Kidnapping has been on the increase in Lagos State in recent times, inducing fear among its residents. Chiemelie Ezeobi gives a run down of some major incidents, concluding that the police have their work cut out protecting Lagosians from this menace
“I had a very strong premonition when I woke up that morning but I didn't know what the day held. I didn't call for security backup because I never anticipated being kidnapped but even if I had security detail, what would they have done against four men armed with AK47 guns?”
Those were the words of the Chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan who was kidnapped on Monday April 15, 2013, along Ori-oke Egbe Bridge, a few meters away from his house.
Bamigbetan was kidnapped hours after the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Umar Manko, debunked claims that kidnapping was rife in the state.
While recounting his ordeal in the kidnappers’ hands, Bamigbetan said his return was miraculous because God made the kidnappers change their minds despite the fact that they initially planned to kill him.
According to him, he had gotten to his street when the kidnappers intercepted his car and abducted him.
He said: “They asked me to go to their vehicle and they drove for about four hours; then we got to a place and they blindfolded me.
“They took me in and asked me to lie on the floor and then they started going through my personal effects because I had my bag with documents with me and they discovered that I was the chairman of a local government. It was at that point that they started getting agitated.
"Of course, there was confrontation as I tried to tell them that I wasn't that kind of person and I didn't live that kind of life. I tried as much as possible to show them that I did massive social constructive programmes for my constituency; free meals for children, progressive academic pursuits; and development programmes in general, but they did not believe me.”
After they agreed to negotiations, Bamigbetan was given a car by the kidnappers to facilitate his journey out of the place where he was detained. Accordingly, he drove the car to the designated spot as directed, parked it and then walked all the way home singing like a man who had looked death in the face and survived.
Undoubtedly, Bamigbetan’s abduction may have been one of the high profile cases so far recorded in Lagos in recent times, but it has definitely unwrapped insidious criminal activity that has been rife in the state. Yet no special attention has been paid to it.
In 1999, Nigeria was purportedly number 18 on the world list of kidnap-rife countries, several places below Columbia which was the undisputed kidnapping capital of the world. But 13 years down the line, Nigeria has reportedly changed position to become number 8.
In Lagos, tales abound as virtually everyday, especially within the last four weeks, stories of kidnapping and outrageous ransom demanded by the captors have been reported. While some victims managed to regain their freedom, others such Mr. Razaq Gawat, a presenter on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) have not been so lucky. Indeed, for Gawat, hopes of freedom have dimmed as he has been missing since last year.
Gawat, who was the anchor of the Islamic TV programme, e didè e ji sari anchor, which was on Nigerian Television Authority Channel 10, was reportedly abducted around the Apongbon end of Eko Bridge, Lagos Island while driving.
According to reports, more than 30 cases of kidnapping have been recorded in Lagos from January 2013 to date. For instance, about 10 persons were reportedly kidnapped between February and May especially on the Lagos Island in areas like Ikoyi, Victoria Island and the Lekki-Epe axis of the state.
Though police records showed missing persons, they were believed to have been kidnapped.
On January 25, two-year-old Emmanuel Alonge was kidnapped on his way to school at the Ifako-Ijaiye area of the state by a three-man gang who intercepted the car he was in and took him away. Also, a United States returnee, 29-year-old Kemisola Ogunyemi, got an unexpected welcome home package when she was kidnapped barely two months after she returned to Nigeria. She was kidnapped at about 8.30 pm on Sunday, February 10, just meters away from her Abraham Adesanya Estate residence, Ajah, Lagos.
In another instance, there were about four separate incidents of kidnapping recorded by the police on February 23, and between March 1 and 25, at Awoyaya area of Lagos on the same Lekki-Epe Expressway.
On March 22, a senior member of staff of MTN telecommunications company, one Yemi Owadokun was kidnapped at Awoyaya while going to work.
On March 23, the police records showed that two incidents of kidnapping took place, one on the Lekki alternative route, and the other which was foiled along Admiralty Way.
On March 24, another occurred on Awolowo Road in Ikoyi as well as two other incidents involving a Briton and three Lebanese at Victoria Island on March 23 and 27 respectively.
On March 25, an expatriate was reportedly kidnapped at Victoria Island, Lagos. The victim, a British national worked for the French firm, CCG, before his abduction.
