By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
KIDNAPPING is not exactly new to the people of Delta State for in the not too distant past, AK-47 welding militants, abducted foreigners and Nigerians at will, and ferried them to the creeks, where they made demands from the Federal Government.
From the oil city of Warri, Sapele, Ughelli to the capital of the state, Asaba, kidnappers are on the loose, instilling the fear of the Devil in even the stone-hearted. To some people, it is as if security agencies do not exist in the state, given the audacity with which the criminals carry out their nefarious acts. Nobody, including the mighty is spared in the orgy of sadism.
For Miss Erere Darah, the innocent nine-year-old daughter of Prof G.G. Darah, the director-general of the Campaign Organization of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan for the January 6 election, it was not in her wildest imagination on that February 18 when she was being driven to school that she would be kidnapped.
But her driver was not only shot in her presence by gun-wielding men in Udu, she was seized and held hostage for 12 grueling days by gunmen, who blindfolded her, hands and feet in their den.
While her ordeal lasted, the kidnappers put up demands for ransom to her parents. Prof Darah confirmed that his daughter was rescued after “intensive security search”, adding, “She was let off the hook in the night of February 22 on Agbarho/Ughelli Road by her kidnappers”. On the driver shot by the kidnappers, he said he was responding to treatment.
Besides, sons and daughters of some prominent persons in and outside government have been kidnapped. Not long ago, four gunmen abducted the wife of a former chairman of Warri North Local Government Area, Delta State, Mr. Micheal Diden, in Sapele. Diden is currently the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan on Security Matters.
She was kidnapped on the Sapele/Warri Expressway at about 7.00pm by her abductors who headed towards Ugberikoko Waterside from where they escaped in two waiting speed boats.
They were said to have operated in two get-away vehicles, including an ash-coloured Jetta car with registration number AR242 AUC and a Mercedes Benz car 300E marked AW 697 USL.
The Jetta car was recovered on the Sapele/ Warri Road by Ajogodo Junction while the Mercedes Benz was abandoned at Oton Village in Sapele. It was gathered that the kidnappers abandoned the two vehicles and made use of another vehicle to the waterside.
The regional manager of the Equatorial Trust Bank, ETB, was also kidnapped, some days after, in Warri and a huge amount of money exchanged hands before she was released.
The female bank executive is yet to come out of the trauma of the abduction.
At Sapele, two hotel proprietors, Mr. Benjamin Ogeregbaje, alias Apolo and Mr. Sam Akpeteyekan, alias Santos, were kidnapped by gunmen who demanded ransom from their families before they were freed.
A Chevron staff who escaped abduction in Sapele was forced to negotiate with the kidnappers when a family member was abducted.
A resident of Sapele, Mr. John Idia said, “I am baffled with all these kidnappings and killings in Sapele. I have been in this town for 20 years, Sapele is a small place, it can be secured if the security agents do their work well and mount checkpoints in at least five to six entrance and exit points to the town.
You cannot go out of this town with any victim if you don’t take these routes, so what are the police, army and navy doing in Sapele if they cannot check these boys”.
Uncertainty also pervades Ughelli over the activities of kidnappers. The NBA, Ughelli staged a protest when a legal practitioner, Mr. Stewart Egedegbe was kidnapped
Clutching placards, which bore such inscriptions, ‘Say no to kidnapping,’ ‘Security system has failed,’ ‘Say no to insecurity,’ among others, the learned gentlement urged security agents to step up efforts towards securing the lives and property of Nigerians.
Chief Peter Wanogho, who spoke on behalf of the NBA at the Ughelli Police Area Command and the Palace of the Ovie of Ughelli, HRM Oharisi III, noted that the state of insecurity of lives and property has become pervasive in the country.
Wanogho, a one-time chairman of the branch, said, “We are not unaware of unaccounted assassinations in the country, we are not unaware of cases of kidnappings, when kidnapping started in the Niger Delta, a lot of people misconstrued it for struggle for resource control. Criminality can never be raised to the status of resource control.”
He noted that the government had failed in its primary responsibility of providing security for its citizens, adding that at the local government level, “security is treated with levity.”
Before the situation got to this sorry plight, some groups raised alarm on the new wave of insecurity in the state, but, not much action was taken by security agents. One of the groups, the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Warri branch, expressed alarm over the frightening dimension that abduction, extortion and robbery had taken in Warri without serious challenge from the security agencies, especially the police and protection from the government.
The NBA, in a statement, jointly signed by the state chairman and secretary, Gweke Akudihor Esq. and Oghenero Okoro Esq respectively, said, “The rate of kidnapping, robbery and extortion in the last six weeks has risen to an alarming and dangerous level that the citizenry now have live in a state of fear and unnecessary anxiety”.
The association recalled that the wife of a senior lawyer in Warri was kidnapped on her way to the church while, the previous day, and an oil company contractor from Edo state was abducted in Warri by gunmen, who carried him away in his car.
The kidnappers reportedly called his wife on a Sunday to demand for ransom. Some weeks earlier, the daughter of a High Court judge in the state was kidnapped and the son of a government official was also abducted. He was released after the father paid ransom to the kidnappers.
Security agents have, however, foiled some of the kidnap attempts. On February 21, a couple and a lady were kidnapped on their way home. They were, however, lucky as the police gave them a hot chase forcing the kidnappers to abandon them.
Delta State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mr. Charles Muka, who confirmed the story said, “On Monday, this week, at about 2000 hours, a distress call was received that one Blessing Okpokpo, female, the husband and Oasis Ochie, female, all of Princess Work Road, Ovwian, who were driving home in their car, were kidnapped along DSC Expressway by Chichi Bar, Ovwian, by four unknown armed men, who tried to escape through Otor-Udu”.
“On receipt of the distress call the Divisional anti-crime patrol team quickly swung into action and gave the hoodlums a hot chase and as a result, the hoodlums abandoned their victims at Ugbisi and escaped into the bush.“The vehicle was recovered and efforts are on to arrest the hoodlums,” said the PPRO.
Also, vigilant youths in Warri lynched two suspected kidnappers after a failed attempt to abduct a woman and her child along the ever busy Eboh Road in Warri, Delta State, but two others escaped death by the whiskers, as they succeeded in disappearing into thin air.
One of the suspects was burnt to death at Eboh Junction while the other was beaten to death at Ogboru Road and was about to be set ablaze when the police arrived to retrieve the corpse.
Police chief worried
The new Commissioner of Police in Delta State, Mamman Tsafe, recently expressed worry over the rising rate of crime in the state, warning his officers to sit up in facing the challenge or be shown the way out.
Mr Tsafe revealed upon resumption at Asaba that he disguised and moved round to see things for himself and was alarmed to find out that some police officers were not found at their duty posts.
Addressing officers at the Police Officers Mess in Asaba, the Commissioner said, “it is not going to be joke anymore. The rate of crime is very high and we cannot sit and watch things go bad. If you don’t want to work with me to fight crime, send me your name and I will post you out of this command”.
Joint security team
The citizens, however, expect more from the police and other security agencies in the state, as kidnappers have practically taken over the state. It was learnt that the state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who is the chief security officer of the state, has drawn the attention of the authorities of the Joint Task Force on the Niger-Delta, Police and Navy to the increasing kidnap cases in the state.