In the past few years, a considerable number of Lawyers have either been kidnapped or outrightly murdered, and the figures seem to be escalating. Magistrates, junior and senior Lawyers, and even Judges, have been kidnapped in different parts of the country, or murdered. In February, while presiding, the President of Ejemekwuru Customary Court, Imo State, Justice Nnaemeka Ugboma was dragged out of the court and shot dead by gunmen. In 2013, A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and one of the nation’s most outspoken human rights activists, Chief Mike Ozekhome, CON, SAN was kidnapped in Edo State, and spent several harrowing days in the hands of his captors. However, the kidnap of a past President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Okey Wali, SAN, two weeks ago, howbeit for the second time, having been kidnapped in October, 2014, has elicited a nationwide outcry. Things have never been this bad for members of the legal profession, and the threat is palpable and inexplicable. Are Lawyers now targets of kidnappers and murderers? Is the profession being profiled? Why Lawyers? What must Government do, to secure the lives and property of Nigerians? A kidnap survivor, Chief Mike Ozekhome, CON, SAN, recounts his ordeal in the Kidnappers’ den, while Anthony Aikhunegbe Malik, SAN, Nosa Edo-Osagie, Kunle Edun and Major Ben Aburime (Rtd) examine the issues, and proffer solutions to this growing monstrous national malaise of insecurity. We join the NBA President, Yakubu Maikyau, SAN and all NBA members, to make a passionate plea for the safe release of Mr Okey Wali, SAN
The Story of My Kidnap
Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN
The Prevailing Atmosphere of Insecurity
The full story of my kidnap between August 23, and September 12, 2013, will be told someday. I am already working on it. But, because the kidnap itself is a reflection of the contradictions inherent in the Nigerian society. I have decided to let out a tip of the iceberg here.
There is no doubt that kidnapping for purposes of ransom in Nigeria has almost assumed invincibility in proportion and the operation and frequency of it, has reached a frightening crescendo. In the South-South and South-East, in particular, kidnapping has become the lucrative occupation of undesirable social elements, who audaciously prowl, even in broad day light, the insecurity-infested highways, looking for their next victim. Their past victims cut across all strata of the society, as no one is spared; Judges, Lawyers, businessmen, hoteliers, medical doctors, traders, local chiefs, expatriates, movie stars, adults, teachers, males, females and children.
My Kidnap, How it Happened
My involuntary and fortuitous journey into the kidnappers den began at about 2.45pm, on Friday, 23rd August, 2013, along the now notorious kidnapping hot spot of Benin-Auchi expressway, the valley before Ehor, surprisingly few poles from the Ehor Divisional Police Post. I was travelling in my Prado SUV, alone with my driver, Mr Chinedu Ruben, having left Benin earlier to pay a condolence visit to my relatives in Iviukwe town, my home town, near Agenebode, in Etsako East LGA, to commiserate with the extended Ozekhome family over the loss of the then family Head and Ukpi Drummer, Chief (Alhaji) Yakubu Dick Abu Özekhome.
I had also planned to visit Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, a friend of mine, some brothers and sisters of the Knights of St. Mulumba, towards a 3rd Degree examination, which I was to take part in the following morning, at St Mary Mount Secondary School, Agbor. Thereafter, I had intended to visit a friend of mine, Dr Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, who was celebrating his well-earned Chieftaincy title at Onicha-Ugbo,
I was on the phone with a brother Knight, Brother Adumaza, receiving a call on the said Knights promotional examination, when my driver, Chinedu, suddenly slowed down the Prado SUV and notified me that there appeared to be a road block ahead, and that from the way and manner of the movements, he suspected that the individuals who mounted the road block were armed robbers. I immediately instructed my driver to make a quick U-turn and head back to Benin. As he tried to do so, some fierce-looking and bare-faced men suddenly emerged from the bushes, menacingly pointing automatic assault rifles at me through the wind shield of my vehicle. They threatened in screaming voices, to blast my brains out and kill me instantly if we dared to attempt any escape, or even moved an inch further. At that point, I instructed my driver to stop the vehicle and co-operate with our assailants to avoid the threatened infliction of injury, grievous bodily harm and even death, on us. For, it was clear to me, from the fierceness of their looks, the high pitch of their threatening voices and the type of dangerous guns they wielded, that they meant every word of their threat to kill us instantly, if we moved an inch further. In front of us was a white Hilux bus, whose occupants appeared to have been kidnapped, immediately preceding ours. I was later to discover over four hours later when we were evacuated by the fringes of a forest, that the occupants of the Hilux bus were Mr Athanasius Ugbome, an APC Chieftain and his friend, Mr Maka Omorogbe, who had just returned from Canada.
My driver and I were forcefully dragged out of the vehicle, and the kidnappers demobilised the SUV by shooting at and deflating one of the tyres. Thereafter, my driver and I were taken into another waiting vehicle, a Saloon car. I did not see my driver, for the next four hours. I was later to discover that the Kidnappers had thrown the driver into the booth of their get-away vehicle.
