chief Ekenna, whose family reportedly paid N50 million; a younger brother of Chief G.U.O. Okeke, chairman of GUO Group, whose family allegedly paid N35 million and another unnamed top businessman whose family was said to have paid N45 million.

Emeakayi, for instance, narrated his ordeal thus: “On Sunday, the first day of December, 2013, I was on my way to Awka from Ihiala, my local government, when, on reaching Anyasoijiji, a junction between Agulu and Nise at Agukwu Nri junction, one RAV4 baby Jeep overtook my car and blocked me and about four young men inside the vehicle, well armed with sophisticated weapons, opened fire on me and my vehicle”.

Many kidnap victims in Anambra may be lucky to relive their experiences, but there were others who died in the hands of kidnappers. For instance, the decomposed body of an 80 -year old Chief James Iloenyosi from Abagana, who was kidnapped by gun men three days before his birthday, was found in the bush by the police.
Pa Iloenyosi was the father of former Super Eagles player, Mr. Chikelue Iloenyosi, who played professional football in France and Turkey.

The octogenarian’s family was planning his 80th birthday bash for 28 November 2013, but the kidnappers stormed his house on the 25th and whisked him away. All attempts by the police to locate and rescue him were unsuccessful until his bones were found in a thick forest at Umueri in Anambra East local government area.

The family, it was learnt, paid N1.5 million as ransom, but the kidnappers said the amount was too little. After some time, members of the family lost hope and resorted to prayers. However, his skeleton was found in the forest many months later.

Two persons admitted kidnapping the man, but claimed that their original intention was not to kill him. It was gathered that though the man was already dead, the kidnappers still demanded money from the family who ignorantly gave them the N1.5 million. When he gave up the ghost, the kidnappers carried the corpse to a bush at Nneyi village in Umueri community and dumped it there. Pa Iloenyosi was recognized by the police and family members from the clothes and cap he was putting on at the time he was kidnapped.

Grandchildren from hell
Another victim, Madam Adafor Madueke, an 89 –year old grandmother, was kidnapped by his grandchildren to make money from their uncle who is also responsible for their education. She was full of life as she was expecting her children and grandchildren residing outside her Amaeku village, Adazi Ani, in Anaocha local government area of Anambra State to return for the last Christmas celebrations. The period usually provided her the opportunity to meet her loved ones and spend quality time with them.

Unknown to Madam Madueke, two of her grandsons, Kingsley Chukwuebuka Madueke, 24, and Matthew Edozie Madueke, 22, were allegedly planning evil against her. The two, undergraduates, allegedly perfected plans with two other students, Chukwunonso Onuzulike, 23, from Enugu State and Gabriel Nnaji, 25, also from Enugu State, to abduct the octogenarian for the purpose of extorting money from their uncle who had been responsible for their education over the years.

Chukwunonso, a graduate of political science of Anambra State University, Igbariam campus and a suspected leader of a cult group, the Black Axe Confraternity in the university, as well as the other accomplice, Gabriel, who is a 400 –level public administration student of the same university, were said to have been contacted by Kingsley Madueke to assist him in executing the job.

The first meeting among the four persons allegedly took place on December 14, 2013 and by December 17, they had concluded arrangement on how to kidnap the woman. Though Gabriel Nnaji, the leader of the gang, was quoted as saying he was worried about the age of the woman and told her grandsons that the woman might not survive the ordeal, Kingsley Madueke allegedly insisted that the job must be done as they wanted to show off with the money from the kidnapping during the Christmas celebration.

For the abduction, the four persons, on December 16, 2013, allegedly snatched one of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University shuttle buses in Awka with which they carried the woman to a bush in Igbariam in Anambra East local government area of the state and kept her there throughout the period they were negotiating with members of the family. While negotiation was going on, other members of the family never imagined that two of their members, Kingsley and Matthew, were the alleged brains behind the kidnap.

The suspected kidnap kingpins allegedly started negotiation from N50 million and eventually settled for N3 million. For payment of the ransom, the Madueke family was directed to take the money to Obolo Afor, a border town between Enugu and Benue states on December 23, 2013, while the woman was released at Oyeagu, Abagana in Njikoka local government area of Anambra State on December 24. One week later, Madam Madueke died, apparently as a result of her ordeal in the custody of the suspects.

Nnaji, the alleged leader of the gang, reportedly took N2 million as the boss and shared N1 million to the other five accomplices, including the grandsons of the woman. Matthew Madueke had spent only N20,000 from his share before the men of the Directorate of State Security, DSS, apprehended him and recovered N180,000.

Madam Madueke was kept in the mortuary for months because the family found it difficult to raise funds for her burial, while all the people involved in the kidnapping, including her two grandchildren, were detained.

Looking sober in his handcuffs, Kingsley Madueke said he decided to kidnap his grandmother because he and his brother, Matthew, were finding things difficult financially in school because their father was having family problems with their uncle who stopped assisting them.

