By Evelyn Usman
The peace enjoyed by residents of Idomila community, located off Agbara Igbesa area of Ogun State, was, in the early hours of Monday, suspended following sporadic gun shots which jolted the residents from sleep.
The gun shots, described as one of the worst in the history of the community, were initially concluded to be from robbers. But when the dust settled, it was discovered to be a gun duel between operatives of Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, Ikeja and suspected members of a notorious kidnap syndicate that used a building in the community as hideout.
At the end of the gun battle, seven suspected kidnappers were killed and two taken alive, in army uniform, with the recovery of four AK 47 rifles, 28 AK 47 magazines fully loaded, more than 1,000 rounds of AK- 47 live ammunition, army uniforms and two vehicles — a Honda CRV SUV with number plate ABC 106 AE and a Nissan Pathfinder SUV with number plate AGL 730 AZ.
The alleged kidnappers; according to the police, were responsible for the abduction of the Ejigbo Local Council Development Area boss, Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan, two months ago and a Federal High Court judge, who was on a visit to Lagos..
Investigation by Sunday Vanguard revealed that one of the suspects, alleged to be the gang leader and one of those killed during the police operation, Jonah Benjamin Osinachi, rented the three-bedroom bungalow in March, 2013. The building is situated on the outskirts of Idomila, with some uncompleted buildings around it.
Osinachi, popularly known as China, reportedly did not not stay in the apartment which gates, neighbuors said, were always shut. But three suspected members of the gang were reportedly always indoors.
Further investigation revealed that while some of the residents, majority of whom are farmers and traders, were suspicious of the activities of occupants of the building, they could, however , not place their fingers on the exact business they were into. On the other hand, some of them, who claimed to be aware they could be into kidnapping, could not disclose this to security operatives for fear of reprisal.
One o f the residents, who spoke on phone, said: “Their arrest did not come to some of us as a surprise. This is because we had always known they were into kidnapping but were afraid to report to them to the police for fear of being killed. They usually drove out at odd hours , say about 12 midnight and returned about three hours later. After that, the gates would not be opened until the next morning when they would drive out again. After two to three days, we won’t see them again until about two weeks later”.
Corroborating this claim, Lagos State Commissioner of Police , Mr Umar Manko, disclosed that members of the gang lived in Ghana but only came to Lagos to perpetrate their heinous activities.
“ Remember when the Ejigbo LCDA chairman was kidnapped, I promised Lagosians we were going to arrest the kidnappers. We later got information that these kidnappers were based in Ghana and all efforts to arrest them in Ghana failed because the country had her procedure and they insisted we could not just go there to make any arrest”, Manko told journalists.
“We went to Ghana with a team of international policemen, INTERPOL, but, after 31 days without a headway, our policemen returned to Nigeria.
“Based on painstaking follow-up and surveillance in tracking these kidnappers, men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) discovered their hideout in Agbara two weeks ago. The Commander of SARS, Mr Abba Kyari, led a team of crack detectives to a suburb in Agbara where the kidnappers had their camp. “After 72 hours of waiting in ambush, the men cordoned off the area, then stormed the house where all the kidnappers gathered around 3 am”.
The suspected kidnappers, it was learnt, only visited Nigeria on weekends when they lodged in hotels close to the area. Then they would storm Lagos, abduct their victims and take them to their camp at Agbara where those resident in the flat would take over. The remaining six members would, thereafter, leave for the hotel, from where they would call relatives of their victims demanding for ransom. When ransom is paid, they would blindfold their victims and drive them to another part of Ogun State where they would drop them. After any successful operation, they would leave for Ghana where they would share their loot.
End of the road
Disclosing how the kidnap syndicate was smashed, a police source said: “Having stayed around their camp for some days to monitor their movements, we noticed that only three persons were stationed permanently in the flat. And if we had struck then, we won’t be able to get the rest of the members and that would have foiled the desired effort, because others would go and regroup.
“So we waited until they went out at 12 midnight and came back with a man later discovered to be an Indian, who they abducted in Ikoyi. When they arrived, we waited for them to settle down and to, at least, to keep the victim safe. We did not strike immediately so as not to kill the victim.