My kidnappers, during the journey, roughly frisked me, collecting my physical cash, complimentary cards and my ring, wrist watch and chain. I was sternly warned to either lie down flat on the floor of the vehicle, or sit up, calmly, with my eyes tightly closed, like a passenger on a normal journey. The kidnappers threatened to blow off my brains, if I “tried anything funny”. As the journey progressed, the kidnappers who probably had been going through my complimentary cards and contact list, asked me for my name, occupation, how long I had been in my profession, my place of origin and such introductory and preliminary questions. I told them my name, that I am a Lawyer, that I have practised law for 32 years. To their question as to how many companies I operate, I told them I only practise law, as I am not a businessman. Their leader’s answer was that they would know my true identity if I lied, through media reports the following day. The kidnappers, apparently satisfied with my preliminary answers, and that they had caught a “mega” fish, stated that my complimentary cards corroborated my names, qualifications, titles and profession. The leader told me laconically, “you are a honest man”.
The Killing of Four Policemen on a Rescue Mission
Having driven a few metres from the scene of my kidnap, my kidnappers began discussing amongst themselves about their exploits in earlier kidnaps, when suddenly the driver sighted two on-coming vehicles which he perceived to be on their trail, and soon discovered that the two vehicles in question were Police vehicles. They resolved amongst themselves to engage the Policemen in a gun duel, because, according to them (kidnappers), there was “no retreat, no surrender”. They promptly disembarked from their vehicle, marched towards and laid ambush for the Policemen who, not apparently aware of the kidnappers and their fire power and capacity, innocently ran into the kidnappers who bloodthirstily gunned down the four innocent Policemen in cold blood.
After the gun duel, I heard the kidnappers boast of their earlier exploits and triumphs over Policemen and members of SARS, (Anti Robbery Squad), whom they triumphantly claimed to have always killed like flies, with none of them (kidnappers) dying, or even sustaining any injury whatsoever. The four heroic Police officers that were brutally murdered are ASP Sunday Paul Ajaka, Inspector Sunday Ewesiihini (driver), Inspector Michael Apada and Inspector Bakari Kong. May their dutiful souls rest in perfect peace, Amen.
Kidnappers’ Abode and Rules of Engagement
After the tortuous journey that spanned over four hours through a labyrinth of roads, bush paths, highways, and swampy terrains, my driver, myself and some other persons who were earlier kidnapped, Ugbome, Omorogbe and their drivers – were brought to a squalid and decrepit building where we were promptly locked up. The kidnappers later drove us in the night to another building, using the flood light of their vehicles intermittently in the forest. While there, we noticed that there was a woman who had earlier been kidnapped with her two sons and a daughter, and two other women and their drivers, who were also held captive, pending payment of ransom on them.
We were all given the kidnappers’ code of conduct, or modus vivendi. For instance, we were warned never to look at the face of any of the kidnappers, as doing so would attract immediate death. We were also warned to always turn our backs on the kidnappers, face to the ground, at their approach, or whenever we were being addressed by the kidnapping lords of the jungle. Our interactive overseer informed us that he was a “General”, and that our kidnap squad was comprised of three “Generals” who jointly carried out the operation in which I and others were kidnapped. This, they warned, had made the kidnap more onerous and our ransom much higher. The other two male captives of the Hilux bus, Mr Ugbome and Mr Omorogbe, were kept with me in the same dingy, hellish, mosquito-laden room, while our drivers and other drivers were kept together in another separate room.
A Rare Insight Into the Kidnappers’ Modus Operandi
My experience was most horrific, spine chilling, psychologically traumatic, physically debilitating, psychically draining, spiritually exerting and mentally shattering. This is but a near accurate description of the experience, at the detention centre where the kidnappers kept us. Every day at the detention centre, there were threats from the kidnappers that they would kill us and “chop” us up into pieces of meat, and send our body parts in plastic bags to our families. They said they would carry out their threats, so that the Nigerian State would know there is no security in the country.
The day after we were kidnapped, they came to us and asked, “do you have someone you wish to contact”. I said yes, giving them the names of my wife, and my bosom friend, Barrister Benson Igbanoi. The kidnappers then brought out my phones which they had earlier seized from my Prado Jeep after my kidnap, fixed the batteries back and told me to scroll out the numbers of my contacts, which I did. The kidnappers contacted my wife and friend. They handed over the phone to me on each occasion, and finally I was able to speak to my wife after three days of great suspense, uncertainty, threats and fear. The kidnappers took me out of our room, made me face the wall amidst arms, and informed me that my family must cough out to stay alive and unhurt. The alternative, they threatened, amidst a whopping sum of N850 million to have me released with a dirty, resounding slap, would be instant death.
The eerie masked men, numbering over fifteen, made death a close ally. The surroundings, exacerbated by the presence of heavy guns, and I wondered where my family would raise that kind of money. It was fear of death, fear of harm and fear of fear.
I politely told my kidnappers that neither my family nor friends, had that kind of money.
Our detention room was wet, dirty, squalid, dingy, smelly, yet very hot. About a week later, one of the kidnappers came to the room and finally opened a window so that we might get some fresh air. We were happy. We thanked him profusely. Unfortunately, that singular act of kindness was the opening of a new chapter of challenge, an invitation to a colony of angry, blood-thirsty mosquitoes from the forest, that feasted on us over night like a barbeque. This immediately caused us a serious bout of Malaria. The kidnappers told us, when we complained, that a medical doctor would come and treat us with drugs. The Doctor came to our detention camp the following day, treated us, and we started to stabilise.
