By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Bose Adelaja, Ifeanyi Okolie & Monsur Olowoopejo
LAGOS—After six harrowing days in the custody of kidnappers, three abducted students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary, Ikorodu, Lagos, yesterday, breathed the air of freedom. The girls were rescued in Imota, another town on the outskirt of Ikorodu, after intricate police moves that started with the arrest of one of the suspects, last Friday.
The girls- Timilehin Olusa, Tofunmi Popo and Deborah Akinayo, were abducted last Monday in their school, an act that outraged the nation. The news of their release provoked spontaneous jubilation in their school when Vanguard visited, yesterday.
Though they were not publicly presented after their rescue, Vanguard gathered that the girls were not molested by the kidnappers. To ascertain their health status, police authorities reportedly took them to an undisclosed hospital for medical examination after their rescue.
However, a suspected member of the gang that abducted the girls and two other accomplices have been arrested by security agents.
Eleven other suspected members of the 12-man gang were said to be at large and police are still on their trail.
The picture of one of the two conspirators paraded, according to the police, is on the registration Subscriber Identity Module, SIM, of his phone. It was also gathered that one of the arrested kidnappers, a prime suspect, Emmanuel Arigidi, led police operatives to secure the release of the abducted girls somewhere at Imota.
Confirming the news, Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Culture, Steve Ayorinde, said no ransom was paid. He blamed the crime on some pipeline vandals who he said had been sent out of business by security agencies.
Meanwhile, it was jubilation galore, yesterday, at the school as parents and students expressed appreciation to Almighty God over the release of the three female students.
This came as a militant leader simply called ‘General Ossy’ made frantic calls, Saturday, exonerating his group from the abduction saga.
He, however, vowed that his group would continue to engage in vandalism, boasting that no security force could flush them out of existence.
Governor Ambode parades suspects
While parading the three suspects at the Lagos State Government House, Alausa, Ikeja, yesterday, the obviously elated governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, commended the gallant effort of the Nigeria Police and other security operatives in the rescue of the girls.
Ambode said: “In the early hours of today, (yesterday), the Lagos State Police Command, the Department of State Service, DSS, and members of the Armed forces worked tirelessly round the clock in the last six days to secure the release of the children. I thank them for a good job.
“The three girls have been safely re-united with their families and the government wishes to assure Lagosians that their security is top priority and it will not relent in ensuring that Lagos remains safe and secure.”
The governor, therefore, warned that the state government would not tolerate kidnapping or any form of crime in the state.
“Our position is clear and unambiguous. Lagos State has the capacity and the will to go after every form of crime and criminality in order to safeguard lives and property in the state.
“As our daughters are re-united with their mothers and other members of their families, I would like to seize this opportunity to wish all mothers in Lagos State and Nigeria at large a happy “Mothers’ Day.”
Ambode had earlier assured that his administration will not spare any effort to ensure the safe release of the three female students.
“We have not been silent on this unfortunate development. In a delicate security matter of this nature, where young innocent people are involved and management of information demands utmost circumspect, we were convinced that swift and coordinated reaction, guided by intelligence reports on the part of the Police, was a better and more sensitive approach to take, rather than a sensational, panic-stricken reaction,” he said.
Commissioner of Police Lagos speaks
Briefing the media, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, confirmed the safe return of the girls to their parents assuring that the situation was under control.
According to Owoseni: “Actually three suspects were arrested, one was actively involved, two others are conspirators, who one way or the other aided the kidnapping. With respect to the state of the girls, they are very well, they are very stable and immediate medical attention was given to them by police medical team and I can as well tell you that as we picked them up, one of the questions we asked was whether they were molested and the three of them stated unequivocally that they were not molested in any way.
“Someone had mentioned ransom, it is unfortunate that we keep on mentioning ransom. When you talk of ransom in cases like this, you are glorifying that. We shouldn’t be talking of that again in this country because if you are talking of ransom, you are telling others that kidnapping is viable and they can be going and kidnapping people to collect money, but I want to also say that what was employed in rescuing the girls is more of application of intelligence policing using the platform of technology, partnering with members of the community, pressures on the kidnappers and with that pressure they found out that there was no way for them again to keep these girls and that was what led to the success in saving the girls. As to where the girls were rescued, it is around Imota area. As to where we picked our suspects, leave that to the police, we wouldn’t jeopardize our investigation.”
