You have obviously been reading the accounts of how innocent citizens were picked by kidnappers in some states of Nigeria, including Imo. The hoodlums employed and are still employing all manner of tactics to perpetrate their nefarious and sordid act. No two reported cases have the same operational plan.
A story was told of how some criminals stormed a private home of a citizen in mobile police uniform. Alarmed by the additional number of policemen in the vicinity, the fakes quickly told the suspicious officers in their duty post that the state command got wind of an impending attack by armed robbers and that was why they were sent to reinforce the security in the vicinity.
In the case of 82-year old Chief Silvanus Udenkwo, the father of an Owerri based business mogul, Chief Joel Udenkwo, he was picked by hoodlums posing as officials of a mobile telecommunications company in Nigeria.
The criminals visited the old manâ€™s Isiala, Umudi, Nkwerre local government area, seeking his assistance on how they could get a land space to mount the companyâ€™s mast in the community.
He had none to give but opted to take them to his relation that had some to spare. The young men followed the octogenarian to his kinsmanâ€™s place and thereafter offered to drive the duo to the location of the land.
They led Pa Udenkwoâ€™s kinsman deep into the bush, scared him stiff in that bushy enclosure before driving their targeted captive away.
Pa Udenkwo remained in captivity for 12 days, but while in the custody of his captives, they managed to extract the mobile telephone number of his son from the frightened old man.
They quickly made contacts and negotiations started. A ransom of N70 million was placed on his head but the old manâ€™s son eventually parted with a paltry N6,000 he sent through MTN recharge cards before security men commanded by the former Commissioner of Police, Mr. Innocent Ilozuoke, struck.
Chief Tony Chukwuâ€™s aged father was moved from the Umuawuchi Owerre, Umueze 1, Ehime Mbano local government area ancestral home into captivity. That was how his kidnap story and the trauma and anguish associated with it started. Ransom was demanded and paid by the family before he was released by his captors.
The sad thing is that the hapless old man died June 10, 2008, not long after he was released by his captors! He obviously passed through serious trauma while in captivity. His captors did not know his medical history. All they knew was that he was the father of a wealthy man.
That is the extent people can go in the quest for quick money. They never cared that the old could have died in their custody.
The case of Mrs. Ngozi Nneji had a different cast. She was returning from an evening devotion in a Catholic Parish in Owerri municipality when the hoodlums struck.
The hoodlums carefully trailed the unsuspecting, soft spoken and ever cheerful wife of the ABC Transport boss, Mr. Frank Nneji, to a safe corner, double crossed her and the kidnap story started evolving. He paid through his nose to get his lovely wife out of the devilish grip of the criminals.
When the spate of kidnapping started being a recurring decimal in Imo Sate, the Speaker of Imo State house of Assembly, Chief Goodluck Nanah Opiah, felt it was safe to relocate members of his family to Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State.
This singular act resulted in the kidnap of two of his children. A traumatised Speaker paid an undisclosed ransom before his children were released by the criminals.
Not long after, the member representing Ikeduru in the State House of Assembly, Chief Sam Daddy Anyanwu, narrowly escaped a kidnap trap or possible assassination, following the arrest of an armed man that stormed his Amaimo country home, dressed in a white cassock. He impersonated a Catholic priest.
â€œThe security men could not understand why a supposed Catholic priest, sent by his bishop, would prefer to ride on a motorcycle. Their suspicion heightened and they decided to search the strange visitor in cassock. A short gun, which he carefully hid in his cassock, was recoveredâ€, Chief Anyanwu told Vanguard.
Although the son of the member representing Isiala Mbano in the State House of Assembly, Chief Simeon Iwunze, had earlier been picked and released on payment of ransom, there was another interesting story from another Imo lawmaker, Mr. Celestine Ngobiwu. He was kidnapped byÂ hoodlums.
This time, the hoodlums did not quite put their acts together. Ordinarily, their captive ought to have been the one to sign the cheque, collect and deliver the ransom the hoodlums were demanding. He was however in their custody and tucked away at an undisclosed location.
The hoodlums told the lawmaker some stories and made sound revelations, which is pertinent in the present circumstance in Imo State. They claimed that they were previously armed robbers before they switched over to kidnapping.