On September 5, 2013, twelve days into our kidnap ordeal, I fell very ill for the second time. I sweated profusely, with my cell mates fanning me with our wet dirty singlets and boxer shorts. The kidnappers had to bring back their medical doctor who, after diagnosing my illness, employing stethoscope and thermometer, gave me two injections for malaria and intravenous transfusion for typhoid. It was very traumatic and frightening, as I was not sure if the injections and transfusion were not poisonous, even though they had assured me, they were not. They told me point blank they would not poison me as they wanted me alive, rather than dead, to be able to pay the heavy ransom they had demanded.
In terms of their organisation and modus operandi, I can say clearly that the kidnappers constitute a very well organised segment of our society. There were apparently not less than 25 fully armed kidnappers guarding our camp at any given point in time, with large cache of automatic weapons. They boasted that they could readily take on a whole battalion of security forces, in a battle. The kidnappers made it clear, that they were holding me for payment of ransom money. But, they also warned that payment of such ransom did not necessarily guarantee us safe delivery to our families.
These youths of Nigeria threatened that during the next election in 2015, they would be very violent, as they would come out to fight, unleash mayhem and kill all politicians, whom they claimed, had impoverished them. The kidnappers told me that if the government inaugurated an amnesty programme, they would readily come out and give up their weapons, and remove their hoods and masks. Some of them complained they had been unemployed for five or more years, some for sixteen, after completing their University education. The kidnappers told me that since they could control some parts of Nigeria, including highways, footpaths and forests, it showed that Nigeria has broken up into tiny units, piecemeal and instalmentally, under control of different groups. This, they argued, was why the prediction has been made that Nigeria would break up by the year 2015. Their reasoning and logic, were spine-chilling.
Media Activities and Reactions to My Kidnap
While in the jungle, the kidnappers engaged us during nightly interactions in frenzied dialectics in history, political science, ethics, logic, philosophy, etc.
The Commissioner of Police had given a marching order to rescue Ozekhome. “As we speak, a massive manhunt has been launched by the Police in the State to rescue the Lawyer and apprehend the criminals that abducted him.” The kidnappers were aware of this.
It is pertinent to state at this junction, that notwithstanding the public outcry, pleas, appeals and condemnation that followed my kidnap, the kidnappers tenaciously held on to me and even made audacious ransom demand of N850 million! While negotiations over my release raged, my captors upped their bargaining power through intense psychological and sometimes physical intimidations, by generously issuing out threats and ultimatums to my family members and Barrister Benson Igbanoi, as to the exact amount to be paid and modalities to secure my release, while at the same time, making it clear they will not hesitate to snuff out my life if their demands were delayed or not immediately met. For this reason, prayers were intensified across Nigeria by my family, friends, admirers, employees and well-wishers for divine intervention for my release, safely and unhurt.
The Further Kidnap of My Son and My Abuja Office Based Lawyer
About 14 days after my kidnap, Barrister Ilugbekhai Ozekhome, my son, and Barrister Dominic Ezerioha, my Personal Assistant and my Abuja office-based junior Lawyer, respectively, were accosted by my captors at a location in Benin City, dictated by my captors to meet with them for an exchange of the ransom money already raised to free me from the horrendous gulag. However, little did they know that these people constituting the roguish and satanic tribe of kidnappers had different sinister plans. For, as soon as my children (son and junior Lawyer) arrived with the money with the hope of an exchange, both Barrister Ozekhome, and Barrister Ezerioha, were themselves promptly kidnapped and brought to join me in my horrific den. It was the anguish and trauma of a lifetime. Hell couldn’t have been hotter!
My Eventual Release and Return From the Kidnappers Den
On 12th September, 2013, after a gruelling and deeply traumatic three weeks of captivity in solitary and squalid conditions, I was, along with my Son and Personal Assistant, eventually released after the kidnappers extorted huge sums of money from my family as ransom. The news of my release activated wild jubilation and thanksgiving across Nigeria, so much that the Media went into a state of frenzy, laying siege at every possible place they perceived I would show up in. Thus, the airports at Benin, Lagos and Abuja were manned in fervent anticipation by all the popular (and not so popular) media, competing with each other for a scoop on my historic experience for dissemination to an anxious public.
But, it was to Lagos I flew, on the first available flight from Benin City. In my house at Igando, Lagos, the atmosphere was electrifying, as well-wishers, friends, neighbours, staff and sundry guests converged to celebrate God, life and my safe return.
My World Press Conference
The media had already laid siege at my house. In the hot afternoon of that fateful day that the Lord had made (12th September, 2013), I addressed the media…. I specifically thanked the then Inspector General of Police, Alhaji M.D. Abubakar, for his wonderful intervention.
He called my wife intermittently, to assure her everything was being done to secure my earliest release. He is a great Nigerian.
I then made the following Seven-Point demand on the Federal Government of Nigeria, during my media chat:
1. That as a matter of extreme urgency, I wanted the Federal Government to immediately grant amnesty to all kidnappers and institute an amnesty programme for them. They had told me that if they were given assurance that they will not be killed, they would be ready to agree to an amnesty deal, come out of the jungle, drop their hoods and masks, and embrace peace and dialogue.