“From our investigation, we learnt that victims were usually kept at the left hand side of the flat while they (kidnappers) occupied the right side. Having waited for three hours, without any sight of any of them driving out, we decided to go inside.
“Immediately we went inside, they opened fire from the window and this led to a gun duel. In the process, two of them jumped over the fence to escape but were shot dead by our men stationed there. Others attempted to escape through the kitchen door to an uncompleted building. They were also gunned down by some policemen who laid ambush there. At the end, seven of them were killed”.
Before they met their waterloo, the suspected kidnappers reportedly operated in army uniform, thus making it impossible for members of the public to know their true identities. Sunday Vanguard reliably gathered that areas they always targeted were Lekki, Ikoyi and Victoria Island. Other areas where they reportedly struck were done on information.
Their modus oparandi included intercepting vehicles of victims, pretending to be soldiers. They would, thereafter, drag their victim out, push him into their vehicle and zoom off to their camp in Agbara. The kidnappers also reportedly operated in broad day light, especially at weekends, throwing caution to the wind. Anytime they encountered gridlock, two of them would alight from their vehicle to control the traffic for easy passage. At other times, when caught in traffic, they would accost a victim in his car and order him to come out, that his attention was needed in the cantonment.
Anytime a victim proves tough, they would beat him up and drag him into their vehicle.
Following this new trend, CP Manko advised Lagosians to be wary of men in uniform of any kind. “ People have to be more conscious while dealing with people in uniform for now”, the police boss said.
Police sources hinted that after each successful kidnap , a bureau-de-change operator, whose identity was given simply as mallam, would be handed the loot. The mallam would take the loot to Ghana, from where members of the gang would collect their share.
But the suspected leader of the gang, Osinachi, always collected his share before handing the rest to mallam .
One of the arrested suspects, Uchenna Nwanyu (25), who denied ever taking part in any of the kidnapping, admitted, however, to always watch over their victims. Nwanyu disclosed that although Osinachi was his boss, he was never paid any reasonable amount at the end of the day. With the killing of his boss and members of his gang, Nwanyu said Lagos would experience peace in the area of kidnapping.
His words: “I worked for my boss, Osinachi, whom we all called China. His father hailed from China while his mother was from Imo State. I managed his building in Ghana and his restaurant. I was only in Lagos on his instruction to help procure international visas for his wife and two children. He told me they would be spending this year’s Christmas in London.
“While in Lagos, he called me to come to Agbara, that his goods would be arriving that day. When I got there, I met him and his friends, some of whom were smoking and drinking. When it was close to 12 midnight, they brought out their charms, said some incantations and brought out a liquid substance which they poured on their heads. After that , they left the house in army uniform and guns.
“I was sleeping when they came back with a white man . They told me to take the man to my room and watch over him. While in the room, I overheard my boss telling his friends that he was tired and could not go to the hotel he usually stayed whenever he visited Lagos. He said he would go to the hotel the next day, from where he would contact the white man’s relatives for ransom.
‘Peace in Lagos’
“But few hours later, I heard gun shots. It never happened like that before. I lay down and also asked the white man to lie down so as not to be hit by stray bullet. I heard my boss instructing his boys that everybody should flee for their lives. I could not leave the room for fear of being hit by bullet.
“When the gun shots died down, I decided to come out, only to behold the lifeless bodies of my boss and four of his friends in the sitting room. I raised my hands up and remained there until someone hit me with the boot of a gun and I fell down.
“I have always known my boss was into kidnapping. But I just could not tell him to his face to stop. Anytime I watched the news and saw reports of any arrest of kidnappers, I would call his attention to it but he would dismiss it with a wave of the hand saying those arrested were not smart enough.
“With the killing of this people, I assure you that Lagos will experience a down turn in kidnapping because the major kidnap here is done by the group”
Asked if he knew the identities of those kidnapped, he shook his head and said: “ No”.
London-bound wife and hard drugs
Continuing, Nwanyu said: “ I do not think my boss’s wife was aware of what he was into . He only gave her the impression that he was into hard drugs and that was why he said he asked them to relocate to Ghana from where he planned to move them to London next year . That is why he procured their visas.
“I have severally thought of quitting but could not because I was yet to get a reasonable amount with which to start life afresh. Now I have been arrested without any thing to show for the three years I worked with China”.