Again in March, a seven-year-old boy, Daniel, was kidnapped by a 19-year-old hairdresser, Bolanle Fasasi, and her 24-year-old boyfriend, Raymond Quadri at Ikotun area of Lagos. After luring the boy to his house, Quadri was said to have taken him to his girlfriend’s house at Number 23, Asolo, Agric area, Ikorodu, Lagos, where the boy was kept for three days before he was rescued by detectives from the State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
In the same month, kidnappers abducted the acting Director/Liaison Officer, Nigerian Press Council (NPC), Chief Agbebaku Izobo, at the Amuwo Odofin area of the state. The victim’s car was intercepted and he was abducted on March 26 at Apple Junction by four armed men on his way home from work.
And just hours before Bamigbetan was kidnapped on April 15, one Nnenna Edu, a former banker and member, Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), was kidnapped in her car, a black Toyota Corolla with registration number KZ 593 EKY, alongside her driver at gunpoint near Ozone Cinemas, Yaba. She was held hostage for days and was only released after an undisclosed sum of money was paid to the kidnappers.
Throughout her stay in captivity, Edu's friends and relations were at a loss and according to a friend, Nkiru Olumide-Ojo, Edu was abducted on Sunday, April 14, when her driver was trying to park the car.
Also on April 16, another 16-year-old student of American International School, Olufolabi Adeniji was kidnapped on his way to school, but was rescued by a crack team of policemen attached to Ikoyi Police Division. He was kidnapped and held in a forest in Ogun State.
On Monday, April 29, kidnappers still on the prowl abducted a female head honcho of an insurance company a few meters away from her home at Magodo area of Lagos. She was said to be on her way to work when the kidnappers intercepted her car, dragged her out of it and drove her away in their sports utility vehicle.
New Cash Cow
While the location and scenario of each kidnappings might have been different, they have had one common denominator: the ransom. This reporter was made to understand that the ransom obtained by abductors is now the new cash cow and much more profitable than armed robbery incidents. Of all the kidnap cases in Lagos, it was authoritatively gathered that none of the victims were released without ransom, which sometimes ranges from thousands to millions of naira.
For Bamigbetan, his abductors had initially demanded for a whooping $1 million (N158 million) as ransom but were allegedly paid N15 million instead before they released him, whereas, Quadri and his hairdresser girlfriend, Fassai who had kidnapped seven-year-old Daniel had demanded for N2 million, but were arrested before it was paid.
Kemisola Ogunyemi who was kidnapped in Ajah was released five days later with an unspecified amount was paid as ransom, though the initial ransom demanded was N60 million.
For the Director of NPC, Izobo, the initial N10 million ransom was reduced to N6 million after negotiations with the family members.
Speaking to THISDAY, Chief Executive Officer, NPC, Mr. Steven Odumodu said they were forced to negotiate despite the fact that the police frowned at it.
For the senior management staff of MTN, Owadokun, his release was only secured after an unspecified amount was paid although the kidnappers had demanded a ransom of N70 million.
The captors of the female insurance boss reportedly made contact with her office and demanded for N30 million as ransom.
Also, the abductors of the two-year-old Alonge demanded for N20 million from the victim’s father after their initial demand for N150 million ransom was reduced first to N100 million and later to N20 million.
For the kidnapped student of American International School, Adeniji, the kidnappers had demanded N60 million from the victim's parents.
But those were the lucky victims, because some others were killed even after the ransom had been paid. A case in point was that of Odidi Oweze, an Ikorodu businessman who was kidnapped from Satellite Town in Lagos. He didn’t come out of the kidnappers den alive, as the eight-man gang had killed him even before they made their demand of N1.2 million which was paid by the distraught family.
The payment of ransom to kidnappers however has never been encouraged by the police. According to Manko, paying ransom by family of victims would only fuel more kidnapping. He said: “I condemn the issue of paying ransom on kidnapped persons as such act only serves to fuel more kidnapping.”
Clamping Down on Abductors
Notwithstanding, the Lagos Police Command has foiled several kidnapping attempts in recent times. They successfully arrested nine young men who tried to abduct the Managing Director of YF Construction Company, Emmanuel Nathan at FESTAC Town.
Other success stories included that of two-year-old Alonge, who was kidnapped on his way to school. He was rescued while the family’s driver, the househelp and two others were arrested in connection with his kidnap.
