Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
*Police demolish dens in Kokori, Warri, Ozoro, Orogun …
SINCE Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, gave Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, official imprimatur, a month or so ago, to pull down dens of acknowledged kidnappers, the practitioners of the evil business seem to have simmered down on their hair-raising escapades.
Converse to the first quarter of the year (January – March) when there was hardly no day that passed without news of kidnappers striking in Warri, Ughelli, Asaba, Sapele and other parts of the state, the spate has reduced in the current second quarter.
Initially, some officials of the state government did not quite hook up with the police because of covert information that some bad police officers were aiding and abetting kidnappers. The alignment was more with the army and Directorate of State Service, DSS, but once the Commissioner of Police understood the reason for the coldness and dealt with it by exposing and getting rid of bad eggs, things returned to normal.
With its constitutional position as the principal law enforcement agency in the country, the governor needed its full cooperation to execute his plans as the Chief Security officer of the state. As soon as he saw a new dawn with Aduba’s modification, he went full swing.
For those who mischievously alluded he was shielding kidnappers, particularly with his refusal to sign the Anti-Kidnapping Bill, which the House of Assembly vetoed last month, events of the past few weeks in the state point to the contrary. In fact, the reason for his banning commercial motorcycle (Okada) transportation in Warri, Effurun, Asaba, last year, and two months ago in Kokori, Abraka in Ethiope-East Local Government Area, is beginning to crystallize.
It has also become evident that he was not merely grandstanding when he boasted in January that he would fight kidnappers to a standstill in 2013. He bought more vehicles and provided logistics for the police and other security agencies for tour of duty, re-fortified the waterways by re-inaugurating the Delta Waterways Security Committee, DWSC, and adopted other undeclared protection measures.
Commissioner Aduba, who, in the beginning, thought some officials of the state government and members of the public were unnecessarily antagonistic to the police, is almost hysterical, as he speaks of the newfound synergy.
Two months earlier, he told Saturday Vanguard in an interview in Asaba, “I can tell you that in the next three months, let me say as from May or June, this year, kidnapping is going to reduce drastically in the state.”
His words, “I do not want to boast about it, but I know that with the measures we are putting in place, kidnappers would have no option than to run from the state, they have to go into hiding because we will no longer allow them to operate.”
It is perceptible today that Aduba had an ace up his sleeve when he spoke to Saturday Vanguard.
End of the road!
What looks like the end for kidnappers in the state actually started with a quick move by Governor Uduaghan to sever the underbelly of the kidnap loop in the state by dismantling the recognized leadership. Armed with intelligence information on the kidnap industry, which he kept to himself, he summoned leaders of Kokori, in Ethiope East Local Government Area, the “off the record” kidnap headquarters in the state, to “surrender” their son, Kelvin, alleged to be the kingpin of kidnappers in the state.
The leaders told him they heard no evil and saw no evil. A source said the governor let them leave, having given them opportunity to assist government with information, but without useful response.
A source said, “The governor did not want a situation where some people will come to him and say that he did not give them opportunity to give him information on Kelvin and his gang before security agents descended on the town. That is why he invited them.”
After reviewing the state of affairs, the State Security Council, in a meeting, April, in Warri, gave police the go-ahead to destroy the homes of suspected kidnappers, buildings where kidnappers use as dens and hideouts to keep their victims. These were part of the radical measures, which the police hierarchy in the state had suggested in the past.
With the governor’s endorsement, the police descended, last month, on the kidnap headquarters. The “commander-in-chief”, Kelvin, whose mod-us-operation remains a puzzle to security agents, had, of course escaped. Before the demolition, police had whisked no fewer than 63 of his associates to Asaba for questioning. Those found not culpable regained freedom while others were arraigned.
Aduba told Saturday Vanguard that most of the suspects refused to give useful information on the whereabouts of Kelvin, but on the Kokori monarch, summoned by the police, he declined to offer comments for security reasons. A source, however, stated: “The monarch, himself has been a victim of the kidnap gang, he was practically held hostage in his domain by the gang, so what do you want him to do.”
Mass destruction of kidnap dens
Last week, it was with gusto in his voice that Aduba spoke to Saturday Vanguard, “We have commenced destruction of buildings used by kidnappers as operational bases and cells, where victims are kept in unlawful custody, while demanding for ransom. So far, five of such buildings had been demolished in the state.”
He said 139-suspected robbers/kidnappers were arrested and 29 suspects were killed during gun battles, while 331 ammunition were recovered between January and April this year.
Kokori kidnap headquarters crushed
The arrest of supposed Kelvin’s associates is not what had excited the police, it is the destruction of the family house of Kelvin in Kokori, which the police described as a den and training ground of would be kidnappers.
For more than 10 years, security agents talked about Kelvin’s house in Kokori, but the place continued to exist until April 19 when it was pulled down, and since then, what is regarded as the most flourishing crime empire in the state is no more. The linchpin and his boys have also fled into exile – to where nobody can straightforwardly tell.
Orogun encampment demolished
Before Kelvin’s den was shattered, Aduba told Saturday Vanguard of how a bungalow, used as detention camp by suspected kidnappers in Eboh-Orogun, Ughelli North Local Government Area of the state was demolished months earlier.
The Orogun hidey-hole was where hoodlums before his eventual rescue unlawfully imprisoned an accountant with the Delta State University, Abraka.
Warri dens knocked down
The police demolished penultimate Tuesday, in Warri, two buildings on Odibo Street, in which kidnappers held a victim, Mrs. Joy Elumah, unlawfully.