They claimed that it was safer to be branded a kidnapper than an armed robber.Â They opinedÂ that some cool money could be made in the kidnap business without necessarily posing serious threat to their lives.
Thereafter, the hoodlums changed tactics. No bread winner of any family was picked up for quite a while in the state by kidnappers since the release of the Imo lawmaker.
It now appears safe to conclude that armed robbery is gradually fading away. Recently, Imo State Police Command announced that they had broken the backbone of a kidnap cartel operating in the state.
Some social misfits implicated in the sordid act were first paraded by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro, before the former Imo police boss, Mr. Innocent Ilozuoke, did the same in Owerri.
The feelings around town are that if the grandmaster of the crime were actually arrested, the crime would have since stopped.
But the miscreants are still at work. They have continued to harass and intimidate members of high profile families in the state and smiling to their banks. Ginikachi, the daughter of the immediate past Deputy Governor of Imo State, Chief Ebere Udeagu, also fell victim of the hoodlums.
Confirming the sad incident to Vanguard, Chief Udeagu, tried to exhibit courage in the midst of serious distress, as he tried to narrate the story, said â€œshe was kidnapped Thursday evening, June 19, 2008â€, in Owerri.
At the time he was talking, the circumstances surrounding the kidnap was still very hazy but quickly added that the family can only get the details when she was eventually released from captivity. She eventually returned and soon after, two members of the criminal gang were arrested by the police, arraigned in court, vide suit number HOW/51C/2008, tried, convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment by Hon. Justice Nonye Okoronkwo.
The convicted hoodlums are Emeka Junior Emeka, the son of a former member of Imo State House of Assembly, Dr. Emeka Ukaegbu, and Ogechi Ekechukwu. They were found guilty on two of the six count charges.
Justice Okoronkwo said: â€œWhy was it necessary to guard Ginikachi Udeagu if she was an associate. There would not have been any such necessity if she was an associate and indeed a mastermind of the scheme.
I find that Ginikachi did not give her consent to her kidnap and was not involved in the plan to kidnap her. From the above finding and the admissions of the accused persons, there was a plot between the accused persons and others to kidnap Ginikachi Udeagu for the purpose of demanding and receiving ransom payment from her father, Chief Ebere Udeaguâ€.
Against the background of the foregoing analysis, Justice Okoronkwo said that he had no illusions that the two accused persons â€œconspired with others to commit the offence of kidnapping contrary to Section 364(2) of the Criminal Code and i accordingly find the first and second accused each guilty on counts one and twoâ€.
But kidnapping is not a new phenomenon. The defunct Eastern Nigerian government included aspects of this crime in its Laws, which are applicable to Imo State today. A provision was made for conspiracy to commit felony.
This is contrary to Section 515(A)(a) of the Criminal Code Cap. 30 Vol. II Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963 as amended by Section 3(a) of the Criminal Code amended Edict No.5 of 1974 of East Central State of Nigeria, as applicable to Imo State.
The offence of kidnapping was taken care of in Section 364(2) of the Criminal Code Cap. 30 Vol. II Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963, as applicable in Imo State. Deprivation of liberty was seen as a serious offence and that was why Section 365 of the Criminal Code Cap. 30 Vol. II Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963 was crafted.
Provisions were also made for conspiracy to commit misdemeanor contrary to Section 517 of the Criminal Code Cap. 30 Vol. II Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963, as applicable to Imo Sate.
In a recent interview, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Aloysius Okorie, affirmed that the issue of kidnapping stared him in the face as he took over the state command, even as he maintained that these criminals do not live in the moon.
â€œThe issue of kidnapping stared me in the face as soon as I assumed duties in the Command. We have cracked some of the gangs and we are battling to crush the remnantsâ€, Okorie said.
While reiterating the determination of the Command to fight criminals operating in the state to a standstill, Okorie also appealed to the citizenry to take the police into confidence anytime kidnappers strike, stressing that people should be patient and cooperate with the command.
The question on everybodyâ€™s lips is when this spate of kidnapping, armed robbery and other serious crimes in Imo State will stop.