The Lagos State Police Command Public Relations Officer, Ngozi Braide, confirmed the arrest of the driver, Mr. Gabriel Olajubu; the houseboy, Stephen; and two security guards at Alonge’s house.
Also, 25-year-old Tope Akingbemila, who allegedly specialised in kidnapping children for money making rituals, was arrested by the state command following a failed attempt to kidnap a five-year-old child in Ketu area of Lagos. According to Braide, the suspect had succeeded in dragging the five-year-old child into a tricycle before an alarm was raised by the victim’s mother who was nearby.
Again, the command succeeded in smashing another gang of kidnappers who had successfully carried out four different operations within the state and made millions in ransom money. The suspects arrested by the police were identified as Solomon Eze, aka Pastor, Ikechukwu Chedom, Sunday James, Obinna Ebugha, Christian Ezinkwo and Emmanuel Iloakazi,
During the arrest, the police were able to recover from the seven-man gang led by one Victor Emmanuel, who is currently at large, some weapons and ammunition including three AK47 rifles, 11 AK47 magazines fully loaded with 30 rounds of live ammunition each.
Expectedly, the spate of kidnapping in Lagos is causing fear amongst its residents. According to a resident, Kehinde Akinosho, “There is fear everywhere and people are more careful where they go now.”
Mr. Chineme Ikechukwu said: “After death, kidnapping is another negative menace thing that knows no boundary or respect for one’s status or tribe. When the struggle was restricted to the Niger Delta, we were all relaxed because it was not in our area.
“Now the vice has been brought to our doorsteps and we are lacking in solutions. Lagos is the last place anyone could think of when you talked of kidnapping.”
Legislation to the Rescue?
To curb the menace, members of the Lagos State House of Assembly are said to be considering a bill to criminalise acts of terrorism, hostage taking and rape in the state. According to reports, the sponsors of the bill advocated between10 and 20 years imprisonment for such acts.
Section 11 of the bill stipulates that any person who knowingly seizes, detains or attempts to do any of both, would be liable for committing an offence with a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
Lagos Police Reacts
Unsurprisingly, the Lagos State Police Command has taken exception to claims that kidnapping has become rife in the state. The state Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko, in a recent interview with journalists said there are a few cases of kidnapping.
According to him, based on their investigations and intelligence reports, the kidnappers have infiltrated the state from the east. He also disclosed that the police have been able to identify three groups behind the recent spate of kidnappings in the state.
He said: "Contrary to reports, kidnapping is not on the rise in Lagos. From the case of the suspects who kidnapped Professor Kamene Okonjo, you can see these kidnappers do not operate in Lagos State, they just come and go. You therefore cannot say kidnapping is on the rise in Lagos.
"While I agree that there have been a few cases of kidnapping in recent times, but I don't believe the culprits are on the rampage and as usual, when we face challenges, we find a way to tackle it. We have gone after the kidnappers in the state and we have started recording progress.
“During investigations, we discovered that these kidnappers that we arrested migrated from the east and we have identified their camps at Ikorodu,” Manko affirmed.
He also identified three different dare-devil groups including those that kidnapped Bamigbetan, whom he said were behind all the recent kidnapping incidents in the state.
According to Manko, attempts to trail and arrest those behind the chairman's five-day ordeal suffered a setback when the suspects absconded to Ghana in a bid to evade arrest.
Also, the Lagos State Police Command Deputy Public Relations Officer, Mr. Damasus Ozoani, who was reacting to Bamigbetan’s kidnap at that time, opposed claims that kidnappers had taken over the state.
He said: “It is not true that cases of kidnapping are on the increase, rather it is the perception of the people. Sometimes, what people ignorantly refer to as kidnapping is rather abduction which is a less serious crime compared to kidnapping.
“While kidnapping attracts a 21-year jail term, abduction only attracts 2 years under the Nigerian law. For most kidnappings, the motive is cash; not so for abduction. And what happens in Lagos is more of abduction than kidnapping.”
Though the police may be denying the obvious or engaging in semantics, abduction as defined by the oxford dictionary is “to carry off or kidnap illegally.”
Besides, with rising insecurity gradually becoming a part of daily life in Lagos State, the police certainly need to do more to protect the state’s residents.