2. That the Federal Government should declare a national state of emergency on youth unemployment and infrastructural decay.
3. That the Federal Government should not neglect the families of the four Policemen who were killed while trying to rescue me from my abductors: “It was this morning that I was briefed that those gallant officers died while trying to rescue us from our abductors. Let me hereby call upon the Federal Government to set up a special Foundation to cater for the welfare of the wives and children of these officers, so that the children can attend school up to University level”.
4. I then called on the National Assembly to amend the Constitution, to allow for State Police in the ongoing amendment of the 1999 Constitution. This would ensure effective community policing. I argued that it is a common practice in the USA, where you have the FBI, CIA, State Police, County Council Police, Cities and even University Police.
5. I also called for the convocation of a national conference to address some of the problems bedevilling the country: “As Nigerians, we need to sit down and negotiate our existence is called, whether National Dialogue, National Summit, as a country. I do not care by whatever name the conference National Conference, Conference of Ethic Nationalities, or Sovereign National Conference. The important thing is that Nigerians must sit down to discuss the National question and seek the way forward”, I argued that the loud silence about our problems will ultimately terminate
Nigeria if we did sit down to dialogue.
6. The need to practice true federalism: “We need to retool and reengineer Nigeria and bring about true fiscal federalism and resource democracy”, I urged.
7. I then called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to tackle the hydra-headed problem of corruption in the country, corruption which I argued, had become the 37th State of Nigeria. I said, “We must kill corruption, or else corruption will kill us all”.
Chief Mike Ozekhome, CON, SAN, Human Rights and Constitutional Lawyer
Kidnapping, Killing of Lawyers: Way out of an Existential Logjam
Chief Anthony Aikhunegbe Malik, SAN
It will not be a frivolity nor an act of pessimism, neither will it be one of a hyperbolic sport on an existential crisis, to state that, as one writes, scores of Nigerians are being kidnapped somewhere in different locations across the country. The grimmer perspective to the above is that, not every victim of the horrendous but seemly helplessly pervasive act is likely to come out of it alive. Many a victim, may be killed!
Uncannily, for reasons yet to be deciphered, in the rising cases of kidnap in Nigeria, members of the legal profession, or their significant others, appear to be the attractive option. The more disturbing side to it is that, members of the esteemed profession on the Bench, that is, Judges and Magistrates, are not spared, adding thereby to the current disturbing trend of wanton violation of the sanctity of the profession and desecration of the sacredness of the temple of justice.
Two Kidnappings of Okey Wali, SAN
A peep into the recent past will, sadly, present one with gory incidents of kidnap and killing of Lawyers and Judges across the country. The latest in the tally of abductions of our colleagues, is that of a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Okey Wali, SAN, who was abducted about two weeks ago, and as at my writing of this article, is still being held by his captors. Incidentally, it is the second time such an unfortunate fate has befallen the former NBA No.1. In October, 2014, he was abducted in Rumualogu Town, Akpor, Rivers State by unknown gunmen, in circumstances not dissimilar from the nascent one. He only regained his freedom a week or so after.
The Legal Profession and Nigeria’s Crime Diary
Quite apart from the above, the country’s crime diary mournfully testifies to many gory incidents of kidnap and killings of Lawyers, Judges and Magistrates across the nation. In March 2021, kidnappers abducted and killed Francis Onwuachi, Esq., Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Onitsha Branch. Prior to this time, on Sunday, 1st September, 2022, a former Chairman of the same Branch, B. C. Igwe, Esq. and his wife, Abigail Igwe (also a Lawyer), were brutally murdered by persons suspected to be assassins. The sad event occurred in Awada Layout, Onitsha, Anambra State. Again, sometime in April, 2015, the Chairman of NBA, Ughelli Branch, Austin Icheghe, Esq., was gruesomely murdered in his residence, right in the presence of his family and without any consequences.
In March 2011, High Court Judges in Imo State were forced to embark on a strike to protest the abduction of one their colleagues, the Honourable Justice Theophilus Nzekwe. Justice Nzekwe was not the first victim. A year earlier, the President of the Imo State’s Customary Court of Appeal, Mr Ambrose Egu and a Senior Magistrate, Mrs Pauline Njemanze, were abducted at different times near the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri. On October 30, 2019, it was the turn of the Hon. Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme, then Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Benin Division, to be abducted. It happened in Benin City, Edo State, where unknown gunmen unleashed a reign of terror on His Lordship and her aides. In the process, her security detail, a Police Inspector, was murdered. The now retired jurist spent 14 agonising days in the kidnappers’ den, before she regained her priceless freedom. Before Justice Nwosu-Ikpeme’s abduction came, that of High Chief Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Professor of Law of several local and internationally-accredited Universities, an avid commentator on national issues and holder of countless chieftaincy titles of many communities in Nigeria. He was randomly kidnapped at the Benin-Auchi motorway on 23rd August, 2013 and held for ransom, for about 20 harrowing days before his eventual release. Mrs Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, SAN, wife of retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Hon. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, and their daughter, were also kidnapped along Lagos-Benin Road, Edo State on May 10, 2013. They were taken to Sapele, Delta State, where they were released 18 days later.