How police rescued victims without ransom
There were indications that men of the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team, IRT, led by Abbah Kyari,were deployed to Ikorodu to rescue the kidnapped school girls and apprehend the suspects. They reportedly made their first breakthrough mid-day Friday when they arrested a member of the gang at Ishawo, Ikorodu. The suspect, identified as Emmanuel Arigidi, was picked up while trying to buy food stuff for the kidnapped girls in the creek. Sources disclosed that the 37-year-old suspect confessed his involvement in the crime and told the police that the operation was carried out by 12 persons and they were armed with six Ak47 rifles.
Arigidi, told the police that one Felix also known as “Tradition” was the one negotiating the ransom, while Lamienmu brought the job to the gang. He also told the police that the rifles they used for the operation were given to them by one General Ossy, adding that he took part in one of the bank robberies at Ikorodu, Lagos.
Vanguard further gathered that during interrogation, Arigidi led the operatives to arrest relatives of two of his gang members who were with the girls in the creek. Those arrested included; the father, mother and sister of one of the suspects. On Saturday, the father of the suspect was said to have gone into the creek where the girls were kept and informed them that Arigidi had been arrested, while his wife and daughter were also with the police and the police was preparing to lead a 500-man squad into the creek to rescue the girls. It was gathered that the kidnapers told their colleague’s father that they would have killed him if not for his son but they asked him to assure the police that they would release the girls after ransom must have been paid by their parents. The man ,however, according to sources, told them that the police were not ready to pay any ransom but would rather storm the creek. The kidnappers were said to have assured him that they would release the girls on Saturday or Sunday morning
Prime suspect, Arigidi confesses
Speaking with Vanguard, one of the suspects, Arigidi said: “Lamiameni (another member of the gang) brought the deal, we discussed how to carry out the operation at Majidun. We were 12 people all together. We went to Maya Bridge to hire a canoe and around 8pm we entered the school and carried three girls. We later kept them somewhere. Afterward, there was a misunderstanding among us on how to keep the girls. I told them I did not like what we had done and we should release the girls in their schools because security had become tight and have been on our trail.
“Because I believe that sooner or later, they will get us. I didn’t want the police to be chasing us around. But my gang members threatened to kill me. Subsequently, I managed to board a boat and ran away from our den. Three days after, men of the Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, rounded me up at Majidun and I explained everything to them.”
Parents, students jubilate over release
When Vanguard visited the school, yesterday, both the parents, staff and students were in a joyful mood, singing praises, while others engaged in telephone conversations to alert their friends and relatives about the girls’ rescue. Also, there was security presence in the school while the rear perimeter fence has been erected.
An, SSS 1 student of the school, (names withheld) said their release was a big relief to the students. He said their absence has thrown the school into mourning. “School activities were put on hold since our colleagues were kidnapped but now that they have been found, I am sure those activities will return as soon as possible.”
A parent, Mrs Oni Queen said she was more than happy. “I have three children in the school, one in SSS 1, another in SSS 111 and the third one in JSS 111. People have been condemning the school for lack of adequate security but this is a proof that God is the ultimate security. I wish the suspects were arrested and paraded to serve as a deterrent to others. The release of the kidnapped students will stop kidnapping in schools because the government already knows how to protect the students.”
Call from the Creeks
At exactly 2.30pm, after Saturday Vanguard hit the streets with story captioned,’Abductors of Lagos Students behind past killings of security operatives, bank robberies’, a call came from the creeks. The caller who identified himself as ‘De Don’ bared his mind in unmistakable terms over the vexatious issue of vandalism and militancy in Nigeria.
Part of the conversation with our Crime Editor ran thus:
De Don: Mr. Emma, this story you wrote today, saying that General Osy’s gang are responsible for the kidnap of these Ikorodu girls, why did you do that?
Emma: Its from our investigation. Who are you?
De Don: I am De Don, a vandal. I am speaking from the creeks, inside the forest.
Emma: What! Are you proud of being a vandal?
De Don: Yes, very proud. Why did you say we did it? We do not kidnap or abduct people. What we do is to reap from our natural resources, that is our oil. We belong to General Osy militant group. You people are fond of attributing all sorts of criminality to us. This is wrong.
Emma: But you know that vandalism is a crime. Why do you people abduct, kill and maim innocent citizens of this country including security agents?
De Don: What do you expect from us, after suffering to go to school, no job, poverty everywhere. Yet, few individuals are benefiting from our natural resources. This is the crux of the matter. We are poverty-stricken and members of our families are suffering. Most of us here, inside the mosquitoe-infested creeks are graduates that passed out with flying colours yet, nothing to show for it. Every time, they say Niger Delta militants, are we not the goose that laid the golden egg? Yet, we are dying.”