Mrs. Elumah was rescued unhurt by the police while a 21-year-old Edighe Oberri, believed to be watching over her in the den was arrested. He shot dead as he tried to escape from police custody.
The Area Commander, Warri, Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, Hussein Rabiu, said the woman was hidden in the building inherited by a notorious kidnapper, Lucky, who turned out to be the leader of the gang of kidnappers terrorizing the area. He spoke glowingly of the governor and his approval of demolition of any house found to be a hideout for kidnappers in Delta State.
Base camp destroyed in Ozoro
Another kidnap base demolished by the police before was the house in Ozoro where a four-man kidnap gang that abducted a 67-year-old retired military officer, Major General Peter Unode, in Ekiugbo, Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State, blindfolded and chained him for two days in Ozoro, Isoko North Local Government Area.
The rescue of the retired general was a commando operation by the police. In fact, the kidnappers, who initially asked for N50 million ransom were waiting for the payment of the ransom negotiated with the family when the police, stormed their den in an armada operation at about 8.00 am and liberated the victim.
Narrating his ordeal to reporters, Unuode , who was chained on his knees with ankle, hands and mouth tied, said, “All of a sudden, this morning (Saturday) I heard a volley of gun shots; doors were being knocked off, until the door to where I was was knocked with a heavy shout – where is the General?
“I said who are you and somebody answered, we are from the Ozoro DPO, which was how I was rescued by the police officers, who came in a commando style, shooting sporadically. I must commend the police for the rescue mission. The police displayed gallantry, bravery and they were very tactical,” he added.
On how “bloody civilians” were able to snatch a soldier, he said, “I was blindfolded and whisked away with impunity. As we were going, they said I should give them N50 million, otherwise they would waste me. And I told them I do not have that kind of money and that I am a retired Army General.
“They took me to their hideout; a living environment. People in the area were speaking Isoko; the boys guiding me were also conversing in Isoko. I was hearing the sound of vehicles and motorcycles; the place was close to a busy road. And from that Wednesday that they took me until I was rescued by the police, I refused food. I lived on water all through.
“Later they reduced the ransom fee to N20 million, then came down to N15, N10 and N5 million and the boys felt insulted when my son they were negotiating with mentioned N450,000. They seriously tortured me coupled with mosquito bites. The mosquitoes took advantage of me because I was properly chained to a chair and helpless.
How Uduaghan, lawmakers finally settled scores
From our findings, the refusal of the governor to assent to the Anti-Kidnapping Bill, 2013, which the lawmakers overrode his veto by passing same into law, has not deterred his fight against kidnappers. If anything, he is more determined to rout kidnappers from the state.
The new law as passed has become a multipurpose instrument for the police in their renewed battle against kidnappers, as it stipulates wide-ranging punishments for not only kidnappers, but also their associates, family members and traditional rulers in whose domains such crimes thrive.
The law is categorical on death penalty for kidnappers and that is governor’s cause of disagreement with the lawmakers. The governor recommended life sentence, instead of death penalty for kidnappers.
In his letter to the House of Assembly, he said, “After full consideration to the Bill as passed by the House and presented to me for assent, no doubt, there are fundamental and compelling issues, some of which are constitutional. This has made it necessary for me to withhold my assent on the bill.
“It is my view that death sentence punishment is not likely to serve as a deterrent or antidote for crime of kidnapping. It is suggested that the sentence should be imprisonment for a longer term, which is life imprisonment.
“My reasons for suggesting long term of imprisonment are, it is a well known fact that death sentence is the penalty for the offences of armed robbery and murder. Notwithstanding death sentence imposed for those offences, they are still being committed on a daily basis in this country.
“As at today, there are more armed robbery cases pending compared to kidnapping cases in the various judicial divisions of high court. The second reason why I withhold my assent to the bill is that there is currently worldwide campaign calling for the abolition of death sentence from the law books. This campaign has been taken up by the Nigerian Institute of Advance Legal Studies among several agencies.”
In reaction, the lawmakers overruled the governor’s position and went through the legislative process to bring the bill into law with effect from April 17, 2013.
The Speaker, Rt. Hon Victor Ochei, said that section 100 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulated that a two-third of the House was required to veto the governor on any bill.
According to Ochei, out of the 29 members of the house, 26 signed the passage of the bill into law on Wednesday. The speaker directed the Clerk of the Assembly, Lyna Ocholor, to enroll the law in the High Court of Delta.
We’ll implement the law – Attorney-General
In the meantime, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Charles Ajuyah (SAN), assured Deltans, last week, that there was no going back in implementation of the Anti-Kidnapping law recently passed by the State House of Assembly.
According to the Attorney-General, “The penalty for murder is death, but I can tell you that every other day, you find this offence being committed. So it is an argument now whether it will serve as a deterrent or not, but as far as we are concerned, we have laws and we will apply them.
“We will see what comes out of it. As Ministry of Justice and the executive, we will certainly go ahead to implement the laws as it is. The extant laws, of course, we have a duty to do that. We cannot go to court and say we don’t like that law. It is the law that is in force. We will certainly press that the maximum punishment is given because that is the law.”
No more hiding place for kidnappers – Aduba
Aduba strongly believes that with the power given the police to demolish homes and dens of known kidnappers, the police have added advantage, as it was possible to get back at kidnappers, who when they abduct their victims, believe they were untouchable, because their investments, houses and families are out of harm’s way. “The table has turned against them, there is no place to hide, we will not give them rest,” he added.