Sometime in September, 2021, a former Chief Judge of Abia State, the Hon. Justice Nnenna Oti, was abducted in Orlu, Imo State. Seven months earlier, Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Owerri, the Hon. Justice Rita Pemu, took her turn to navigate the perils of abduction and possible assassination. So too, is the Honourable Justice Hasanna Garuba, now a serving Judge of the Edo State High Court, who as a Senior Magistrate in the Edo State Judiciary, was kidnapped in 2016 and 2020 respectively. The list is by no means exhaustive
A Way Out?
In suggesting a way out of the crises of abduction and killing of Lawyers, it will amount to playing the ostrich to even remotely think of any tailor-made panacea against the vices for Lawyers alone, outside of the required all-inclusive remedy for the entire society of Nigeria, chief of which is the direly-needed, but presently non-existent effective political leadership, to give the country a clear direction. At the moment, Nigeria is a completely dislocated nation. Issues such as pervading injustice, youth unemployment, poverty, spiralling inflation, official corruption, dearth of or decaying social amenities, erosion of (our) foundational moral values and dysfunctional educational curricula across all levels have sadly become our lot. It is thus, beyond any argument, that it is the sum total of the above that has birthed the current hydra-headed monster of insecurity confronting us as a nation and as a people. This is the real threat to Nigeria’s corporate existence.
By and large, the legal profession is only but a fabric of the society. It is inconceivable that it can or will exist in isolation, not even by some luxury of ingenuity, nor by any human or technological security measures. In essence, being a piece or part of the main, what affects the larger fabric of the society will, of necessity, spiral onto and impact on the legal profession.
Chief Anthony Aikhunnegbe Malik, SAN
Kidnapping of Chief Okey Wali, SAN: Lawyers’ Lives Matter
Kidnapping in Nigeria is not new, and had never really been breaking news until early 2006 when kidnapping for ransom became a multi-million Naira business enterprise which saw the kidnapping of prominent Nigerians and business moguls.
Port Harcourt became a hotbed for kidnapping, when on January 11th, 2006, what appeared to be the first reported case of abduction of expatriates took place, when four foreign oil workers working for the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) were kidnapped by militants in Port Harcourt. This was quickly followed by the abduction of expatriates working in other oil companies, and spread to include wealthy oil magnates like the abduction of the father of late High Chief O.B. Lulu Briggs, the wife of late Chief Humphrey Idisi and the father of Chief Adawari- McPepple between 2009 and 2010.
Kidnap of Okey Wali, SAN
For the wrong reasons, Rivers State is back in the news; when in the early hours of the 17th of April, 2023 a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and a former Attorney-General of Rivers State, Chief Okey Wali, SAN was kidnapped by armed men along the East/West Road in Obio-Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State. As at the time of writing this piece, the whereabouts of the respected elder statesman, is yet to be known.
This brings to fore the increasing level of insecurity in the country and the emerging trend of arrest, harassment and abduction of Lawyers in Nigeria, thus, making legal practitioners an endangered species, while performing their professional duties to their clients and the society.
In the evening of Friday, the 23rd of August, 2013, prominent human rights and constitutional Lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN was kidnapped at the Ehor stretch of the Benin-Auchi motorway. The four policemen who responded to the distress call made by a witness, were ambushed and killed by the kidnappers. Early April, 2023, news emerged also that one Dr Azubuike Dike, the Lawyer for the APC in Rivers State and a brother to the Legal Adviser of the APC in Rivers State, were abducted in Port Harcourt. We also note the recent incident of the hotel room of Lawyers being invaded by armed Policemen from the Rivers State Command, and election materials in their custody seized without any search warrant shown. Impunity everywhere.
On the 2nd of February, 2022, three Warri-based legal practitioners, including Mr Fred Aburu, were kidnapped by some persons alleged to be herdsmen while on the Ekpoma/Auchi Road on their way to a Court. Again, on Monday morning, January 9, 2023, gunmen suspected to be kidnappers abducted the President of the Igueben Area Customary Court, Mrs Precious Aigbonoga. Aigbonoga around the Ugoneki axis, on her way to court in Igueben Local Government Area of Edo State. Also in June, 2021, an Abia-based Lawyer, Mr Okey Mbanaso, was abducted.
Few months after the inauguration of Olumide Akpata as the President of the NBA, 25-year-old Lawyer, Bisola Ajayi was abducted in broad day light by dare-devil kidnappers on Sunday, the 4th of October, 2020, who invaded her family house in Rumuokwurusi in Obio-Akpor Local Government Area. The NBA President had to direct two of the NBA National Officers (I and the immediate past 1st Vice President, John Aikpokpo-Martins) to immediately relocate to Port Harcourt to monitor and work with the Rivers State Police Command to ensure her early release. Two days thereafter, she was released unhurt and with no ransom paid. Some of the kidnappers were arrested by the special squad constituted by the Rivers State Commissioner of Police. Her rescue was made easy, as a result of deployment of technology.
In 2014, two young Warri-based Lawyers, Horace Egwuono Dafiaghor and Samuel Ekwughanju while driving to Court in Ozoro, Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State, were ambushed and murdered by assassins. To date, the Police refused to investigate the matter in spite of pressure by the NBA, Warri Branch that the assassination was politically-motivated.
