By Chidi Nkwopara
Owerri – Bishop of Okigwe South, Anglican Communion, Rt. Rev. David O.C. Onuoha, passed through harrowingÂ Â times when his aged father, Pa Humphrey Onuoha, was recently kidnapped and taken to an unknown hideout by his captors. The Bishop recounts the ugly incident to Crime Guard. Read on;
What is your take on the hydra-headed issue of kidnapping?
It is just to stress the point that in this fight against kidnapping and violence in the society, government will not win the battle alone without the assistance of the communities. What my own community did in respect of my fatherâ€™s kidnapping is something that every other community in Imo State, Igboland and Nigeria in general should emulate so that we will stamp out this social ill called kidnapping.
How was your father kidnapped?
My father was taken right there in his home around 7.30pm on the 7th of July, 2009, and his captors were demanding N100 million. We still do not know actually why they remembered us, given the fact that ours is just a very humble and struggling family. Having passed through difficult times to be where we are now. But eventually, my father was released without the family paying a kobo.
How did you do it?
It came to a stage that I told my fatherâ€™s captors that the man was 82 and if they would want to kill him, they should feel free to do so and if they want to release him, let them release him. In any case, I told them that I had blocked a weekend in August either for his funeral or a thanksgiving service. If they killed him, I would conduct his funeral on that particular weekend and if they released him, I would do a thanksgiving.
Did the hoodlums see your stand as serious?
I should think so. When they discovered that the family was not prepared to part with money, they released the man unconditionally.
Did his captors take him back to his house?
The boys took him to Enugu State and left him around 12 midnight on the 14th of July, 2009, at Ozalla, close to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH). And God in His infinite mercy, sent His angels in human form. Immediately they dropped him, my father saw a man standing, without minding whether he was a mad man or not.
He approached him and narrated his ordeal to the stranger and requested that the man should take him to any nearby Anglican Church. The man told him that the Anglican Church there had no resident pastor. My father then asked if there was a Roman Catholic Church around. The man answered in the affirmative.
As they were discussing, a woman walked in. They took him to a Reverend Father. The Catholic priest listened carefully to their story and advised them to take my father to the police. So, he could not accommodate him that night, possibly because of past experiences.
The woman that now joined in the discussion summoned courage and asked my father to join her, promising that she would give him a place to sleep. That was what happened.
How did he return?
Around 5.30am the following morning, the woman knocked at his door and the same man arrived on his motorcycle. The kidnappers gave my father N1,000 for his transport (laughs).
His benefactors took him to the motor park. He boarded a transport that dropped him at Abia Tower. From Abia Tower he took another vehicle that brought him to Isinweke, Ihitte Uboma local government area of Imo State. It was here that we saw him.
How did the community receive his home coming?
There was jubilation. Excitement filled the air. It was palpable. All the commercial motorcyclists in the town took him triumphantly back to the family compound. We rushed home to go and see him. We got him to take his bath and breakfast.
Did the kidnappers call you again after your father regained freedom?
Yes they did. That was after about a week or thereabout. The kidnappers called me because at a time, I took over the negotiations. They had my telephone number and I had theirs.
What did they tell you?
They called me pleading for forgiveness, stressing that they were misled. They also said that the information given about the family was all wrong.
They also confessed that they shouldnâ€™t have come to our house at all. I told them that I will forgive them only on one condition that they will never ever go back to kidnapping business any more. I also told them that the crime was gradually destroying the Igbo society. Every Igbo man that is wealthy suffered and struggled in order to be where he is today. We are not opportuned to be controlling the economy of this nation.
We are equally not controlling the politics of the nation. So, every Igbo man is struggling.
Then this kidnapping of a thing is a sore point in Igbo corporate testimonial. It is a case of Igbo people making things difficult for fellow Igbo men and women. I told the kidnappers all these and appealed to them to stop the evil game, especially as it was not telling good stories about the Igbo race. They asked how they will stop it, adding that it was how they get money to take care of their personal needs and solve their family problems.
I told them that this type of money cannot solve any family problem rather it can compound the problems. I also warned that if they did not want to heed what I was telling them, it would mark the beginning of their problem.
I told them that if they accept to come out of this stupid business, I will get the Governor of Imo State, who is anxious to see that this thing is stamped out from the state, to grant you pardon. I told them that if they can work with security agencies to fish out all those in the game, the Governor will help find them something reasonable and meaningful that will benefit them and their family.
Did they accept your overture?
I am not sure that they did. They said that I was trying to lure them out to kill them. I said that I am not in that kind of game. I assured them that if they came out and I end up betraying them, their blood would be on my head.
I ended the conversation by saying that if they did not want to accept what I told them and they go back to their old way of life, they will be caught and killed. That was on a Tuesday.
Thursday of that week, they went to Okigwe and picked up an engineer, a white man working for Enerco Construction Company. They took him to Enugu and to the particular place they kept my father.
So, information leaked that it was either the cook or steward of the expatriate that arranged it. The police picked him. He led them to another person that now led them to Enugu. The police rescued the white man and then apprehended other members of the kidnap gang.