Kingsley said: “I felt that the only way to get money from my uncle was by kidnapping our grandmother. At the time I nursed the idea of kidnapping grandma, it never occurred to me that she might not survive the hardship associated with kidnapping because of her age. With her death and what is happening to us, I have realized the grave mistake I made in the first place.”I don’t know what will be my fate and that of my brother and I don’t even know how we are going to face members of our family. But my hope is that what had happened may lead to reconciliation between my father and my uncle.”

*Suspects... allegedly arranged grandmother’s kidnapping

*Suspects… allegedly arranged grandmother’s kidnapping

Murder
There was also the pitiable incident of the murder of a 16-year –old SS2 student, Miss Chisom Nwoye, who the kidnappers killed because they found it difficult to kidnap her mother, Mrs. Vero Nwoye, a pharmacist. Mrs. Nwoye, wife of a former member of the Anambra State House of Assembly, was driving with her daughter and as they approached the popular Borromew Hospital roundabout in Onitsha, when a five –man kidnap gang overtook their car and tried to abduct Mrs. Nwoye, but because they did not succeed, they shot and killed Chisom.

Mrs. Nwoye and her daughter, a student of Mercy Girls Secondary School, Umuoji, left her pharmacy shop located at No 6 Obosi Street, Nkpor and were driving home in her Mercedes Benz 190 with registration number, BR 439 LSD, when the suspected kidnappers blocked their car at the All Hallows Seminary junction beside the late Zik’s home in Onitsha, pulled her out of her car and dragged her into their own.

Apparently realizing that the young lady sitting beside her might live to tell the story, one of the hoodlums turned back and shot her on the chest and she died on the spot.

Honourable Nwoye, her father, said after that incident: “My wife, seeing the condition of our daughter, refused to enter their car as she fell down and sobbed uncontrollably thereby attracting the attention of many people to the scene. Angered by what my wife did, they also shot her on the leg and, after about 15 minutes of struggle with the kidnappers, they left her and drove away in their car.”

The victim was rushed to a private hospital where she was confirmed dead.

The former lawmaker said it was the second time kidnappers attempted to abduct his wife, recalling that, on December 27, 2012, the hoodlums trailed her as she left her shop and, at the same spot where they killed his daughter, tried to kidnap her, but she jumped out of their vehicle and ran away.

Most wanted kidnapper
Worried by the high rate of kidnapping, the Anambra State House of Assembly passed a law empowering the state governor to demolish any house belonging to a kidnapper. That was how the houses of the suspect in Oraifite in Ekwusigo local government area became the first to be demolished.

A public spirited individual, who was said to be worried about the happenings at Orafitite, where the suspect was said to have been celebrating crime for years, decided to alert security operatives. In fact, it was said that almost every crime committed in the state had the suspect’s signature as members of his gang were scattered all over the state and beyond.

A former commissioner of police in Anambra State, Mr. Bala Nasarawa, said: “The suspect was the most wanted armed robbery/kidnapping kingpin responsible for series of high profile kidnappings, armed robberies and murder, including the kidnap of Igwe of Ihembosi in Ekwusigo local government area and the kidnap of the traditional ruler of Ukpo in Dunukofia local government area, Igwe Robbert Eze. His gang was also responsible for the killing of five policemen at Okija on 22nd June, 2012, as well as murder of three policemen at Ozubulu on 2nd April, 2012 and the violent attack on Amichi and Ukpor police stations in Nnewi South local government area on 4th April, 2012.”

According to Nasarawa, some of the guns and ammunition recovered at the suspect’s house were those carted away when the gang invaded the police stations at Amichi and Ukpor during which the two stations were razed by members of his gang”.

Those who knew the suspected kingpin say he exhibited stupendous wealth and claimed to be doing business in Ghana, but his actual business was kidnapping of people and collecting millions of naira as ransom. At the last count, he was said to have used the money made from kidnapping people to build hotels in Ghana as well as Rivers, Abia and Anambra states and paraded fleet of SUVs. The mansion he built in his village, which was demolished by the state government, was said to have been started and completed within few months. At the time of his arrest, he was said to be coming into his compound in three SUVs and blaring siren.

During the raid on his compound, the police were said to have discovered sophisticated arms and ammunition in a plastic cover concealed underground. The arms and ammunition include 27 AK 47 rifles, one K2 rifle, two type-06 rifles, one general purpose machine gun, one rocket launcher, 17 rockets, six pump action guns, three dane guns, one Barrett pistol and 13 rocket grenades, as well as 12,800 rounds of AK 47 live ammunition, 530 rounds of LAR ammunition, 95 rounds of GPMG live ammunition, 1,000 rounds of K2 live ammunition and 143 magazines.

