Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the proactive measures put in place by the Nigeria Police Force to counter the menace of kidnapping nationwide, has started paying off
At Gawu Babaginda Village in Niger State, a band of brigands once held sway. They pilloried, raided and robbed motorists along the Suleja – Lambata, Bida
and Minna Roads with impunity. In fact, the gang had attained god-like status and were referred to in fear by all and sundry.
That was until August 22 2017. Their cup became full. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who was reacting to the incessant complaints of victims, had directed the operatives deployed to man the Abuja-Kaduna Highway to cover the Suleja – Lambata, Minna and Bida Roads.
After due intelligence gathering, it was gathered that the dreaded gang were kidnappers that escaped arrest on Abuja – Kaduna Highway and relocated to some major roads within Niger State to continue their nefarious activities.
Armed with the information, the police operatives set about nipping their activities in the bud and in one fell swoop arrested 26 of the gang members, recovering three AK47 rifles, four single barrel gun, two cut-to-size guns, one locally made revolver, one locally made pistol and one set of military camouflage uniform.
Also recovered were 69 rounds of 7.62X39 mm live ammunition, 28 live cartridges, two expanded cartridges, one set of military rain coat, two sets of military shoes, one jack knife, assorted bundle clothes for men and women and some charms.
The suspects who operated in five gangs were identified and broken down into their gangs with members of the first gang identified as 34-year-old Isah Umar (principal suspect and gang leader), 32-year-old Abubakar Muhammed, 33-year-old Baje Sari, 34-year-old Sanusi Adamu (driver of the gang), 32-year-old Nuhu Yahaya and 29-year-old Sanda Sale.
The second gang were those operating in military camouflage and they were identified as 27-year-old Isiya Tukur (principal suspect) and 28-year-old Abbas Tasus.
The members of the third gang was identified as 27-year-old Shafiu Mohammed, 22-year-old Ali Ali, 35-year-old Okechukwu Atama, 26-year-old Mohammed Aliyu, 24-year-old Sagiru Dahiru, 50-year-old Abdulahi Bala, 28-year-old Haruna Adamu and 31-year-old Abubakar Aliyu.
In the fourth gang were 37-year-old Haruna Abubakar, 33-year-old Yalli Ibrahim, 35-year-old Yusuf Abdullahi, 36-year-old Deneri Buba, 25-year-old Sani Abubakar and 29-year-old Adamu Bello
The fifth and last gang had 26-year-old Abubakar Iliyasu, 34-year-old Yahaya Alimadu, 32-year-old Abdullahi Abubakar and 37-year-old Suleiman Mohammed as members.
Like the Suleja gang like several kidnap syndicate round the country, who have turned the vice into a money spinning venture. It’s undisputed that one of the vices plaguing Nigeria is the scourge of kidnapping where some unscrupulous few kidnap others for ransom. However, there are yet other kidnappers who target school children as their prey.
However, the police under the leadership of Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, have undoubtedly put in measures in curbing this menace despite the daunting challenges of poor funding and inadequate machinery. It is also on record that these efforts by the IG have in recent times paid off with the several successes recorded by the different units and squads of the police force.
From Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, to Kogi State, Minna and Bida areas of Niger State, to Lagos State especially those targeted at schools, Port Harcourt and several states across the country, kidnapping especially for ransom, seemed to have held sway for a long while before the proactive measures put on ground by the police IG started to change the narrative.
Harvest of successes
The proactive measures by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has recently paid off with the several milestones achieved in nabbing notorious kingpins of kidnappers in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Abuja among other places.
The IG also recently disclosed that with the creation of special task force squadron on terrorism, a lot of kidnappers had been arrested and that the force had 2, 000 suspected kidnappers in custody across the country.
However, prime amongst the successes was the arrest of the most wanted and richest kingpin of kidnapping, Chukwudumeje Onwuamadike a.k.a Evans from one of his mansions at Magodo in Lagos, on Saturday, June 10, 2017 by the Intelligence Response Team (IRT).
Evans who has been on the police wanted list for years was nabbed by the Intelligence Response Team of the IG, after five years of evading arrest and a N30 million ransom placed on his head by the police.