So, we were here when the State Criminal Investigation Department called my father to come and see if he could identify any of the suspects. He went to the State CID and saw the one that they were calling Destroyer, the one that was detailed to make sure that my father did not escape.
According to my father, when the young man saw him, he was excited and he called my father Nze. My father replied by calling him the name his colleagues in crime used to call him, Destroyer. The young man started crying.
Destroyer confessed that if they had listened to the Bishop, he would not have been in this mess. It was this Destroyer that revealed the person, who asked the kidnappers to come to our house.
Are you serious?
Yes. It was our kinsman that asked them to come to our house! And that person, a young man for that matter, should be in his 30s, a dismissed policeman.
It was the kidnapper that was apprehended in Enugu that revealed that it was a very young man from my area that arranged for them to come and pick my father.
By the special grace of God, we prayed and fasted. We resorted to prayers because that was the only weapon we had and still have. We didnâ€™t pay anything to the kidnappers and my father was released.
What happened when your father returned from the police?
When my father came back from the State CID, he now summoned the community and narrated his experiences and the revelation at the State CID.
The community immediately sent words across to the mother of the main suspect in Okigwe, instructing her to come with his son the following day for a discussion with the community. The woman did not appear. The community in anger marched down to their compound and brought down the young manâ€™s house and set it ablaze.
Similarly, the women in the community also rallied round, collected all the rubbish in the community and heaped it in their compound, signifying that, that compound is forever cursed.
Are you recommending this action to other communities?
This is the role communities should be playing in this fight against kidnapping and armed robbery. These kidnappers are human beings. These kidnappers have homes.
They have families, friends and relations. If we continue to be silent, time will come when they will overrun this area, this entire place. I think it is time for us all to stand up and identify them and deal with them the way Okata community in Ihitte Uboma local government area dealt with this man.
Do you know if the police have eventually arrested your fleeing kinsman?
No, they have not arrested him. As at the time of this interview, the man is still on the run. But the police are still searching for him. This young man has buildings in Okigwe.
This young man has a hostel in Owerri. This young man has a building in Orlu. I wonder why this dismissed police constable should be allowed to enjoy the fruit of his ill-gotten wealth.
I think the government should move in now to confiscate these properties that are scattered here and there. That could be another way of telling these hoodlums that their time is up.
So, other communities should emulate Okata community and be up and doing. The communities should invoke the traditional systems and methods of social control.
If the communities are up and doing and government, through the security agencies compliment this, within a short space of time, we will completely stamp out these serious crimes plaguing our society.
What was the state of your fatherâ€˜s health after his release?
I took him to hospital. I sent him with my driver and one of my younger brothers to his doctor at the Chapel Group in Owerri. The doctor confessed that he was stronger than when they took him.
You see everything about that kidnapping and release could be said to be a miracle. I entered into negotiations with these people and I got to a stage that I promised to give them N2 million. I was working with security operatives to keep delaying to see whether we can pin them down to any point. They were mad that we could offer only N2 million out of N100 million. They now pegged it at N5 million.
So, when I told them that even the N2 million that I have promised I had to run round to see how friends could help me to raise this money and that Thursday, they didnâ€™t make any effort. They now called on Friday, asking that we should bring the N2 million.
I, again told them to give me some time to enable me run round to see how I could mobilize it. Again, they were mad at me that I couldnâ€™t produce what they called â€œordinary N2 millionâ€. I told them that I donâ€™t have that kind of money. Up till now, I donâ€™t think that I have ever had N2 million in my account. I asked them to please exercise patience and let us see what happens the next Monday when I will put one of my cars up for sale, adding that the man that wanted to buy it promised coming Sunday evening. Letâ€™s see what he will offer and by Monday Iâ€™ll get back to them.
What happened on Monday?
Early Monday morning, I was led to issue them a spiritual decree. That decree is still in my telephone handset till date. I composed it and what did I say? â€œHello! Drop my father in any Anglican Church near you. Give him my phone number for the priest there to call me to come and pick him. Do it immediately in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amenâ€.
That was when they were expecting me to tell them that the N2 million was ready for collection. They instead got this spiritual decree and that sent their camp in disarray. So they called my younger brother and asked for the N2 million. My brother asked if they did not receive a text message from the Bishop and they said that they did not understand what that text message was all about. The boy told them that the Bishop had take over the negotiations and he was no longer part of it.
They now started pleading. They asked if it was going to be true that they will not get anything out of this business. They told my brother to immediately bring the N500,000 he promised earlier and they were told that he was no longer bringing anything, especially as he didnâ€™t even have any money.
When they took my father, they didnâ€™t allow him to take his drug. There was this drug that he must take twice daily and any day he missed it, he usually had crisis. Within these eight days they held him, the man never took a drug and he never had any crisis. My father came home stronger.
Are you implying that his captor took proper care of him?
My father is selective about what he eats. He doesnâ€™t eat garri. He eats cassava fofoo and they were feeding him with this local dish.
Were you able to locate the woman that gave him shelter?
Sure. We had a thanksgiving service August 15, 2009 and we insisted that the woman should come for the service and she was with us. She slept in our house and left on Sunday.