The story of Lawyers being assaulted, threatened, intimidated and abducted is now replete in most of the States in Nigeria. Harassment by members of the Nigeria Police Force, the State Security Service, the Military, and now, men of the underworld has become the lot of the Nigerian Lawyer, who is only performing his professional duty of offering legal advice and representation to his clients. According to Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams (14 July, 1855 – 15 March, 1915) who was the first indigenous Nigerian Lawyer, called to the English Bar on 17th of November, 1879, a “Lawyer lives for the direction of his people, and the advancement of the cause of his country”.
Fourteen days after his abduction (as at the time of writing this), Chief Okey Wali, SAN is yet to be released, nor his whereabouts known. The NBA President, Y.C. Maikyau, SAN, in ensuring that all hands are on deck, led a delegation of the NBA to visit the family of Chief Okey Wali, SAN; the Rivers State Commissioner of Police; the two Policemen that were injured and only recently, the top echelon of the Police Command in Abuja. Lawyers’ lives matter, and we urge the Inspector General of Police and the State Security Service, to be more proactive in their core responsibility of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians, which is also the primary reason for having a government.
Security Vote & Necessity of State Police
According to prominent human rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN “The N240 billion earmarked for security votes every year, are diverted and pocketed by a few public officers. Lawyers need to ensure that the security votes are used to motivate the security personnel, and acquire modern security gadgets”. This again, makes the continued debate on State Police necessary. In a Federation of more than 210 million people, it is almost impossible for a centralised Police Command, to effectively manage the security challenges of the entire country. While, we hope that the institutions responsible for providing security for Nigerians up their game, let it be known that Lawyers’ lives also matter.
Kunle Edun Esq., Immediate Past National Publicity Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association
Kidnapping: Lawyers’ Lives at Risk
Nosa Francis Edo-Osagie
Kidnapping has become endemic in the Nigerian society. It is fast becoming a lucrative alternative to armed robbery offence. The gravity of kidnapping is so intense, that it has virtually affected most persons in our society. Aside from media reports, the number of abduction cases cannot be ascertained, as there are cases either not captured by news or are unreported to the proper authorities.
The current dimension of kidnapping became alarming in the Niger Delta region, when militants in February 2006 abducted some oil workers, ostensibly to draw global attention to the dire situation in the oil rich Niger Delta region of the country. The victims were mostly foreigners. Since then, the social problem of kidnapping has spread like wild-fire in most parts of the country, especially in the south-eastern region. The targets are no longer foreigners alone; practically every Nigerian, is now a target. For instance, in the year 2008, Nigeria was placed sixth on the Global Kidnap Index by an online tourism site. This rating puts the country Nigeria among countries with serious kidnapping problems, behind Philippines, Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, and Mexico.
Edo State Kidnappings
Judges in Edo State, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria based in Benin City, and recently, a serving President of an Area Customary Court in Edo State have been victims of kidnapping. Recall also that some years ago, another senior advocate of Nigeria of Edo State extraction, was kidnapped and released in exchange for his son who came to pay the ransom. About ten years ago, the wife of a retired Supreme Court Justice and their daughter, were also kidnapped in Edo State. Sometime ago too a former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Benin Branch narrowly escaped joining the thousands of Nigerians who are kidnapped each year from highways and villages across Africa’s most populous country, by gangs of armed men colloquially referred to as bandits.
Okey Wali, SAN
Most recent to the legal profession, is the kidnap of a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Okey Wali, SAN, who was reportedly abducted in the early hours of Monday, 17th April, 2023, after his convoy was attacked along East–West Road, in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Mr Okey Wali, SAN was the 26th President of the NBA, and has served this nation in numerous capacities, as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Rivers State, and his contribution to the growth of legal practice and entrenchment of the rule of law.
Reasons for Banditry in Nigeria
A combination of explosive population growth, rampant unemployment, underfunded and incapable security forces, and easy access to small arms has made banditry a booming industry in a struggling economy like Nigeria.
The authorities have to act swiftly, to at least end this, and show that they are in control. Peace and order is very essential in the rebuilding of our economy, in projecting that we have an investment-friendly climate.
Nosa Francis Edo-Osagie Esq., Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Benin Branch
Worrisome Spate of Kidnapping and Killing of Lawyers Across Nigeria
Major Ben Aburime (Rtd)
In a thought-provoking article, Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu wrote: “Kill All the Lawyers”. In the article published on December 11, 2022, the amiable Scholar and Rights Activist, was actually lamenting the spate of kidnappings, abductions, and even killings of members of the legal profession across the country. Apparently, Prof Odinkalu got the title for his piece from William Shakespeare’s, Henry VI, Part 2, Scene 2.
The sad commentary of the kidnapping and killing of members of the legal profession is not related to practicing Lawyers alone, but has even been extended to members of the Bench (Magistrates, Judges, and even Justices of the higher Bench). A few examples here, were majorly taken from Professor Odinkalu’s piece, with a few other additions that my memory can still readily recollect.
The unenviable right of first mention goes to Mr Tamuno Igbikiberebima, a Port-Harcourt-based legal practitioner who narrowly escaped death in the hands of an amateur AK-47- wielding assailant. His bravery and desire to live was however, to save his life. This was around 17 December, 2020. Talk about surviving the Covid-19 pandemic, and nearly falling into the hands of enemies of the society. Then, enter Ken Asuete (28 August, 2016), Soalabor West on 12 March, 2020). They were all abducted in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State.
