By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
SECRET meeting over Kelvin: Few months before Kelvin Oniarah, the kidnap kingpin that terrorized Delta State and other states in the South-South and South-East regions was rounded up, September 25, by a joint team of Department of State Services, DSS and Nigerian Army, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, who had been providing logistics for the manhunt for kidnappers in the state, summoned the leaders of Kokori community, the country home of the gangster, to a meeting in Warri.
The closed-door meeting was necessitated by intelligence information that Kokori people were shielding the notorious criminal from arrest by security agents. Motorcyclists purportedly on his payroll usually gave him information regarding enquiries about him and movement of security agents, while the residents maintained they knew nothing about him.
There was no official statement at the end of the meeting, but was manifest was that there was no information on Kelvin, and the State Security Council authorized the police to destroy the homes and kidnap cells of the criminal and his accomplices in Kokori, which was carried out in April. No community leader said anything publicly about the gathering.
Few days after Kelvin was arrested, Governor Uduaghan, apparently bitter about the support given Kelvin by women who gathered at a primary school in Kokori, where he infamously gave government a 60-day ultimatum, September 17, lashed out at the women and community leaders for their sense of judgment.
What Uduaghan asked Kokori people: President-general of the community, Mr. G.S Avbunudiogba, spoke to Vanguard on phone, Thursday, on what really transpired between the governor and leaders of Kokori. He also explained how the villagers arrested Kelvin in the past and handed him over to the police and why his unceremonious release deterred them from doing anything furthermore about Kelvin for fear of being killed.
On the meeting of Governor Uduaghan and Kokori leaders, Avbunudiogba said, “When the governor invited some people to Warri, he was asking them about Kelvin, they told him they had been hearing of him, but they do not know him and that is the truth. Even I who is speaking to you now, I have been hearing of Kelvin but I do not know him. He (governor) told them that they have to arrest and bring him, but if it was possible, they would have arrest himed, but Kelvin does not stay in Kokori.
Kingpin once arrested and handed over to police: “On my own, I wondered how they want the people to arrest the man that was doing all the things that I read in the newspapers and hear on television without arms. Anyway, I was told that there was a time the community apprehended Kelvin and handed him over to the police at Isiokolo Police Station. He was taken to headquarters of the Police Command in Asaba, but he was released few days after.
“The people also saw a strange car parked somewhere in the community and reported to the police, few hours later, the vehicle was released. They told the governor all these in the presence of the Commissioner of Police, and with these kind of things, nobody was ready to stick out his neck.”
A lawyer told Vanguard that the offence, which Kelvin was arrested at a time was not strong enough to reign him in, as the charge against him was watery, adding, “He, however, grew from a small criminal to the status he was before he was recently arrested.”
Not everybody knows him
Told that the release of Kelvin at a time by security agents after he was arrested was not enough reason for the community leaders to give the governor, who is the chief security officer of the state, useful information when he summoned them, the president general said, “The truth is that it is not everybody that knows Kelvin. He does not stay here, he comes in at night and leaves the next morning. In most cases when you hear he came, before you would get there, he is gone.
“He comes in and moves out; nobody knows who he is as such even though they hear about him on television. Nobody can say that he has the number of Kelvin, so it was not easy for us to arrest him. Regarding the press conference, nobody knew Kelvin was going to address the press on that day or issue any ultimatum. As the president general of the community, I read it in the newspapers just like any other Nigerian.
“You will not because one man from Kokori is an armed robber and kidnapper, say that all Kokori people are criminals or that we are supporting criminals, this is not true. It is a farce, there was no Kokori leader there on that day except children and some mothers, who were hungry.
Kokori people never supported Kelvin, he never attended any of our meetings, most of us do not know him. He is always in hiding, he comes in the night like I told your earlier and the following day, he is out. I doubt if he has a home here in Kokori where he sleeps.”
He’s not small fly to catch: “If it was easy to arrest him, why did all the mobile policemen that were drafted here in search of him before now not apprehend him. We have produced eminent citizens of this country, the former Justice Minister, the late Justice Ayo Irikefe was from here, we have other distinguished Nigerians from Kokori, we should not be lumped together with Kelvin as criminals, whereas, we are not,” he argued.
On the on-going “internal operation” by the military in Kokori, he said, “We are not against it, but a situation where the security agents beat up innocent persons is ungodly. They barge into people’s houses, saying they were looking for Kelvin even when the news is everywhere the Kelvin had been arrested. Yes, in most cases, they break into people’s houses and when they meet you, they ask you, where is Kelvin. Up till now, they are still beating people and asking where is Kelvin, that is the situation.”
He also disclosed that schools and the only health centre in the town had been deserted by teachers, students, workers because of the siege by soldiers, while residents have fled to exile. A 98-year-old man, Pa Isiokolo, who corroborated his claim, said, “Youths are either flogged or beaten up by soldiers.” He also said hunger had hit the people as there was shortage of food supply because “there is nobody to buy and sell.”
Soldiers after criminals: A military officer, who spoke to Vanguard at Kokori, said, “It is not true that soldiers are beating up innocent people, we are only after criminals, if you are innocent, all you to do is to identify yourself, we are looking for criminals among them. You were here the other day when they mounted barricades to prevent us from doing our work in the community. They placed sacrifices at various junctions to scare us away, but we are not here for joke, we are trained soldiers and are here for real business.”