Evans according to police sources was responsible for many high profile kidnapping in the South-west, South-south and Eastern parts of the country and he had successfully collected billions of Naira as ransom from his victims including expatriates, business moguls and public office holders.
The billionaire kidnapper had a wristwatch valued at 170,000 dollars and two phones at 6,000 dollars each with many properties in Lagos and Ghana as he confessed to be able to afford such lifestyle through the millions of dollars he demanded from his victims.
Also in his confession, he admitted to have kidnapped up to 10 people since 2015.
In February, the duo of two German archaeologists, Professor Peter Breunig and Mr. Johannes Behringer, were abducted in Kadarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State, prompting the then acting President Yemi Osinbajo to summon the IG. They were later rescued in Jenjela Village of Kagargo LGA of South Kaduna.
Also, when the Deputy High Commissioner of Sierra Leone to Nigeria, Major General Alfred Nelson was abducted by men of the underworld, a
coordinated operation based on intelligence and technical support by the IRT smashed the 11-man kidnap gang and rescued the victim.
The modus operandi of these criminal elements includes mounting road blocks on highways in military uniforms and then launch surprise attacks on unsuspecting motorists. Acting on the directive by the IG, the IRT carried out tactical surveillance of the Abuja-Kaduna axis and all the adjoining states.
This coordinated operation led to the arrest of 11 gang members and they were identified as Alhaji Rabiu Yusuf (the gang leader), Yusuf Adamu, Hussaini Musa, Shuaibu Idris, Usman Bello, Musa Ali, Muhammadu Abubakar, Suleiman Abubakar, Gambo Ibrahim and Balarabe Mohammadu.
The IRT also recovered three AK 47 rifles, three AK47 rifle magazines loaded with 90 rounds of ammunition and two sets of military camouflage uniforms.
Also prominent was the capture and subsequent of another notorious armed robbery kingpin, Henry Chibueze also known as Vampire in Rivers State, Port Harcourt on March 2, 2017. Vampire was notorious for terrorising the South-east region from his den in Imo State until his death in Omu Awa Forest, Ikwerre Local Government Area in Rivers State.
Vampire was killed by the Police Special Forces, led by the IG’s IRT and five suspected members of the gang were also arrested and cache of arms and ammunition recovered from them. Until their arrest, the gang was responsible for many kidnappings and robbery attacks in Imo, Abia, Rivers, Delta and other states in the South-east and South-south.
Recall that before his death, Vampire, had been spirited away by his gang members on 27 January in the premises of an Owerri High Court, on the day he was arraigned.
Also, the IG’s zero tolerance on kidnapping again paid off with the arrest of 72 suspects along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway after raiding the forest along the road. While 32 were nabbed on Monday July 31, 2017 at Kateri on Abuja-Kaduna Highway, the other 40 were arrested after combing the forest along the road. Three victims also were rescued unhurt from the gang.
In July, the five suspects responsible for the kidnap of Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello’s 80-year-old mother, Mrs. Hawawu Bello, was finally arrested three years after it happened. The governor was the then Managing Director of Fair Plus Transport Services.
The arrested suspects are: Iliyasu Suleiman (former Councillor and gang leader), Danjuma Ibrahim, Iliyasu Obadaki, Alhaji Nasiru, and Hafiz Yakubu and items recovered from the suspects include: two AK 47 rifles; 20 live cartridges; one army camouflage inner wear; two army camouflage pair of trousers, two army camouflage caps, one black Beretta, two plastic guns, three sharp knives and one axe.
Proactive steps against kidnapping
While pledging to ensure that the renewed commitment of the Nigeria Police Force to reduce crimes and criminalities in the country remains unwavering, the IG had on August 14 ordered for the extension of Area of Responsibilities of Operations Absolute Sanity on Abuja – Kaduna Highway to cover Suleja – Lambata, Minna and Bida Roads.
The brief for the personnel were to tackle the gangs of kidnappers that escaped arrest on Abuja – Kaduna Highway and relocated to some major roads within Niger State to continue their nefarious activities.