As if not to be outdone, Imo State soon came onboard, when Sampson Worlu was abducted and killed at Owerri, Imo State, in November 2015. Talking about Imo State, since the emergence of Hope Uzodinma as Governor of Imo State, the spate of violent crimes has spiralled, and Lawyers have not been exempted from the fallout of the political insensitivity. There was the case of the gunning down of a Magistrate at Okigwe or so.
For the record, female colleagues have not been spared, sadly remembering the likes of Mary who was killed in the like manner her brother was killed, and Paulette Ajayi, Promise Frank Igwe, and a host of others. This is not forgetting the case of a Justice of the Court of Appeal, who was kidnapped after her Police escort was killed. She was only released some days later, on terms mere mortals like us will never get to know, or if we know, can never dare reveal.
Port Harcourt/Rivers State, is not isolated in these gory incidents. I vaguely remember the sad cases of Chima and his spouse, both Lawyers, killed in Anambra State a couple of years back. Abductions and killings, are also not the only crimes targeted at Lawyers. Police and other law enforcement officers take delight in beating up Judges, Magistrates and even Lawyers carrying out their lawful duties. The case of Magistrate Wilberforce of the Ikeja Magisterial District of Lagos State, readily comes to mind, when His Worship was beaten up by a crop of unruly Policemen, for daring to attempt to stop them from arresting a suspect in his court. There is also the more recent case of Abdulrahman Rilwan or is it Ridwan, who was beaten to a pulp in Ibi Local Government Area of Taraba State, for daring to attempt to correct another bunch of unruly Police officers, just like Wilberforce before him.
In yet another dimension, Bayo Akinlade, an Ikorodu-based legal practitioner, is a rights activist and convener of the legendary body, Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary. For practising Lawyers, especially in Lagos State, who may not have heard of the name, Bayo Akinlade, or met him, if the Sheriffs and Bailiffs of the Deputy Sheriffs Section or Court Registrars, have stopped extorting money from you to do the official works they are paid to do, it is more likely to be a direct result of the fear of Bayo Akinlade calling them out, than their being “born-again”. I gladly partnered with Bayo, in his crusade. While this observation is not strictly within the scope of this enquiry, I still find it relevant in helping us ascertain and determine the probable causes and remedies for the sad situation we have in our hands.
Arguably, the trending national issue and topic in Nigeria today, is the abduction and/or kidnapping of Chief Okey Wali, SAN in Port-Harcourt on 17 April, 2023, after killing his aide and injuring two Police escorts in his convoy. The learned silk is the 26th President of the Nigerian Bar Association, “NBA”, and this will be the second time he is being kidnapped, raising serious questions of motive, especially as there has been no word from his abductors to date.
There was also the case of the abduction of Chief (Professor) Mike Ozekhome, SAN, and in-between struggling to understand whether I was listening to the distinguished learned silk or watching a poor imitation of Hon Patrick Obahiagbon. I shall return to point shortly.
What are the immediate and remote causes of these sad abductions, kidnappings and killings, and is there a possible solution to end all this? That is what the subsequent paragraphs will seek to address.
Causes of the Spate of Insecurity Nationwide
There is no doubt that we have a sad situation on our hands, and this section will try and examine the immediate and remote causes of the problems. So bad is the situation, that one can safely say that there is a near total breakdown of law and order. It is agreed that the first line responsibility for any person’s security, is arguably that of the person. That is only as individual responsibilities go. Since the origin of modern societies and the social contract, the collective responsibility now vests in the government, so that while security is everyone’s concern, the government has the sole monopoly and responsibility to protect its citizens from both internal and external aggression, and that ability is one of the indices for judging a viable State.
It is apparent that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (as amended), vests security squarely in the hands of the government. It is for this reason that Chapter II of the Constitution, Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy stated so in Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution. For ease of reference, the relevant portions of that section is reproduced hereunder. Section 14(2)(b):
(2) It is hereby accordingly declared that:
(b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of of government.
It is apparent from the above, that the responsibility for curbing this nuisance is primarily that of the government, and where it is unable to, then it will be safe to conclude that that the government has not only failed, but that there is a likelihood of the nation-State called Nigeria, failing also. For the record, the government has the full complement of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force), including the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and a host of other para-military and specialised bodies to aid it in her fight against insecurity. If, despite all this, the government still fails to curtail the menace of insecurity, it means that:
i. the leadership is either a monumental failure, which is difficult to argue against, or,
ii. the political will to act is manifestly lacking, especially where there is a perceived agenda, or,
iii. the ruling class and cache has a hidden agenda they’re relentlessly prosecuting, without putting the resilience of the people to protect themselves in contemplation.
