By Dayo Johnson, Regional Editor, South-West.
THEIR story is pitiable but, as devout Christians, they must have forgiven their abductors knowing that what they went through was the cross they had to carry in their Christian journey.
Two Catholic nuns, Apo Perpetual and Roseline Familade, were kidnapped alongside their driver at Kajola village, along Benin-Ijebu-Ode expressway, while on their way from Kaduna to ljebu- ltele in Ogun State for a church programme.
Their vehicle had broken down at about 7pm and they were stranded. While praying for a ‘Good Samaritan’ to surface and help them, some men, neatly dressed, pulled up and pretended to offer the much needed help. But the men had a sinister motive.
Before the nuns knew what was happening, the once friendly men became hostile, pointing guns at the reverend sisters and their driver. They were bundled into their (gunmen) own vehicle and sped off, leaving the nuns’ faulty vehicle behind.
The kidnapping attracted the attention of the Inspector General of Police, IG, who promptly deployed officers from the Intelligence Squad in Abuja to join forces with operatives of Ondo State Police Command to rescue the women.
Ten days later, specifically a Sunday, the nuns breathed the air of freedom as they were rescued by security operatives alongside their driver, Zwugwa Zibai, but not until the kidnappers had collected N1 million ransom. The kidnappers had, initially, during negotiation, demanded N20 million.
Seven suspects, including a couple, were arrested in connection with the abduction. It was learnt that two of them were identified by the nuns at the Department of State Service (DSS) office in Akure when they were paraded before them.
The suspects were listed as Reuben Akinbehinje (aka Chairman), Saheed Oyewo (aka Olaoluwa), Seun Lajuwomi (aka Ebile), Abimbola Akinbehinje , John Imoleayo Uche (aka Uchenna), Seun Iseoluwa Akintan (aka Egbegbe) and Lateef Fayemi Hammed.
The suspects are facing a seven-count charge of conspiracy, kidnapping, armed robbery, aiding and abetting kidnapping and accessory after the fact. A source disclosed that the suspects are cooling their heels at the Olokuta prisons, Akure, having been remanded there by an Akure High Court judge pending the determination of their case.
The prosecution, led by B.V Falodun, of the Department of Public Prosecution, Ondo State Ministry of Justice, said the accused persons conspired and kidnapped Reverend Sister Perpetual Idowu Apo and Reverend Sister Roseline Familade along with their driver, Yohanna Zibai, and held them hostage for ten days in the bush, tied with chain and under lock until N1 million ransom finally agreed upon by both parties was paid to the kidnappers.
“The accused persons along with other gang members who were said to be currently at large and who were armed with offensive weapons such as guns and cutlasses had robbed the Reverend Sisters of their valuables such as bags, internet modem and flash, power bank and a total sum of N70, 000 while they stripped one of them of her veil”, Falodun said.
“In the same vein, they robbed their driver, Yohanna Zibai, of his Techno Handset, a sum of N5, 000 and keys of their vehicle.
“One of the accused persons, Seun Lajuwomi, was alleged to have collected two ATM cards belonging to Reverend Sister Perpetual Idowu Apo from one Likeman who is currently at large and used the cards to withdraw money from her account at an Automated Teller Machines at United Bank of Africa, Ore branch and Sterling Bank, also in Ore, while knowing that those ATM cards were forcibly taken from one of the reverend sisters held hostage.
“Abimbola Akinbehinje, the 5th accused person and also the wife to the first accused person, was said to have removed a gun kept in the ceiling of a house at Itamo, Akure by the first accused person, Reuben Akinbehinje, alias Chairman, and took the gun to her mother –in-law’s house at Mile 49, along Ore-Lagos Expressway, to keep.
Meanwhile, one of the reverend sisters, Familade, while recounting their 10 days’ ordeal in the kidnappers’ den before the court, stated that the kidnap took place when they, along with their driver, had to stop along the road because their car developed a fault around 7 p.m.
Familade noted that they were waiting for someone who would repair the vehicle when they were abducted by some heavily armed men.
She stated that one of the gunmen nearly killed her in the process and that they were tied together with chain and padlock throughout the period of their stay in the kidnappers’ den.
The victim testified that the leader of the gang came to speak with them twice and, at first, demanded a ransom of N20 million during negotiations with their families before they would be released.
According to her, all the time they were held hostage, three members of the gang watched over them so that they would not escape and that the kidnappers threatened them at intervals with guns and cutlasses.
Familade said they were released 10 days later and the case was reported to the DSS office in Akure where she later identified two men as part of the gang that kidnapped them out of suspects brought out to her.
The driver, Zwugwa Zibai, while testifying, corroborated the testimony of the nun and how he was beating severely and threatened with gun by a member of the gang.
Zibai stated that he too was able to recognize two members of the gang that kidnapped them at the DSS office where he also volunteered a statement.
The prosecution stated that it was the phone number used by the kidnappers to negotiate and monitor the delivery of the ransom sum which was tracked and analyzed that led to the arrest of John Imoleayo Uche, Seun Iseoluwa Akintan, Saheed Oyewo, Seun Lajuwomi and Lateef Fayemi Hammed at Ore in Ondo State.
Further investigation, according to Falodun, led to the arrest of their alleged kingpin, Reuben Akinbehinje, and his wife in Itamo village in Akure North local government area.
The suspected gang leader, Akinbehinje, told the court that he has a National Certificate in Education, NCE, and that a friend introduced him to kidnapping and he subsequently recruited his own gang members.
“We were going along the expressway looking for victims to kidnap on the fateful day when we saw the reverend sisters along with their driver stranded on the highway after their vehicle, a Carina E, had broken down”, he testified.
“Immediately we saw them, we decided to kidnap them for ransom”.
Akinbehinje narrated that his gang members, who include John Uche and Seun Lajuwomi, abducted the reverend sisters and beat up their driver who put up a fight before taking him along.
The suspect confessed that he brought a chain and a padlock with which he tied them together and covered them with tarpaulin so that they will not be exposed to rain throughout their 10 days’ stay in their custody.
He admitted to also threatening them to kill them with a gun which belonged to him as it was passed on to him from his father who he claimed was a hunter during his life time.
According to him, when ransom was paid, he gave the victims transport fare and released them.
Justice A.O Adegoroye adjourned further hearing in the case to July 3.