The diligence of the officers paid off as five different vicious and notorious kidnap for ransom gangs were dislodged and busted in their hideouts along Suleja -Lambata-Bida and Minna Roads in Niger State and a total of 26 suspected kidnappers were arrested in the operation.
They all confessed to the offence and admitted to the various criminal roles they played in the commission of the crime. Also, the arms and ammunition and other properties belonging to some of their victims who were rescued from the gang were recovered from them.
Most of the suspects were identified by the victims for being responsible for their kidnap and already, investigation is being intensified to arrest the other suspects at large.
According to the IG, given that all the suspects will be arraigned in court on completion of investigation, the operation is being sustained. In the same vein, Idris had directed the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGs) and Commissioners of Police (CPs) in zones and commands across the country to beef up security in their Area of Responsibilities (AOR).
Also in July, the IG acting on the incessant kidnappings on the Abuja-Kaduna Highway deployed a joint police team of 510 personnel and tasked them to rout out the kidnap for ransom gangs and armed robbery gangs that have been terrorising the highway.
Tagged ‘Operation Maximum Safety’, the operation was backed with 40 patrol vehicles and armoured carriers, and was expected to man dark spots and vulnerable points along the road which had become notorious for kidnapping and other violent crimes, thus providing security for travellers and residents of surrounding communities.
While calling on community leaders, residents and youths to support the police with information, adding that the operatives were selected from different Mobile Police Force units for the special operation, Idris had assured the policemen that their welfare would be taken care of, adding that Kaduna State government had offered to pay their allowances and to fuel their patrol vehicles.
Idris said, “We would regularly review the template for providing security from time to time, we will smoke out the criminals, we are not going to spare or think twice about anyone who raises his gun to fire at innocent citizens, we would not allow that hand to come down. I say this with all sense of purpose, but we cannot achieve this without the support of the community leaders, the people and the youth.
Although there was an already existing joint police/military operations in that area, the IG said the fresh deployment was to complement them. The additional deployment paid off as they recently arrested 32 suspects responsible for kidnapping along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway.
According to the Force Spokesman, CSP Jimoh Moshood who paraded them, items recovered from the suspects include four AK47 rifles, six locally made pump action gun and two magazines in a joint arrest conducted by the IG Intelligence Response Team (IRT), STS, Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) and the Special Force of the Nigeria Police.
The suspects have made confessional statements indicating the various criminal roles they played in the commission of the crime and most of them have been identified by some of their victims. They will soon be charged to court on completion of investigation.
Given the recent spate of kidnapping targeted at school children, the Nigeria Police Force had also directed state commissioners of police to deploy policemen in schools to prevent further attacks and abduction of pupils, students and staff, thus prompting the police to work out an action plan for schools’ protection.
Another proactive move by the IG was the establishment of the Eminent Persons Forum (EPF), made up of professionals and well-meaning citizens in communities across the nation, which has further helped to check violent crime in different communities. Already on record is that the EPF has led to the arrests of several notorious criminals in the past six months.
Stringent punishment for kidnappers
To show his zero tolerance for kidnappers and kidnapping, the IG had on July this year called for stringent punishment for kidnappers to check the menace of kidnappings in the country. Making this call at a meeting with commissioners of police in Abuja, he had lamented that he had not seen where kidnap suspects were convicted and jailed for committing the said offence.
Ibrahim had also lamented that some of the kidnap suspects enjoyed freedom more than law abiding Nigerians, adding that even some states which have enacted laws to punish convicts with death penalties are yet to execute them.
Citing the example of neighbouring Niger Republic where the prosecution and conviction of kidnap and terrorism suspects were being given expeditious attention, he said if the suspects were allowed to go scot-free, they would be encouraged to carry on with the crime.
He went on to urge police commissioners of Niger and Kaduna states to engage community and religious leaders to sensitise the people on kidnapping on that route, adding that crimes along this route were being perpetuated by youths of the communities.
Kidnapping as cash cow for hoodlums
It is pertinent to note that these kidnappers do not just strike for the fun of it. Far from it. They have embraced the business because it has become a juicy cash cow that keeps yielding fruit. This according to experts should be blamed on the desperation of families to secure the release of their loved ones, which has emboldened the kidnappers who know they can always coerce the cooperation of victims’ families to keep the security agents off their trail.
