Rivers res­i­dents groan un­der kid­nap­pers’ siege

In Rivers State, kid­nap­ping has be­come a night­mare, forc­ing res­i­dents to live in fear. writes on how the kid­nap­pers op­er­ate and the ugly ex­pe­ri­ences vic­tims go through.

Sunday Trust - - NEWSFEATURE - From Vic­tor Edozie, Port Harcourt

on Sun­day

RDaily Trust ivers State, which was known for peace, serene and green en­vi­ron­ment, is be­com­ing un­safe. Res­i­dents, es­pe­cially those in Oyigbo, Port Harcourt, Eleme, Ubima and Ahoada, among oth­ers, are liv­ing in fear. Com­muters that ply the Elele-Ubima-OmeleruOw­erri road have tales of woes to tell as kid­nap­pers seem to have a grip on them. While these crim­i­nal el­e­ments op­er­ate at ran­dom, the se­cu­rity agen­cies look the other way. Kid­nap­ping seems to be a prof­itable busi­ness as per­sons who in­dulge in it see it as an easy means of get­ting rich quickly.

Those that are in­volved in the crime ap­pear to be well or­gan­ised. They work in a co­or­di­nated form. It is said that the ban­dits have a trans­port and lo­gis­tics depart­ment. They also have in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, con­tact, in­for­ma­tion, fi­nance and se­cu­rity de­part­ments.

The trans­porta­tion and lo­gis­tics depart­ment han­dles move­ment of their cap­tives from the point of ab­duc­tion to the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion. It in­volves the use of ve­hi­cles, boats and trekking. The use of ve­hi­cle starts when the vic­tim is ab­ducted and dragged into a wait­ing ve­hi­cle. The cap­tive is fi­nally taken into a thick for­est where he is handed over to an­other group that will take the per­son on a long trek that will fi­nally end up in their den.

The in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy depart­ment han­dles all com­mu­ni­ca­tion matters, such as pro­fil­ing the vic­tim’s phone con­tact, ap­pli­ca­tions and fi­nan­cial ca­pa­bil­ity. Those in charge of this unit also mon­i­tor the in­flow of text mas­sages to know when bank alert comes in.

A kid­nap vic­tim told our cor­re­spon­dent how his ab­duc­tors in­ter­cepted an alert of N500,000 from his phone im­me­di­ately he was ab­ducted.

“I was com­ing from a church pro­gramme in Eleme to Oyigbo, and in-be­tween Abonchia and Oyigbo, some group of boys came out from the bush and blocked my car. They or­dered me out and matched me to the bush. We trekked for more than six hours be­fore we got to the place I was held cap­tive. They col­lected my phone and asked for the pass­word. As soon as the phone was opened, an alert of N500,000 came in; that was how they got to know about the money. My wife ral­lied round and brought N200,000. When she came they ab­ducted her and asked me to go and with­draw the money. I did and handed over to them and was set free,” he said.

The con­tact and in­for­ma­tion depart­ment takes care of con­tact­ing the vic­tim’s rel­a­tives to ne­go­ti­ate ran­som, while the in­for­ma­tion per­son­nel give in­for­ma­tion on who to kid­nap. Those in this cat­e­gory live within the com­mu­nity and as­sess their vic­tims to know their fi­nan­cial ca­pac­ity.

The se­cu­rity depart­ment se­cures and guides vic­tims not to es­cape. They also mon­i­tor move­ments of the area they op­er­ate so as not to in­cur the wrath of the se­cu­rity agen­cies. The fi­nance depart­ment takes care of ne­go­ti­a­tions with vic­tim’s fam­ily, as well as the col­lec­tion of ran­som.

A jour­nal­ist who was kid­naped re­cently in Port Harcourt nar­rated his ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I was com­ing back to Port Harcourt, and as soon as I got to Ig­wu­rita, a ve­hi­cle with about five young men bar­ri­caded me. Sud­denly, two heav­ily armed men pulled out from the car and asked me to come down. They dragged me into their ve­hi­cle and zoomed off while the two oth­ers drove off in my car. They blind­folded me. In­side their den, I met other per­sons held cap­tive. Some of them have been there for months be­cause their rel­a­tives were not able to pay ran­som. There were those that had health chal­lenges. Some of them died and were buried in­side the bush.

