***Our targets were owners of flashy cars —Suspected kidnappers
By Ifeanyi Okolie
Three suspects, Isaac Michael, Leera Barisua and Tigidam Bright, have been arrested by operatives of the Force Intelligence Response Team, IRT, for masterminding the kidnapping of the wife of the leader of a pressure group, Conscience of Ogoni People, COOP, Chief Gani Topba, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Vanguard gathered that the victim, Mrs Gift Gani Topba, was kidnapped on August 25, 2020, on her way home by some gunmen, who attacked her at the gate of her estate in Port Harcourt and took her into a forest in Kaani Community in Khana Local Government area of Rivers State.
It was gathered that Gani Topba alerted the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, when he learnt of his wife’s kidnap as her abductor had threatened to kill her if he didn’t pay N100m as ransom. The IGP was said to have swiftly deployed operatives of the IRT to Rivers State, with directives to coordinate a rescue operation for the victim and to also arrest all suspects involved.
Sources revealed that while negotiation for the payment of the ransom was ongoing, Chief Topbia, followed all the instructions given to him by the IRT operatives and they succeeded in reducing the ransom from N100million as demanded to N500,000 and his wife was released unhurt after spending few days at the kidnapper’s den.
Meanwhile, few months after her release, operatives of the IRT, continued with their investigation and they arrested the user of the mobile phone which was used by the kidnappers during the negotiation.
The mobile phone user then assisted the operatives in arresting Isaac Michael and his colleague Leera Barisua, who are members of a notorious kidnap gang that specialized in kidnapping people driving flashy cars within Port Harcourt city and would take them to Kaani community in Khana Local Government Area, where they would be held captive until ransom was paid for their release.
It was gathered that Michael and Barisua told the operatives during interrogation the roles they played during the kidnap of Chief Topba’s wife and they fingered his ex-driver, Bright, as the person who masterminded the kidnap.
Bright was then arrested who confessed that he got N100,000 from the kidnap of Gift Gani Topba.
In his confession, 37-year-old Isaac Micheal, from Kaani community, in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State, said; “I’m married with two children, I had only primary school education before I started riding motorbike.
“I started kidnapping in July 2020 due to the effect of Covid 19 lockdown. Schools were closed and there were no passengers. One of my friends known as Mark introduced me to kidnapping and I met Mark through another friend known as Leera Barisua, a commercial driver and we formed a four-man gang.
“We had two guns owned by Mark and our first operation was in July, 2020. We used Mark’s car and kidnapped a pastor at Elelewo area of Port Harcourt but on our way to our camp the pastor started pleading that he was a pastor and he had no money, so we had pity on him and released him.
“I was particularly scared that God would punish me for kidnapping an innocent man of God. I asked the pastor some questions which he answered correctly then I allowed him to go.
“Few days later, we went for another operation and this time we kidnapped a woman at Rumuporisi area of Port Harcourt and took her to our camp in Kaani-Kor community.
“She spent three days with us and was released after a N2million ransom was paid. I got N300,000 as my own share. My last operation was the kidnap of the wife of Chief Gani Topba, his driver brought the job to our gang and he also showed us his house in Port Harcourt as well as the type and color of the car his wife was driving.
“We kidnapped her on August 25, 2020, and kept her in our camp, while one of my discarded phones was used for the ransom negation.
“The sum of N500,000 was eventually paid as ransom and I got N100,000 as my share. I know Chief Gani Topba, he is from my community he is also one of the people fighting for the right of the Ogoni people, but it was his driver, who claimed he treated him badly that made us kidnap the woman”.
Another gang member, 37-year-old Leera Barisua Paul, who is also a native of Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State and a graduate of Electrical Engineering from Rivers State Polytechnic, said he went into kidnapping because he couldn’t secure a good job after losing his job with an oil Industrial Service Company in Trans Amadi area of Port Harcourt.
He added that he wasn’t part of the team that kidnapped Gani Topba’s wife as he had a quarrel with his gang leader.
He said; “I am married with a child, I joined the kidnap gang because I lost my job and there was no way I could fend for my family.
It was my friend Mark, who is from Akwa-Ibom state that sold the idea of kidnapping to me and I accepted and joined him because I felt it would fetch me money enough to enable me set up business with it.
“I am the gang’s driver and I was part of the team that kidnapped the pastor and dropped him off. Our targets were mainly people with flashy cars.
“I got N200,000 from the kidnap of the second victim. I got infuriated with the amount I got because I wasn’t part of the ransom negotiation and they gave me what they liked.
“I had a fight with Mark and broke his head and so they didn’t inform me about the kidnapping of Chief Gani Topba’s wife. After the police came and arrested my friend Isaac Michael, he led them to arrest me and the police started questioning me about the kidnap of Chief Gani Topba’s wife. I told them that I wasn’t part of it but I learned his former driver and one notorious kidnapper in Kaani known as Wisdom masterminded the kidnapping”.
While the driver, Tigidam Bright, denied masterminding the kidnapping of Chief Gani Topba’s wife, he said he told his friends in Khana, how his boss of eight years sacked him unjustly and they promised to help him deal with his boss.
He said he wasn’t aware that his friends had gone ahead to kidnap his boss’ wife but they gave him N100,000 after the ransom was paid.
He said; “I am from Kaana area of Rivers State, I left secondary school in 2006 and I went to learn to weld, but when I couldn’t secure a job at an oil company, I went to work with Chief Gani Topbia as his personal driver.
“I worked with him for eight years and when the Covid 19 pandemic started an there was a lockdown, Chief was in Abuja and asked that his Port Harcourt office should be shut down and I dropped his keys with his secretary.
“Chief paid my salary one month into the lockdown but after the lockdown chief refused to take me back as his driver. I tried all I could to get back the job but it wasn’t possible.
“Then I learned that Chief was angry with me because I took a business that came for him to someone else, and that was why he fired me but that wasn’t correct I didn’t take a business that came to him to someone else.
“I tried to talk to him about it but he refused to listen to me. Sometime in August 2020, when I travelled to Khana to visit some of my friends, they asked if I was still working with Chief and I told them that he fired me over an unfounded allegation.
“They then promised to deal with him on my behalf. I didn’t know that the plan was to kidnap his wife, but I learned that she was kidnapped and after her release,
“I was given N100,000 as my own share of the ransom. I took the money because I was scared of my friends that they would kill me if I revealed their secrets”.