By CHIDI NKWOPARA
THOSE who know Sir Gilbert Alaribe family of Umuokeada, Logara in Ngor-Okpala Local Council area of Imo State, will readily tell anybody who cares that they are not pompous, troublesome or vexatious. They are rather simple, hardworking, friendly and religious. Today, this family boasts of a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Dr. Gilbert Nwadinobi Alaribe, of the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province.
Sir Alaribe, a knight of Saint Mulumba, retired from Bata Shoes Company and was, until his death, largely respected in his country home. This piece is not about Sir Alaribe. It is equally not about his wife, Mrs. Seline Alaribe or the Catholic cleric. It is about Uchenna Emmanuel Alaribe, a scion of the Alaribes. He was very young when his father died. His mother took charge of the training of all the children after the demise of the husband.
Fortunes of the family
Uche, 36, took a course of study in Business Administration and graduated from Institute of Management and Technology, IMT, Enugu. Uche as he was fondly called by his peers and family, decided to employ his learning to better the fortunes of the family.
He began his beer distribution business after his father’s burial ceremony. He approached a major beer distributor for assistance, which granted him with difficulty. His other companion was the Peugeot 404 pick-up van that was left behind by his father.
Luck was on his side and he had no difficulty in paying for the goods advanced to him by the beer distributor. With time, Uche’s business grew into a bubbling chain. He established warehouses, including the one at Eke Ukwu Nnorie, Ngor- Okpala local government area.
He also employed a number of staff, including truck drivers and cashiers. This remained the situation until Saturday, January 21, 2012. The family, in their usual fashion, attended the morning mass. Breakfast was served and everybody left to face their business for the day. No one knew that danger was lurking around the corner.
Uche’s brother in-law, Mr. Theodore Opara, of Vanguard Newspaper, left his house that morning for Lagos. Everything looked fine for everybody until nightfall. News went around that Uche had been kidnapped by unknown persons!
He was in one of his warehouses located at Ekeukwu Nnorie when he was kidnapped. The young business man was at his warehouse when three young boys came into the place. They came in an old Toyota Camry car. They shot into the air and pulled him away into his own Camry car and drove off at about 7.30pm.
Theodore Opara recounted with grief: “About 8pm, his elder brother, a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Gilbert Alaribe, called to inform me that he had been kidnapped and that we should all pray for him. We were all panicking and hoping that his kidnappers would get in touch with us.
Later Sunday morning, Uche’s younger sister, Chinyere, got a call from Uche’s phone. The kidnappers asked if she was Chinyere and on getting to know that she was the one, they told her that they kidnapped her brother.”
Sensing that the family was very anxious over the where about and safety of Uche, the hoodlums asked Chinyere to tell his wife to call them. Chinyere did as directed and the wife called and they immediately demanded N30m ransom.
She told them she did not have the staggering N30m, adding that she was only a housewife. She told them it was better to discuss with their victim’s brother, the Catholic priest and gave them the telephone number of Rev. Fr. Alaribe.
It was gathered that serious negotiation started and they later came down to N10m and later to N6m. The priest offered N2m. The hoodlums angrily switched off. The family later offered N3 million and they asked them to drop the money at a point around Control Post, Owerri.
They did this and were now waiting anxiously to pick their brother from wherever he was kept in custody. The waiting game started. Late into the night, the hoodlums called again and ordered the priest to go back and get the man’s licenced pump action rifle and drop at a designated point.
The hoodlums also instructed that this was the only way to get his brother released from captivity. Fr. Alaribe obliged. He was even afraid that the police could have arrested him for carrying a gun when he was not licenced to carry or own one.
It was when they confirmed that they had got the money that the hoodlums asked the Reverend Father to move to Okpala Junction, where they claimed he would pick his brother. Fr. Alaribe quickly drove to the place and looked helplessly for his brother but did not find him.
He waited till close to midnight. There was a police patrol team at this junction, which left equally late. He called the hoodlums and sought to know why they were treating him shabbily and exposing him to danger and they just asked him to call back the next day. The following day, Monday morning, they directed him to go to the boundary between Rivers and Imo, precisely around Etche.
He went, searched everywhere and found nothing. He called his brother’s captors from there and was told to get back into his car, drive for about three minutes from where he was and enter the bush on the same side and see him.
The exasperated priest carefully looked around the place but could not find his brother. It was at this point that he was told that he “should have come with more people to pick the corpse” of the young man. They ordered him to go home and call them on Tuesday morning.
As early as 5am Tuesday morning, Fr. Alaribe called them but they warned him sternly not to call the line again, adding that it would be the last time they would speak to him on the matter. They also told him that all the people that did the job were safely back to their respective homes.
In further directing the priest on how to trace his brother, they told him that he would see a wine bottle at a bush path, adding that he would see his brother’s corpse there. That was how Uche was kidnapped, ransom paid and yet he did not live to tell the story of his ordeal.
On Tuesday morning, the priest reported the matter to the police at Umuneke Police Division and he was given a team to go with him. When they saw the bottle, they followed it and found the lifeless body of Uche. Until the family brought the slain man’s corpse home, there was no discussion or personal contact with him.
From the way his corpse looked, the hoodlums must have killed him the same day they kidnapped him, even before demanding for ransom. Uche left behind three boys, a wife, an aged mother and many friends and relations.