“All of us were chained and blind­folded. The only time they re­move the hood is when they want to serve us food. There was a par­tic­u­lar preg­nant woman who was bleed­ing pro­fusely. She was later set free be­cause of her health con­di­tion. The day she was set free, all the peo­ple in the for­est re­joiced and were singing praises to God,” the jour­nal­ist who pleaded anonymity said.

On how the ran­som is paid, a source said when they have set­tled on a par­tic­u­lar amount the ab­duc­tors will tell the vic­tim’s ne­go­tia­tor where to drop the money. They nor­mally po­si­tion them­selves in dif­fer­ent parts of the bush, and the money moves from one hand to an­other be­fore it fi­nally gets to their main boss.

In less than one month, no fewer than 20 per­sons were ab­ducted in Oyigbo, about 10 kilo­me­tres to Port Harcourt. Re­cently, a woman was ab­ducted on her way to church at the pop­u­lar High Ten­sion-Umu­soya road. An eye­wit­ness, Nel­son Ak­pan, said when he saw the way they stopped the woman’s car, he thought they were Spe­cial Anti Rob­bery Squad (SARS) per­son­nel as they were all wear­ing black cloths. He said they pushed her into their ve­hi­cle, blind­folded her and drove off.

Two weeks ago, a busi­ness­man was ab­ducted in his shop at Oyigbo. The man was whisked away by gun-wield­ing men. A rel­a­tive of the vic­tim, who sim­ply gave her name as Monica, said her brother was ab­ducted on his way to the house af­ter clos­ing for the day’s work.

She said they kept him in their cus­tody for one week be­fore they de­manded a ran­som of N50 mil­lion, putting the fam­ily in con­fu­sion. “At the end of the day, God man­i­fested him­self and he was freed. We ac­tu­ally paid some ran­som,” she said.

The Angli­can Bishop of Ahoada Dio­cese, The Rt. Rev. Cle­ment Ekp­eye, was kid­napped at his res­i­dence in Ode­merenyi in Ahoada. How­ever, the in­ten­sive pres­sure mounted by the church and prom­i­nent cit­i­zens of the state forced the crim­i­nals to free the bishop.

The ac­tiv­i­ties of kid­nap­pers along Elele-Omeleru-OzuobaOw­erri road have be­come a source of worry to many mo­torists that ply the road. Also, the Port Har­courtElele-Ow­erri road and Ubi­maOmeleru road, all in Ik­w­erre Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of the state, have be­come a trap. Pas­sen­gers and mo­torists are ab­ducted along these routes, which tra­verse thick forests. Iron­i­cally, de­spite the pres­ence of combined team of se­cu­rity op­er­a­tives, kid­nap­pers are hav­ing a field day.

In Au­gust this year, the Rivers State po­lice com­mand res­cued eight per­sons from an 18-seater bus hi­jacked at night by gun­men along Elele-Omarelu road. The po­lice pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer, Rivers State com­mand, DSP Nnamdi Omoni, con­firmed that six of the vic­tims were held cap­tive for days be­fore they were res­cued.

There are two cat­e­gories of kid­nap­pers that op­er­ate within Elele, Omerelu, Ozuoba and Ubima ar­eas. One kid­nap for ran­som and the other kid­nap for rit­u­als.

A vic­tim, Pre­cious Isiguzo, who es­caped from kid­nap­pers’ den, nar­rated how she ran away from rit­ual kid­nap­pers op­er­at­ing at Choko­cho, near Ig­wu­rita.

“In­side the bush I saw how hu­mans were slaugh­tered. Those crim­i­nals told us that they dealt on hu­man parts and not for ran­som. A girl was butchered and one of the ab­duc­tors im­me­di­ately put up a call to some­body that he should come and pick the parts,” she said.

How­ever, the com­mis­sioner of po­lice, Rivers State com­mand, Ahmed Zaki, said the com­mand had in­creased its pa­trol along the no­to­ri­ous routes and would sus­tain the ag­gres­sive on­slaught against the kid­nap­pers, who he de­scribed as the com­mon en­e­mies of the com­mand.

He said he had di­rected his of­fi­cers and men to re­dou­ble their ef­forts at raid­ing all crim­i­nal hide­outs in the state.

(File Photo)

Sus­pected kid­nap­pers dur­ing their pa­rade by the Rivers State Po­lice Com­mand in Port Harcourt

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