Apart from an underground structure in the compound suspected to be a place for keeping victims, there was also an extended building with toilet facilities behind the bungalow suspected to be a place he was using as a cell. In a small building attached to the wall near the gate was a shrine allegedly used by the father of the suspect, Mr. Patrick Ifedike, alias Ogbujingidi, a native doctor.

Before the demolition of the buildings, it was discovered that people of the community, who were not happy with what was happening in the area, had organized a mob action and torched the buildings, an indication that they were no longer prepared to tolerate the suspect’s lifestyle. As one person from the community put it, the young man was showing a bad example to other youths.

The President General of Oraifite Improvement Union, Mr. Raphael Nwike, described the demolition of suspect’s buildings as a divine intervention, lamenting that the area had been held captive for a long time by criminal elements. He believed that with what happened in his community, youths would realize that all that glitters is not gold and that the best way to living a good life is to engage in genuine business.

After the demolition of the suspect’s gang, it was thought that kidnapping was over in Anambra State, but more chilling developments were to come. At Aguleri, the home town of Governor Obiano, another dreaded kidnap gang, led by a suspect, emerged. The gang allegedly built three houses in the town to serve as its den. One of the houses, an executive bungalow, was said to have been built at a cost of N17 million. “We decided that it was a big risk to build houses in our compounds and that was why we bought land and built the houses solely for keeping our victims,” the suspected gang leader said.

The suspected gang leader, from Oghe in Enugu State, who, allegedly, provided security operatives with information on kidnapping activities in Anambra State since his arrest, said that himself, one Onyeka and Chigozie, (aka 30) from Ogidi in Anambra State, decided to build the six- bedroom bungalow with proceeds from alleged kidnappings to serve as the hideout for their human cargo (victims) when former Governor Obi decided to demolish houses of kidnappers in the state. The house, he said, was built by a contractor and member of the gang whose name he gave as Winer and who is still at large.

There is also a shrine in the compound which, he said, “sacrifices of goats and even human beings were made to guarantee our safety during operations.” One unique feature of all the buildings built by the kidnappers was that they were all located in remote areas of the communities.

Jail term abroad
The suspect, said to have, in the past, travelled to Malaysia and served a one –year jail term at Awka Prison in 2011 said he  went into full- time kidnapping because of the easy money in it. He added that he was earlier involved in armed robbery before discovering that it paid better to go into kidnapping.

He said: “We decided that it was a big risk to build houses in our compounds and that was why we bought land and built the houses solely for keeping our victims. Kidnapping is so easy, unlike armed robbery that could pitch one against the police. In the business of kidnapping, we share duties and everybody means his duty post. There is a member whose duty is to spot somebody that can fetch us good money. My duty is just to carry the victim to our den and leave the scene. Those in communication then take over for negotiation with family members of the victims. We have somebody who feeds the victims and after payment had been made, I go back to take the victim to an agreed safe place where his relation would collect him.”

According to him, many people who live abroad, especially in South Africa, Malaysia, China, Dubai and other African countries make their money from kidnapping in Nigeria and pretend that such monies were made abroad.

He added: “Many members of our gang return to Nigeria three times in a year and carry out kidnap operations, make their money and send the money to their families, telling that they were sending the money from abroad. They would thereafter fly out of the country and enjoy part of the money they made through kidnapping in Nigeria and when they are short of money, they come back and we carry out some operations to raise money.”
Though Governor Obiano is determined to stamp out kidnapping and other forms of crime in the state, there are issues worrying him, among which are the snail –speed manner in which criminal cases are handled and the alleged involvement of some policemen in kidnapping.

At a security summit he organized shortly after assuming office, Obiano said: “I have absolute confidence in our security system and that is why we will continue to support them to achieve our objectives of securing lives and property.

”I have the will, zeal and determination to rid Anambra State of criminals and all hands must be on deck. I want to assure our people that any useful information they provide to the security agencies will be put to use.

“This administration is determined to create an environment that is conducive for investors to come here. What we are doing on security will be continuous as we will continue to comb all nooks and crannies of the state to fish out criminals and bring them to book.

“We shall provide more modern crime fighting equipment and fast- moving, combat –ready automobiles to the entire security apparatchik in the state to increase their response rate to emergency situations.

“We have also begun the process of compiling a comprehensive data base on all vigilante groups in Anambra State with a view to designing some important training programmes that will help their crime detection and fighting efficiency. We are also seriously considering the issue of reward and other incentives that will boost their morale and help them brace up for the task of recreating a safer society in Anambra State.”

The governor however expressed worry that no single case of kidnapping had been successfully tried in the state in past three years, adding that he had taken up the issue with the state chief judge who assured him that it is possible to reduce pending criminal cases in court by 50% in the next one year.

On the allegation that there were some bad eggs in the police who are allegedly working hand in glove with some criminals, he was said to have suggested a massive transfer of policemen working in the state, but no sooner were the transfers announced than those affected began to bribe their way back to Anambra.

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