Having identified what appears to be failed leadership, it is pertinent to note that the government is not solely responsible for this failure. There are other factors to note, and these can be stated in summary, to be:
i. unbridled corruption, whereby even the few cases that find themselves in court have a pre-determined end, depending on the size of the villain’s purse.
ii. compromised Judiciary, where many cases are determined according to what will be appealing to the powers-that-be in government, and where a dubious ex parte application, moved by a faceless counsel, can be used to remove a sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria, and where some Judges act as assistants to prosecuting counsel from the Ministry of Justice. I have had course to write to about three of such Judges that I have had the misfortune to appear before, while still closely watching a fourth.
iii. cultism and rivalry between rival cults, whereby they kill and maim members from rival cults, and Governor Wike’s Rivers State and Governor Sanwo Olu’s Lagos State, especially in the Ikorodu areas of the State hold the unenviable record of cult-related acts of terrorism, with Sango in Ogun State trying to keep tabs with both Lagos and Rivers State.
iv. poor governmental policies whereby members of rival political parties are deliberately targeted and their means of livelihood, like hotels, places of worship and others, are deliberately demolished. Amongst this class, I will include the dubiously executed TraderMoni, Feeding of School Children, and giving cash money to the so-called Poorest of the Poor, new names for thieves and stealing.
v. poverty-driven or poverty-induced crimes whereby hunger and joblessness make people go into “trending” crimes to make easy money.
vi. deliberate subversion of the Constitution, whereby political leaders at both the Federal and State levels act with impunity, without the corresponding Legislature having the level to proceed against them by way of impeachment.
vii. inequality, whereby the government openly steals from some resources-producing areas to sustain other parts, while limiting the resources of those other areas to them.
viii. closely related to inequality is the issue of political alienation, which has tended to birth agitations for self-determination and secession.
ix. inadequate crime-fighting mechanism and Federal Government’s interference in activities of local crime-fighting bodies.
x. law enforcement bodies’ poor attitude and orientation to community policing activities, which is very far away from recommended international best standard and practice.
xi. community and communal clashes and skirmishes, whereby indigenes of one community are targeted by those of the rival communities, and Chief Okey Wali, SAN’s, case is being suspected to fall into this class, when one reads in-between the lines of the comments of the Izon clan on his abduction. While still in the military, this was largely the case I dealt with, between the people of Ngwa and Ikot Umo-Essien now in Abia and Akwa-Ibom State respectively.
xii. in the case of Lawyers and Judges particularly, either the opponents of cases they have handled or are handling.
xiii. there is also the place of politically-motivated killings.
xiv. there is also the land-grabbing mentality of those who have refused to acknowledge or admit that that we are now in the 21st Century, and that the world has moved away from the era of territorial expansion by conquest.
xv. The role of the Press.
One can go on and on in trying to identify the root-causes of insecurity in Nigeria, but they will all be branches of the problems already mentioned. Having identified the problems, the next thing is to attempt to proffer solutions. This is what the next section, will attempt to do.
As it is often said, knowing the cause of a problem is worth more than half its cure. Having identified the problems therefore, proffering solutions.
Since corruption is at both the foundation and apex of the problems, spiritedly fighting against corruption is essential. If one has to go the way of late J J Rawlings of Ghana, so be it. The end will surely justify the means.
There should be a conscious attempt at unifying the divergent tribes that make up Nigeria, and a return to true Federalism, whereby regions are allowed to develop at their own pace and in their chosen direction. This will also mean maintaining the secularity of the nation, with minimal interference with religion and religious activities.
Religious obedience to the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, whereby public officers are taught to know that they’re in public office to serve, and not to rule as Emperors or other monarchs.
De-centralisation of the Police Force, with every State having its own Police, as practiced in pre-military era.
The Federal Government should stop harassing and bullying the States that try promoting their various vigilante groups, because the only reason for the opposition is the ungodly use to which the powers-that-be has come to put the Police Force to use.
Closely related to this is the review of the government’s policy on gun control, whereby citizens are allowed to bear their own arms for their own protection. This is particularly relevant, because the spate of insecurity increase nationwide, soon after the present administration literarily disarmed the citizens, only for the Herdsmen to start plundering the nation, while openly porting assault rifles.
There should also be a conscious attempt at integrating every aspect of the country, and making every tribe or ethnic group have a sense of belonging.
The military should fully withdraw to the barracks and should stop being used for purely civilian duties, while the Police should be re-educated to imbibe the international best standards applicable in every civilised society.
Cultism is a crime as bad as armed robbery, and should be treated as such. Similarly, arming any group for purposes of disrupting electioneering activities should be treated like the violent crime that it is.
The Government should have the will to act to protect the nation and the Constitution irrespective of which tribe the leaders come from, and they should promote policies that allow for economic growth and prosperity of the people, not the policies that translate to gratifying their political members.
The Judiciary should stand firm and take its rightful place as the Third Arm of Government, and stop acting as the revenue-generation arm or department of the Executive.
Law enforcement, including the prison services should be geared toward reforming miscreants, not merely as punishment for the miscreants.
The Press should draw a balance between the right to inform, and indirectly promoting obscenity. I recall that the wave of kidnappings escalated soon after the Press started treating a common criminal like Evans as a celebrity, in describing him as kingpin and billionaire kidnapper respectively. Having “educated” people about the money to be made through kidnapping, it was a question of time before the disciples of that trade surfaced nationwide.
Needless to say, the problems the nation face can be limited to inept leadership, lack of transparency and the political will to act, coupled with the corruption and when these are adequately addressed, the rest of the fight will be easy. For now, it is difficult to say whether or not the Government is not promoting the state of insecurity, as the surest and fastest way to amassing personal wealth for the State actors.
Major Ben Aburime (Rtd), Legal Practitioner, Lagos