By PEREZ BRISIBE
AGBARHO—AN over 15-man kidnap gang in Delta State has slain and interred in a shallow grave a senior lecturer of the College of Education, Warri, Isaac Dittimiya, who it abducted, February 15, in his Mercedes Benz ML Jeep, and heartlessly went ahead to collect ransom from his family after his death. The father of the lecturer, mother and sister, crestfallen and distraught by his cold-blooded murder, buckled consecutively between March and April when they heard what happened and went to meet their maker.
Luck, however, ran out of the wicked kidnappers when men of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, VGN, Delta State branch, led by the Commander, Monday Owhosiri, bust the hostage-taking syndicate, apprehended nine of them and exhumed the corpse of the lecturer buried few meters away from their den at Agbarho, near Ughelli. The deceased in his early 50’s was an indigene of Kiagbodo, the country home of former Federal Commissioner for Information and Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Clark, in Burutu Local Government Area of the state. He was the breadwinner of his family.
The kidnappers forced the don, who had some health challenges to march with four other kidnap victims from Eku to Agbarho on foot, along an abandoned Federal Government railway line project to their hideaway located in the heart of Orhokpokpo –Agbarho forest from 10.00p.m. to 5.00a.m. under torture. The fragmentary railway track, which runs from Abraka-Agbarho through Eku, linking Warri to Ajaokuta in Kogi State, according to our findings, had become a safe conduit for kidnappers in the area to transport victims to their hidey-holes.
A kidnap victim rescued alive by the VGN told Niger Delta Voice that the lecturer died of fatigue in odd hours of day after the gang transferred them (victims) to another gang, to negotiate ransom with their respective families and companies, as the case might be. His words: It was while we were being transferred from one of the kidnappers’ den to another in the middle of the night that the lecturer slumped and died. The hoodlums even tried to resuscitate the lecturer after he collapsed, but to no avail.
His abduction led to protest by students of the College of Education, Warri, organized by the president of the Students Union Government, SUG, Emmanuel Bipeleghe, on March 9, which paralyzed academic activities in the institution, yet they did not release him. The passing away of the victim and demonstration by the students did not dissuade the kidnappers as they contrived other means of extorting money from the family. They, nevertheless, hid the news of his death away from his family and went ahead to demand for payoff for his release.
His younger brother, Henry Dittimiya said the abductors demanded and collected ransom on different occasions from the family even after his death. According to him, I was the person that personally went to drop the last N500, 000 ransom the kidnappers obtained by threat from us at a spot close to Auchi, Edo State in March. Our informant could not say the exact date the lecturer died, but asking the families of their victims to go to Auchi to drop ransom was an ingenious red-herring by the gang to divert attention from their hide-away in the locality to Edo state.
The younger Dimittiya said the family never knew that their son was deceased until the vigilante group, acting on a tip-off, stormed the kidnappers’ den in March and liberated four victims held with the senior lecturer before his death. When we heard that the four persons rescued by the vigilante were taken to the Ebrumede Police Station, Ebrumede, near Effurun, I quickly went to the police station to find out if my brother was among them. It was at the station that one of the freed victims told me that my brother was held with them, but that he died and had since been buried by the hooligans at an unidentified shallow grave, Henry said.
Catastrophe upon catastrophe
The surprising happened as the news of the death of the lecturer got to his family. Lamenting the nightmare the Dittimiya family underwent, he said: “My dad died on March 18 following reports that his son died while in custody of his abductors. On April 19, my mum too died as a result of the emotional trauma caused by the incident and on May 13, my elder sister followed suit. As I speak with you, their remains are still in the mortuary, he said.
How vigilante group smashed kidnap gang
On how the gang was bust, Owhosiri, the VGN boss said: “Following the abduction of an Urhobo youth president, recently, we embarked on an underground security operation leading to the arrest of one Friday, who made confessional statements leading to the subsequent arrest of one Orowhite, Oyile (owner of the kidnap den used) and Omovike Efeturi.
The arrest and subsequent confession of the suspects led to the arrest of other gang members, including the one who was lured into coming to Agbarho through calls made from the phone of one of the suspects earlier arrested, he said. According to him: ”On the day the ransom for the release of the UPU youth president was to be paid, we condoned the entire area, leading to the arrest of two suspects identified as Andrew and Paul, who had come to pick up the ransom, while a third suspect, Agbavwe escaped with the ransom.
Exhuming of corpse
On the exhuming of Dimittiya’s remains, Owhosiri told Niger Delta Voice reporter, who went with his team: About a fortnight ago, they (suspects) brought us here to identify the shallow grave where the lecturer was buried and we are here today with medical personnel and a representative of the family to exhume his remains.
Modus Operandi of kidnap gang
On the modus operandi of the gang, a source, who spoke on anonymity, divulged, ”The gang having explored the abandoned Standard Gauge rail line that runs from Warri through Agbarho to Eku to Abraka to Ajaokuta, Kogi State uses it as their route to transport their kidnap victims. On both sides of the railway line which goes deep into forest of these communities, there are bush paths that are unmanned by security and are totally devoid of all forms of vehicular and human movement. They erect their dens there and transport their victims to these dens in the middle of the night with victims made to trek long distances specifically between the hours of 10.00p.m. to 5.00a.m., he further revealed.
Victims swapped among gangs like slaves
Investigations showed that like in the slave trade era, kidnappers trade their victim to other gangs, which finalize the ransom payment for the release of such victim. Giving details of the exchange during interrogation, one of the suspects, Efetur, disclosed that those who own the kidnap dens were different from those that carry out the abduction. He also said that those who feed and keep vigil on the victims at the various dens were another team entirely.
VGN hands over suspects to Police
At the end of the successful operation, the VGN handed over the nine suspects to the police in Asaba. VGN Commander, Owhosiri, who lamented the slow pace of criminal cases in the state, retorted: “Based on the ordeal I and my men underwent before busting this gang, we would not accept it if the culprits are not brought to book as we would embark on an indefinite strike. He threatened that the group would down tools if members of the kidnap syndicate were not brought to book.
Patrolling the rail tracks is suicidal –Police source
A police officer in Agbarho Police Division, who spoke on the constraints faced by the police in checkmating the activities of kidnap gangs scattered in the area, stated that owing to the challenges faced by police in the area, coupled with the terrain around the railway track, police officers could not patrol the area, as they should. The police source, who spoke on anonymity, said: “You went there with the security team to exhume the remains of the lecturer, so I guess you witnessed firsthand how challenging the terrain is. Patrolling that area in the day time is suicidal, not to talk about doing that in the middle of the night.