Chukwudi Onuamadike, billionaire kidnapper, must be safe and well guarded

It was a good week for the security agencies. A leading kidnap kingpin, Chukwudi Dumeme Onuamadike, also known as Evans, was arrested in Lagos penutimate Saturday. Regarded as one of the most dangerous criminals in the land, the police had earlier placed a N30 million bounty on his head. But in the excitement of the moment, especially given the media frenzy that is now a daily fare, it is important not only that important lessons are learnt but also that Evans (who seems to know so much about kidnappings in Nigeria) be kept alive to face justice in court.

Evans, 36, a secondary school drop-out, was described as a notorious, high-profile and one of the most vicious kidnappers in the country. According to the police, he was the head of an organised gang which operated very creatively: a team would carry out the kidnapping of victims who were properly researched and must be rich, while another team held the victims hostage until ransoms were paid. He reportedly had about seven gangs operating across different states in the country.

Rich and living among the affluent people in Lagos, Evans and his gang took time to plan their operations and had no room for peanuts. “I chose to collect ransom in dollars to be different, and the maximum I have collected as ransom so far is one million dollars,” he said. The kidnapping of a wealthy owner of a pharmaceutical company in February in Lagos attested to his viciousness. The gang allegedly demanded a ransom of N500 million, but the victim’s family was able to raise N150 million which the gang collected but reneged on releasing him. The victim’s miraculous escape from their hideout eventually proved to be an albatross for Evans and gang.

While we commend the police for the breakthrough on the case, there is an aching question: how was such a murderous gang of criminals able to operate freely and dangerously for upward of a decade without being caught? In other words, how were they able to escape the lens of the security operatives for such a long time? With this question still unanswered, conducting the investigations on the pages of newspapers, as is presently the case, is very unhelpful.

The capture of Evans and six members of his gang should help the police in finding a solution to the booming and violent crime of kidnapping across the country. Evans had confessed to many cases of kidnappings and some other crimes across borders, including trafficking in hard drugs. He should be securely kept and thoroughly debriefed for intelligence purposes: let him and the gang say all that they know.

We are particular about the safety of Evans because of some ugly incidents in the past which denied the security agencies and the nation the requisite information that could have been used in containing violent crimes. Perhaps the most recent example was the case of Henry Chibueze, aka Vampire, a murderous kidnapper and armed robber. He reportedly confessed to killing more than 200 innocent Nigerians, including children and prominent personalities in the South-east and South-South. He also killed his girlfriend and eight members of her family in Lagos in a most gruesome manner. But the 30-year-old Vampire was allowed to “escape” while in the custody of the Nigerian Prisons Service in January and “killed” in a gun dwell with security agencies in March. His death meant the country was denied of some intelligence, information and contacts that could perhaps have helped in tackling the growing rate of crime in the society.

Therefore, the police must guard against such mistake by ensuring that nothing happens to Evans while in protective custody. But they must also be professional in the way they conduct the investigation so they can obtain valuable intelligence beyond what is already in the media.