For the kidnap of 62-year-old Kudirat Adeboye, N50 million was demanded but N3million paid. The Orekoyas paid N2.5million before their three kids, 11-months-old Aderomola Orekoya, 4-year-old Adedamola Orekoya and 6-year-old Demola Orekoya, were released. Although the kidnappers had first demanded for N15 million but had later reduced it N13 million.
The kidnappers of Durodola Muwalu, had demanded for N60 million as ransom, they reduced it to N10million when their initial offer was not met. They again reduced to N5 million but they were yet to be paid when they were rounded up by the police.
Abeokuta-based businessman, Mr. Akeem Lawal, was also a victim of kidnappers and he allegedly paid a ransom of N30 million even though the initial demand was N150 million. Also, the kidnappers of Bishop Moses Tabuwaye, demanded for N40 million as ransom, while those who kidnapped Pastor Japheth Obafemi, also demanded for N60 million.
However, the stance of the police on ransom has always been for the victims not to pay. According to the police, “As a law enforcement agency guided by rule of law and professional ethics we do not support any circumstance that encourage the payment of ransom to kidnappers or other criminals as it is tantamount to rewarding crime and motivating other criminals to follow that path.
“History has shown that even where ransom is proven to have been paid the life or safe return of a kidnap victim may not be guaranteed. We wish to advice that in future families who fall victims of such acts should rather work closely with the police component of the rescue initiative so that we can achieve the primary purpose of rescuing the victim alive instead of wittingly or unwittingly giving the impression of encouraging criminal activity by rewarding criminals with payment of ransom.”
Panacea for kidnapping
While there is no hard and fast rule to curbing the menace of kidnapping, many are of the opinion that since these kidnappers take pleasure in inflicting pain on the victims and by extension their families, the ultimate punishment should be the death penalty.
Although the law has a spelt out punishment for kidnappers, many are however of the opinion that death penalty should be adopted. About three years ago, the then Senate President, David Mark, had advocated for death penalty for kidnappers, adding that it was merely the application of “Hammurabi’s ancient Mesopotamian law of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
Although Anambra, Edo, Delta State and now Lagos Governments have already signed the law prescribing death penalty for kidnappers, other states haven’t. The issue of death penalty for kidnappers again became a front burner matter issue during the ordeal of Steve Nwosu.
Once calling on the federal government to act decisively on kidnapping, Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Gabriel Giwa-Amu, had said this would restore sanity and general security.
He said, “A tooth should go for a tooth. In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away a person against that person’s will. It is also the crime of unlawfully seizing and carrying away a person by force or fraud. Thus, capital punishment for kidnap suspects, should be the penalty. The kidnappers of Nwosu’s wife should be made to face death penalty because of the inhumane treatment which they impose on their victims.”
Asides the death penalty as punishment, many are of the opinion that people should on their own take some personal protective measures by purchasing the Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) or using trackers that can identify their locations at each given time.
The PLB’s are usually registered in the name of the owner and when triggered, the person’s data comes to the main system and alert the rescue team. Given that some smart kidnappers might identify the PLBs, experts advocate that it be built into wrist watches as a disguise.
But the downside is that as useful as the PLB is, one could cost between 300 to 700 dollars, and as such only about 300 PLBs are in circulation in Nigeria, which is even too small a number compared to what is applicable worldwide.
Although Nigerians have unanimously condemned kidnapping, many are however of the opinion that since the root causes of kidnapping are poverty, unemployment, ostentatious display of wealth and greed, the government must live up to its part of providing basic amenities for the citizenry, as well as make sure the economy is boosted to favour everyone instead of a select few.
Nonetheless, it was a general consensus that the police should be proactive in its constitutional role of protecting citizens by ensuring that they are up to par operationally and intelligence-wise, thus putting them steps ahead of the kidnappers.
Meanwhile, the IG’s stance on kidnapping remains that the panacea to the seeming inexorable menace of kidnapping and other criminalities is that the police alone cannot redeem the situation effectively, but with the collective backing of entire community and the people, as security is everybody’s business.